Mr. Zhao, dad's 72-year-old caretaker, bursted
into the room, with a big smile on his dark
wrinkled face, waving a brown envolope: "We
won!" He came in to cook lunch for dad, after a
morning trip to BaoDing, the district capital, to
pick up the precious document stating that
retirees of the No. 108 freeway project, got a 300
RMB monthly raise.
It's an epic story, more than half a century in
the making and full of heart-wrenching twists and
turns. The summary here was from pieces of
recollection from talking to our hero during my
recent trip to China.
It started when 18-year-old Mr. Zhao joined the
labor force to build the freeway for national
defense. The road from Beijing to TaiYuan was
completed in three years and the workers were
sent home. Then the cultural revolution stormed
by and turned everything upside-down. The
government went defunct and the benefits for the
workers fell through the crack.
One generation later, some 2000 retirees had to
fight for their livelihood in old age. They came
to the Transportation Department in Beijing and
got the approval. But that turned out to be only
the first step. The battle had to be fought at
every level down the political hierachy.
Mr. Zhao led the effort as the
representative for the retirees in our county. His
assets included his excellent health, a quick mind,
a sharp tongue, a tireless work habit, and a
strong sense of honor in helping his fellow men.
He studied relevant laws by himself, mobilized his
old, weak and more-or-less sick comrades to
demonstrate in front of the BaoDing government
building, and argued with bureaucrats who had no
interest, to say the least, in his cause. He might
not know about Gandhi, but certainly acted out
the Tao(道). He did something similar to the well-
known Indian non-violence resistance with even
more provactive measures by telling some of his
soldiers, 70+-year-old guys, to lie down in the
front and to fake injury the moment the police
used force. The police were informed of the
tactics, too. In the end, no law was broken and
violence never took place.
Of the 2000 freeway laborers, about 800 were still
alive when Mr. Zhao came back with the document
that day. He was jubilant, nonetheless. He piled up
his De(德), Mr. Zhao claimed.