One evening in late August 1995 I was surprised to see an item of news in the programme Today Report on the Shandong satellite television. It was about eight survivors from the Le Dao Yuan (Courtyard of the Happy Way) concentration camp in Wei county of the Second World War. They had returned to China after many years to revisit this concentration camp, recalling the ordeal they had experienced and remembering friends who had died in the camp.
Weifang City (which used to be called Wei County) is my home town. I knew the concentration camp situated in the eastern suburb. Thus the news arrested my attention. The returning visitors were very old. The youngest was a lady with blue eyes and blond hair from South Africa. Her gestures and facial expression as she spoke to reporters seemed so familiar to me, particularly the mole on the right of her mouth.
Wasn't she Marina? I immediately said to myself, "This is impossible? Was it really a coincidence?" Besides Marina was an American, so how could she be introduced as a South African? When she was talking about her suffering in the concentration camp she produced from her handbag a yellowish badge as large as her hand, which she had worn in the camp, and showed it to the reporter. We were shown a big close-up of the badge. I quickly studied the name, and could clearly see the first letter `M' when the camera moved away. She said she was 14 years old when the war ended. Then she would be 64 years old now. Yes! This must be Marina.
Could she be the pale, thin and weak little girl called Marina of fifty years ago? I could not believe there could be such a coincidence. However, there could not be two girls of the same age, same personality, and having the same name Marina in the same concentration camp.
That night I could not sleep. All the distant memories of the war came back. The Le Dao Yuan in Wei county was rebuilt from reparation funds after the Boxer Rising, occupying nearly 1,000 m² land. It was a group of buildings consisting of schools, hospital and church. After the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the Japanese invading army in China interned all the British and American nationals, including missionaries, here. It was the only concentration camp for foreign nationals in north China. It was well known both inside and outside of China. The security was extremely tight, with tall watch towers at the four corners of the camp, and it was surrounded by electrified fencing. The local Chinese were forbidden to come close to it. To me it was a horrible, mysterious hell.
When the Japanese Emperor announced his country's surrender I was in Level 4 at a primary school. One day a classmate, Xiao Chen, told me that the electric wires around the camp had been removed, and there was no sign of any guards on the watch towers. There were only a few Japanese soldiers by the south gate as the Allied countries had not yet fully taken over the camp. The internees in the camp now had some freedom and were making contacts outside the camp. But they could not go anywhere. To improve their food rations they bartered their clothes for vegetables. We were told that tomatoes were on demand.
During the Japanese occupation most people in Wei county lived in extreme poverty. We all wore shabby clothes with lots of patches. And so we welcomed the prospect of bartering tomatoes for clothes. Besides I was very curious to see the foreigners who had been cut off in this camp.
One Sunday with my mother's permission I bought 15 tomatoes, and asked Xiao Chen to accompany me in this bartering for the first time in my life. My mother kindly gave me a boiled egg for the day's business. To me at this time the egg was a big luxury, so I did not eat it but put it into my pocket.
We commenced trading from a section of low wall on the east. The buyers stood on something inside the wall, and displayed their clothes to traders outside the wall. The peasants in turn displayed their wares. When both sides had agreed on the exchanges, a basket would be lowered to pass the clothes to the traders and obtain the vegetables.
Xiao Chen made the first deal. He traded 20 tomatoes for a dress and a skirt from an elderly lady who was wearing a coloured dress. Standing beside her was a little girl of my age. She had blond hair and a pair of large blue melancholy looking eyes and a pale thin face. Her teeth were very neat and white, and I noticed a mole on the right corner of her mouth. She was holding up a purple coat and a pair of yellow pointed leather shoes.
The two foreigners had nothing else to bargain with, for they were holding the only goods which they had. The girl put her coat and shoes into the bamboo basket, and passed it down to me, and I in turn put 15 tomatoes in the basket. I looked at her extremely thin arms, and was overwhelmed with pity for her. I then took the egg from my pocket, and placed it in the basket which was already half way up. The girl pulled up the basket and was surprised to find an egg. She took it out and held it high, and shouted something to me. She then gazed at me for a moment, smiling sweetly. She said something to the elderly lady and disappeared from the wall.
The elderly lady had grey hair, and spoke Chinese fluently. She said to me, "The girl says thank you for the egg and wants you to wait for her. She has a gift for you." She then told me about the little girl. Both of them were American. The girl's name was Marina and was 14 years old. She had suffered from malnutrition in the camp for a long time and that was why she looked so small and thin. Marina's father had been a missionary in the city of Shijiazhuang. She and her parents had been caught by the Japanese and interned in this camp. Her father had been punished with reduced rations because he led the internees in demanding more food. Half a year previously he had been taken by the Japanese, and had not been heard of since. Marina's mother was ill. The little girl had rushed to give the egg to her mother.
By now Marina had returned. She put something in the bamboo basket and passed it down. It was a small musical instrument, a xylophone, 1/3 of a metre long. It consisted of 14 flat wooden bars of differing lengths fixed together. There were two wooden round head hammers. The elderly lady told me it had been made by Marina with her own hands, and had taken her a long time to make. It had kept her company during the difficult days of the past.
Just in return for a small egg she had given away her most precious instrument which had enabled her to survive her recent ordeal. What a pure holy heart! This moved me deeply as I loved music very much. When I touched the xylophone I was so excited that my hands trembled. I tried to strike the bars with the hammers, and a beautiful sound filled my ears. Tears ran down my face as I held the exquisite instrument in my arms, touching it gently with my fingers.
Human emotions have no boundaries of nationality. They can be conveyed without the use of language. Marina seemed very happy that her xylophone had brought such joy to a Chinese boy. She smiled at me, a smile which was lovely and moving. She held her soft golden hair in her hands and threw it back. Her pale cheeks blushed. She looked so beautiful!
Xiao Chen and I left. As we went I looked back many times until we could no longer see the girl. She had kept waving her hand to me. I kept repeating to myself - Marina, Marina, Marina - a name I will remember for the rest of my life.
The dress and shoes were not of much use. The coat was a raincoat with purple edges, of good quality but too bright to be worn in those days. It could not even be used for patching. The shoes were too big and pointed. My brothers and sisters were enthusiastic about the xylophone. After some practice I could play a few tunes with it. The xylophone brought me much joy at that time.
Now half a century has passed. What a miracle that I saw her again on television. How I wished that I could ask her what happened to her father and why she went to South Africa. But by the time I saw her on television she must have gone back to South Africa.
I pray for peace in the world. Never again must there be any more wars. I pray that our children may live in a world of love and stability. I cherish the beautiful memory of Marina and of her pure golden heart. I send my sincerest greetings to her from China and wish her great happiness.
Shandong Television (SDTV; Chinese: 山东广播电视台; pinyin: Shāndōng Guǎngbō Diànshìtaí) is a television network covering the Jinan city and Shandong province area. It was founded and started to broadcast on October 1, 1960. SDTV currently broadcasts in Chinese.
The front gate of Weifang camp, through which hundreds of prisoners rushed to welcome their liberators.