On Nov.7th, 93-year-old Ren Jiyu, master of sinology, passed away in Beijing. After hearing this news, I immediately issued a letter of condolences to the National Library, expressing my deep remembrance of Mr. Ren. During his lifetime, he showed great interests in the Xiangyang Lake culture, and also cared for me - the past was still vivid in my mind, and I couldn't help feeling sorrowful.
It was a kind of fate to have the honor to know Mr. Ren. In the spring of 1970, the National Library (originally Beijing Library), had only part of the rear personnel, most were exiled to Xianning May Seventh Cadre School under the Ministry Library. 26 years later, I had a business trip to Beijing and tried to contact Mr. Ren, asking about the total number of May Seventh Cadre School students from the National Library, and the representatives. Mr. Ren, who was serious in both the pursuit of his studies and his behaviour towards people, was very kind-hearted to help me get the names of famous experts once in Xiangyang Lake such as Li Changlu, Zheng Xiaoxun, Qi Zhifen, Ji Shuying, despite the fact that he was not exiled to Xianning and not that much acquainted with me.
I soon finished interviewing relevant experts, then tempted to call on Mr. Ren at Nanshagou Community in Sanlihe, Beijing. Mr. Ren who was at his eighties, wearing a pair of glasses and Chinese tunic suit, looked learned and refined. He was also quick-and-clear-minded, no less than the younger generation, which aroused my respect for him.
Now or never. I took the initiative to talk about Xiangyang Lake, and firstly asked what was his view on intellectuals from May Seventh Cadre School. He seemed to have thought about the answer and said "6000 intellectuals was exiled to Xiangyang Lake in Xianning , which was unprecedented and could be regarded as a special cultural phenomenon. Without the Cultural Revolution, all forces can't come together. It was an age in which knowledge was valueless, intellectuals didn't deserve respect and couldn't extend themselves, and resulted in a great waste of talents. But the most lovely and precious disposition of those intellectuals was that they quickly devoted themselves to their work and doubled their efforts to make up their lost time. Many remarkable achievements were made from the diligence of translators, writers and professors. It is likely to say that intellectuals from May Seventh Cadre School represented the essence of contemporary Chinese culture." Mr. Ren added here with a sense of humor, "but what I want to explain is that the intellectuals don't learn the expertises from May Seventh Cadre School. If so, I'm afraid Chinese academy won't prosper as today."
I continued his topic, "Due to the mistake in history, the intellectuals from the National Library fell into the Xiangyang Lake. And we can no longer turn back again." I asked to the point, "Mr. Ren, why there's no literature of cadre school but of the educated youth?" He slightly stretched and vividly explained, "We never heard that May Seventh Cadre School would hold classmates reunion in memory of the its founding, because it hurt people. Memories there were always bitter which made it different from other schools. I was working at the institute of religion of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and was then exiled to cadre school in Xi County. Students like He Qifang, Ge Baoquan and Qian Zhongshu, who were in the same school but came from different companies, launched the mass movement, scooped up the May Sixteenth counter-revolutionists, exposed and combat each other. Many of them still held the prejudice after returning to Beijing."
The down-to-earth answer from Mr. Ren was very convincing. But I still insisted that the Six Records of the May Seventh Cadre School in Xi County written by Yang Jiang presented us a larger scale of the cadre school in Xianning, and this should be reflected. So I asked again, "What lessons do you learn from the cadre school?"
Mr. Ren answered earnestly, "It is no doubt that we should respect knowledge and talents. I hope the development of culture and education in your region should be attached great importance. The key to the future of a region is its culture and education. Yixing (in Jiangshu Province) is the hometown of Zhou Peiyuan, where there are dozens of professors working outside and also many talents working in the local, which promoted the development of the local economy and culture. If they are illiterate, how can they read the instruction book when they buy new industrial equipment? We are not afraid of brain drain, because when the education really prosper, exporting talents is a good thing. Some local leaders in pursuit of instant success, put too much stress on administrative achievements, and consider building severals factories to fulfill their duties during their presidency. But they ignore education and this is kind of nearsighted. Education is not to get instant results, to only care about the immediate interests. The saying 'It takes a hundred years to educate the people' explains education is a long-term job." At last he wrote in my signature books, "I've never been to Xianning, but I've been to the cadre school in Xi County of Henan Province. I hope we can walk out the errors of depreciating culture and education, promote the socialist civilization construction, develop education, especially care about our young generation, for they grow up healthily and progressively, there is still hope for this nation."
Before leaving, Mr. Ren sent me the books The Album of Buddhist thought in Han and Tang Dynasties and The Selected Academic Treatise of Ren Jiyu.
A year later, Mr. Ren was in response to my request, arranged the personnel in the National Library to list the names of 268 people who once were exiled to Xiangyang Lake. I felt very grateful and thankful when I received his letter. In December, 1997, the People's Literature Publishing House launched the series of Xiangyang Lake culture written by me. On Mar. 29th, 1998, Mr.Ren received my gift books and wrote to me, "I have received the two books Xiangyang Complex and Collected Stories from Intellectuals in Xiangyang Lake. Thank you! If the successors want to write the unofficial history of the Cultural Revolution, this can be the first-hand and precious materials, and can't be exceeded by the official history. Congratulations to your issue of the two books. If not owing to you, such historical materials will disappear, and will be such a pity!"
More amiable the academic leader is, taller the man seems in my eyes. Later, Mr. Ren also sent his new book The Album of Bamboo Shade to me and encouraged me. His spirit lives in my heart! (written by Li Chengwai)