In the mid-April of 1997, 80-year-old Chen Yuan, academician of the International Academy of Science and former chief manager and editor of the Commercial Press, came all the way along to find the former site of the cadre school in Xianning just after his operation in Union Medical College Hospital, and fulfilled his long-cherished wish of returning to the Xiangyang Lake. All this was done out of expectation from his relatives and friends. He was moved by the sight in Xianning, so he wielded his writing brush and wrote an inscription, "6,000 people's perspiration, tears, distress, anxiety as well as a little hope, all together merged into the Xiangyang Lake."
The parting seemed still vivid in mind but time flied. On Sep. 26th, 1969, Chen Yuan, the then deputy director general of State Publication Bureau, was released the second day after being investigated, was exiled to Xianning with many others. At the very beginning, they even didn't have houses to live, so they started from scratch and built houses brick by brick. Sometimes he had to work in the rain, wet all over with insensible legs and feet. Although he was over 50 years old, he had to insist. Two months later, Chen Yuan’s wife Yu Di, together with his son Chen He, also came to the cadre school.
In that year, the Xiangyang Lake was all surrounded by barren land and deserted hills, with countless red soil and rare trees. The hardship of the working conditions was unimaginable, but the most difficult thing was to carry out movements to arrest the "May Sixteenth" counter-revolutionists. Chen Yuan was once "honorably" appointed as the civil service "choreman", responsible for receiving the externally transferred people, and he often walked three hours to Xianning City to send letters. But Chen Yuan was optimistic with the fate he got, claiming himself like the waste recovery. Some youngsters called him "Old Waste" in the public, he would answer with pleasure. But there were also a lot of unkind matters in the cadre school that had largely hurt the self-esteem of the intellectuals, for example, Chen Yuan’s wife lived dozens miles away in the "family company" in Jinkou Town. Once, her heart disease relapsed suddenly, and he took the emergency telegram to ask for a leave, but the army rejected him and said "Look at the situation, there is no time for you to visit relatives and friends!" At that time Cheng He was only 12 years old, but the experiences in the cadre school seemed to have made him grow up in just one night. Drinking the water of Xiangyang Lake, he gradually understood what to do in the rest of his life…
Chen Yuan, with the character of a scholar, was very frustrated in his mind for he hadn't taken good care of his wife and child. Sometimes he recalled the time before the cadre school, when he was unable to protect his cherished books, he still felt fitful pains in his mind! What unbearable memories they were, over 5000 books( among them about 1000 were written in foreign languages) were sold as "waste paper", only to exchange for 170 yuan. How couldn't people claim that knowledge had been devalued and intellectual had been disgraced.
One day, a political commissar of the Mao Zedong Thought propaganda team in the army appointed him a special task: to deal with 9 gunny-bags of "documentary materials" in full authority, including the evidence of the external transference of all the companies, the manuscript of the big-character poster, the letters to report and so on. Treated as "waste", Chen Yuan felt the heavy responsibility in his shoulder, so he read the "waste" carefully one by one, and then chose discreetly. He read fascinatedly, and finally spent couple of months to finish the job. Unexpectedly, he got a lot of things that could not be learned from the books, and found many people’s true self. For example, some people looked very loyal but actually was very treacherous, some people appeared to be slow-witted but turned out to be of great wisdom; Some people who was in bad luck but still thought about others, and some people even hit others in their downs just for a little personal profit. He even found the materials related to his "reactionary gang" matters, so he couldn't help to surprise.
Then, beside the lake, Chen Yuan started thinking of the "Culture Revolution", and many questions came into his mind -- why 17-year literature and artistic battle was deemed as "a mess of darkness"? Why the revolutionists fighting for lifetime became counter-revolutionists? Why the anti-revisionists fighting for long became revisionists? Why the revolution in the end only left us a "close friend"? Why the vanguard of the working class reported to superiors day and night like religious believers? Why the leader's words were trumpeted important as truth? Why a quotation was more powerful than atomic bomb? If the "Cultural Revolution" went downtown like this, would our nation and our people still have hopes? etc.. Although he couldn't figure it out, he believed, It sometimes rained, but couldn't keep raining all the time, there was always sunny days. As expected, after Lin Biao stepped down from stage, Chen Yuan had many of his puzzles solved one by one.
More fortunately, the late spring of 1972, Premier Zhou Enlai bothered about this in person, thus Chen Yuan, the poet Li Ji, the publisher Chen Hanbo, and the artist Shao Yu were summoned back to Beijing and returned to their former career, which became a cause célèbre in Xiangyang Lake. His colleagues were all very excited, discussed and thought this could be a good sign. By 1974, cadre school disbanded, and the "May Seventh" students all went home.
After the crushing of the "Gang of Four", the "waste" Chen Yuan became a truly "treasure". he resumed his career, published In the Forest of Words, Utterance at Dust, Published Collected Works of Chen Yuan and Collective Works of Chen Yuan.
He served as the first and second vice-president of the Association of Chinese Publishers, director of the State Language Work Committee, and played an important role in China's publishing industry and Linguistics. ( written by Li Chengwai)