Today's Reading

"His name was Metok Rentzig," Shan said at last. "I didn't understand what the assembly was for. I thought it was just going to be one of those testimonials from a rehabilitated Tibetan. Charges must have been read. I wasn't listening."

"Metok was a senior official at the new hydroelectric project. He took bribes. It was in the papers."

Shan searched his memory, recalling now that he had seen mention of corruption at the Five Claws Dam, the huge project in the far north of the county, thirty miles from his station at Yangkar. "I remember reports at the time of his arrest. Nothing since then."

"Corruption at such a high level is an embarrassment to Beijing. Public Security is told to handle such things quietly."

"You mean a hidden trial," Shan suggested. "Then a hidden execution." 

"What I mean," Tan shot back, "is proceedings that appropriately protected the interests of the motherland. The Party took jurisdiction and the investigation was conducted out of Lhasa. We weren't involved."

Shan spoke toward the window. "Corruption isn't a solitary crime. Yet only one man is charged and executed. A Tibetan."

A rumbling sound of irritation came from Tan, but he vented his anger by tearing open a pack of cigarettes and lighting one. After having a lung removed he had been under strict orders to stop smoking. A few months earlier he had broken the nose of a nurse who had tried to wrestle a cigarette from his hand.

They drove in uneasy silence for several minutes, then Shan saw the towers of the compound they were approaching and stiffened. "I have seen enough of the People's Justice' today," he said in a tight voice.

"Not like this," Tan muttered, then flicked the stub of his cigarette out the window as they slowed at the security gate. The guards offered nervous salutes to the military governor then darted to open the gate of heavy timber and barbed wire.

A freshly painted sign by the entrance declared they were entering Camp New Awakening. Shan had always known the facility as the 105th Reeducation Brigade, although most inmates called it the Shoe Factory. Its residents were all prisoners, but they were considered salvageable and split their days between memorizing Party dogma in classrooms and manufacturing footwear for the People's Liberation Army.

They parked in front of the main administration building and for the second time that day Shan was escorted to a small reviewing stand, this one just a modest foot-high temporary platform with ten chairs. A military march erupted from the public address system as junior officers took seats in the back row. Shan and the colonel were directed to seats beside an overweight, nervous officer whom Shan recognized as the warden. As they sat the gate in the inner fence of razor wire was opened, and prisoners began filing through under the watchful eyes of armed guards, forming in barracks companies a hundred feet in front of the little reviewing stand. For the most part, these were not the long-term prisoners found in Tan's hard labor brigades, located in more remote sections of the county, but only the nuisance makers sentenced to forced reeducation. A Public Security officer could sentence a man to up to a year of such servitude with just his signature, and the power was applied liberally whenever a gathering of Tibetans even hinted at political protest. Scattered among them, however, would be a few hard labor prisoners in transition, who were near the end of their sentences or sometimes just the end of their lives.

Once a month at the Shoe Factory the prisoners were assembled for what the camp administration called its graduation ceremony. Shan braced himself for the usual patronizing speeches by the warden and leading pupils, who would read a prepared speech to express their collective gratitude to the motherland for correcting the wayward paths of their lives. The music faded, and a young officer rose with a megaphone to announce awards, praising one unit for the cleanest barracks, another for the best scores on Chinese history exams. Half a dozen such announcements were made, then a list was handed to the officer and he began reading the names of those to be released. Eight names were called and the prisoners warily marched forward, each accepting a rolled paper that would be proof of completing the Party's curriculum and one of the little red books of Mao's quotations that were ubiquitous in reeducation camps. The books were all in Mandarin, which Shan doubted any of the graduates could read. Each man gave a respectful bow to the warden then was escorted to a van waiting by the administration building, where duffel bags sat on the ground, no doubt holding the belongings they had arrived with.

The officer with the megaphone cast an anxious glance at the warden, who nodded, and one more name was called. "Yankay Namdol," the officer stated over his megaphone. "Come and be recognized."

At first Shan thought the old man who broke out of the ranks was one of the transferred hard labor inmates, for he hobbled as if lame, one shoulder seemed strangely crooked, his unruly hair was mostly gray, and his face was lined with age. But as he approached the platform he grew more erect and his limp became less noticeable, as if he were growing younger before their eyes. He cast a long glance at the gate, where a young Tibetan woman had appeared, holding the reins of two horses.


Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...