Chinese Spymaster Excerpt

“The Comrade Commissar joined the party just before the Cultural Revolution. He was very young and kept a low profile. He ran errands for the cadre at a group of factories targeted for their poor performance during the Great Leap Forward. He had the good fortune to marry the daughter of a senior cadre member, so he moved up in the Party quickly during the next few years. He sponsored many young men into the Party. The current Superintendent of Police in Shanghai is one of them, a promising student who was an orphan.”

Wang smiled and poured more tea for himself and for the analyst. He recalled the tendency among some of them to reserve the best for last and fervently hoped that this would be the case. Meanwhile, he composed his mind to be patient.

“There are a few notices that possibly link Jiang and Kong, but nothing more definite in Party records except that Jiang recommended him for membership in the Party as he did for many other men. Since there was no other reference to orphans in his recommendations or in Kong’s files, I decided to look up Kong’s birth certificate. That is in the public records, and it gives his mother’s name but not his father’s.

“I checked Party records for the mother and found that she was criticized during the Cultural Revolution for immoral behavior. Even today, an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant is given a hard time. Kong’s mother received a pretty rough reception, according to the record of self-criticism sessions. Because she refused to name the father of her child, she lost her job at the factory and was briefly imprisoned. She was released on compassionate grounds, the birth of Kong. She did not long survive this event, and her child was looked after by her parents.

“The factory at which she worked was one of those under the care of Jiang’s cadre, and the date of Kong’s birth was just before that of the marriage of Jiang to the daughter of the senior cadre. A simple DNA test would confirm whether or not Kong and Jiang are related.” Owyang closed her file with a barely concealed look of disgust.

Wang sighed and said, “Nothing is simple where the Party is involved. The story you have put together is very sad, but it is better not to judge the man.” He looked up with a wry smile. “Bad karma.”

(The two men eventually meet at a dinner party hosted by a senior Party member.)

Wang and Jiang were seated next to each other, and their conversation was strained and awkward. Wang suggested, “Unless you have a sweet tooth, Comrade Commissar, perhaps you and I can have a quiet word when dessert is served.”

“I do have something of a sweet tooth, Spymaster, but it would be a good time for us to clear things up between ourselves.”

As dessert was served, the two got up to go into a small adjoining office. General Chen held a quick look of concern then noticed that their host, Senior Comrade Commissar Cai, was also looking at the departing men with something like satisfaction on his face.

A servant followed the two men into the office with an ashtray and the unspoken question if anything might be required. She was dismissed as both men gave her a quick shake of their heads.

“Comrade Commissar, let me say I am sorry for not being more sympathetic with your protégé and for not trying harder to seek your forgiveness,” Wang said with a grave look.

Jiang did not respond immediately. He seemed overwhelmed with emotion as he shook his head and said, “It is I who must apologize. How could I have expected you to know how much I loved his mother, when I, myself, would not acknowledge it.” He struggled with his emotions for a minute, coming close to tears. Then, he puffed furiously at his cigarette before stubbing it out as he sat with his head bowed low. Wang allowed himself a distracted clinical thought that the cigarette in the ashtray would suffice for a DNA test if one should be necessary.

“I loved her, and I could not acknowledge it. She forgave me for abandoning her for my career. She asked only that I look after our son. I was not able to do even that,” said Jiang in between sobs.

“Not even her parents knew I was his father. They were puzzled whenever I showed up with gifts for him … I haven’t even told him that I am his father!” Jiang’s tears flowed. Wang observed with relief, anguish, and embarrassment.

“His schoolmates made fun of him. They called him a bastard, the son of a whore! This taint followed him even through high school.”

Wang was shocked to recognize that this was probably the kind of thoughtless cruelty that his sister had suffered for his father’s political errors while he had been shielded by his sympathetic teachers from small-minded Party cadres and by Old Chen and Old Wen from their thoughtless and silly schoolmates. Without reflection or forethought, his mind wandered and connected with an awareness of his mother’s anguish. He sensed the welling up of a terrible pain, sadness, and despair. Tears came into his eyes too. When he looked up, he saw that Jiang was staring at him. What Jiang thought he saw in Wang’s anguish, he did not say.

Neither man spoke for a tense moment then Jiang said, “Forgive me, Spymaster. You could not have known, and yet I held you guilty. I desperately wanted him to be secure in some hierarchy. A police inspector is nothing compared to the deputy spymaster. I thought that if he was made your deputy, it would expunge his past, the past that I created for him. And now he has been accused of this scandal.” After another pause, Jiang spoke without emotion. “I will now do whatever I can to help him out of this mess. If necessary, they can have my head.”

He tapped out another cigarette and smoked it calmly. When it was finished, he stubbed it out in the same ashtray. He stood up and extended his hand to Wang. They shook hands in silence and then Jiang left.