Zhang Weiming, the 65-year-old grandmother in the story beneath got 3 1/2 years in prison today. I've transcribed our interviews with two other Xinjiang zhiqing and pasted here because their stories are so interesting.

Guan Haidong, 63

“I went to Xinjiang in 1965 and worked for the Xinjiang Construction Platoon, second division.

“I was a fresh graduate in aviation from Nanchang university. My job was to be a pilot. The government said I could work in the Civil aviation bureau in Xinjiang but when we arrived, we discovered it was a total lie.

“At the time Shanghai was like anywhere else - poverty stricken and we had little to eat in the wake of the Great Famine.

“The government told us we could grow grapes and melons and we could eat eggs and noodles everyday, and have hot water and electricity. Since we could barely get by at that time, it sounded ideal. After all, four people in my family of six were unemployed.

“The first year in Xinjiang we were paid 3 kuai a month. Then 5, then 8. By the fourth year it was 24 kuai. In the 1990s, my last paychecks rose to 33.92 kuai.

“As Shanghainese, we were not the same as the locals and it was hard. We grew sweetcorn, rice and wheat but the work was hard and I chafed against it. Because I caused a fuss, I was thrown into prison during the Cultural Revolution.

“In the 32 years I spent in Xinjiang, I used to come home to Shanghai every three to four years. And in 1979, when my case was readdressed after the Cultural Revolution I got married to a woman in Xinjiang who came from Sichuan. I had a son and a daughter.

“I moved back to Shanghai in 1999, but my family had to stay in Xinjiang because they did not have a Shanghai hukou. I managed to get this fixed and they came in 2006. We live in a one-room apartment in Baotou road measuring 20sq metres. I bought it in 1997 for 35,000 yuan.

“Part of the problem is that while I live in Shanghai, my pension is administered by my old work unit in Xinjiang. So I only get 1,400 a month, and others get even less. I think it should be at least 1,800.

“You cannot live in Shanghai on 1,400 a month. My wife takes in some laundry and earns 800 a month, and my children both work, but children these days spend more money than they earn.

“What I want is for the government to control the housing price. But they never reply to us. They just define us as trouble-making petitioners.”

Lu Liying, 65

“I went to Xinjiang in 1963 together with my elder sister. They told us we could come back in three years and that we were going there to do some silkworm farming.

“But actually we grew rice and wheat. We did not volunteer to go, we had to go. In big families, at least half the children had to go to the countryside. We left one sister at home. She was working at a mechanical engineering factory and they would have forced her out if we had not gone.

“My older sister died in Xinjiang in 1982. When we left Shanghai it was really poor, and basically there was no way to earn extra money.

“You wouldn’t starve to death, but every household was barely scraping by. We went to Aksu and we grew cotton, rice and wheat. We had never done any farm work before, so it was very difficult at the start. I was only 16 years old, so it was hard for me to leave Shanghai as well.

“If I started to try to describe it, I could not finish the story in two days. It was a life you could never imagine. At dinner, we were eight people in a circle, squatting over the food on the ground. At bedtime we dug holes and lay a thin layer of straw.

“It was okay for us, but the boys never had enough food to eat. We even thought about hanging a rope from the ceiling and hanging ourselves. It was really desolate and it was hard labour and we had no money to get back. If we did well, we were given a cup or some soap as a reward.

“In the first three years, we earned 3 kuai, then 5 and then 8. Then in the fourth year I got 31.08 and that lasted for a long time. Eventually when I left XJ in 1992, I was on 150 yuan.

“My father died in 1962 and my mother in 1968. At the time, I wanted to come back for my mother’s funeral but my unit prevented me from going. My elder sister was allowed to go.

“In 1970, I did a trip back to SH on my own expenses. The free trips were only to visit families and since both my parents died I no longer had that privilege. Every time our eldest sister saw us, she burst into tears because we were so thin and yellow. We didn’t have good food. Just some mashed corn. I have two children, a boy and a girl in their 20s. The boy is at a shipping factory. I met my husband in Xinjiang and he is from Shandong.

“I now get 1,600 in pension. My husband gets a Shanghai pension. We rent a house in Hudong New Village. It has one bedroom, 20sqm and the monthly rent is 1200. It’s the cheapest we can find. Out of the original 100,000 Xinjiang Zhiqing, there are only 20,000 left. The rest have died. I’ve been petitioning for over nine years now, and mostly all that I want is better medical insurance.”
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