Zen was working on his budget, feeling depressed at the state of his penury, when he noticed something funny on the pale green one-kuai note. Not ha-ha funny, either. It had what looked like a short poem printed on it. Someone had taken a chop or more likely a rubber stamp and affixed a short poem in blue-green ink to the back of the paper bill. This was not the first time he had noticed this.
The poem was a message denouncing the Chinese Communist Party. He had to be sure.
“What? I’m busy. Go away.”
“Just pull your damn head out for a minute and take a look at this.”
“So? It’s yi-kuai. What’s the big deal? Is it mine?”
“No, I mean this. The print here. It’s…it’s a message against the communist party. I mean, that’s like massively subversive.”
“Y’know, secretly trying to make the CCP look bad or like trying to stir up rebellion against them.”
“Ah! That’s nothing. It’s a trifling. No one pays attention to that garbage. You’re jumping the shark.”
“Uhhh, I don’t think that’s the phrase you want to say.”
“You’re jumping something.”
“Yeah, okay. Well, I am perhaps jumping at my own shadow or jumping to conclusions, but what is plainly manifest is that this was purposefully printed on the coin of the realm. And someone didn’t just write it by hand. They went to the trouble to make a seal or some kind of rubber stamp to mass print their message on the one-kuai bill.”
“Never mind. Thanks for your time.”
Zen left Hobbit and the air behind him filled with a cloud of virulent denigrating epithets. Zen took no notice of her calumny. This was too interesting. He looked through his billfold and found another message, different, but still anti-Party. Muthafuckah, I can’t believe my eyes.
It was true. There was another message, this time in dark green ink, very clearly and legibly printed on the back of a one-kuai note. He compared the two notes. It was easy to understand, even an intermediate student of Chinese would be able to translate the message. Zen opened up Google Translate just to make sure. Hobbit should help him, but of course asking her to do anything…. Ah, never mind! I’ll do it myself!
The blue-green message was an actual poem in four lines written in simplified characters, but the lines were read from top to bottom and then right to left as in olden times. Actually in Taiwan this print convention was still in use. Zen wondered if Hong Kong publishing houses also used the original print conventions of complex Chinese characters or if they adopted the CCP’s pinyin print conventions, which followed English language-style of left to right and then top to bottom.
The poem was probably doggerel, but Zen’s Chinese language skills were not so good that he’d be able to tell the difference. It read:
Chinese Communist tyranny has existed for many autumns,
Corrupt officials enjoying happiness of the people’s worries!
The demise of the evil party is (will be) an act of God,
Quit the Party’s team and ride the ark!
Quit the party and ride the ark? What the hell? In pinyin, one could see the a-a-b-a rhyme scheme employed:
zhōnggòng bàozhèng jǐshíqiū, (中共暴政几十秋)
tānguān xiǎnglè bǎixìngchóu! (贪官享乐百姓愁！)
èdǎng mièwáng shì tiānyì, (恶党灭亡是天意)
tuì dǎngtuánduì chéng fāngzhōu! (退党团队乘方舟！)
The characters qiū, chóu, and zhōu all rhymed: oh, oh, oh. Pretty cool.
zhōnggòng shì xiéjiào, huózhāi fǎlúngōng xuéyuán qìgōng màigěi wàiguórén hé yǒuqiánrén. (中共是邪教，活摘法轮功学员器宫卖给外国人和有钱人。)
The Chinese Communist Party is an evil cult, living off the organs of Falun Gong practitioners they sell to foreigners and rich people.
A dark message indeed. That sounded too incredible to be true. Or was it so outlandish that it must be true. Zen thought of the wild and crazy machinations of the CIA in South America when they embarked on anti-socialist anti-communist agendas. They even tried to blow up Castro with an exploding seashell. Their psych-warfare division was notorious. In the Fifties they had tried to plant spies in China. Was this a CIA gambit bent on destabilizing China? Nah. This type of strategy couldn’t have much of an impact. It was more like someone thumbing his/her nose at authority. Still, what a wonderful….
“What are you doing!” Hobbit barked at Zen.
“You can’t write about that. I’m getting worried. You might cause trouble.”
“Shut the fuck up. You worry about your thing and I’ll worry about my thing. Don’t interrupt me.”
“Nothing will happen to you, but I could have trouble. They could say that I was affected by my foreign husband and then I could be put in jail.”
Zen snapped at her, “Jail would be good for you! Less stress, three squares a day. Now leemeealone. I’m busy!”
Hobbit did not understand what he meant exactly, but she was sure it was not well intentioned. She slunk away vexed and anxious. Her stupid American husband had no idea of the amount of trouble he could cause her and her family. She could lose her position at the university in the snap of the fingers. In two snaps, her job, her parents’ pension, gone. Three snaps and she could be swallowed into the belly of the beast. Who would look after her parents? Raise her son? Not him, that was certain. Stupid stupid American.
Zen paused, his conscience pricking him somewhat, but not for very long. This was too interesting. He decided he would begin a collection of these political messages in a bottle, for that was what they were. Someone flung this political call for insurrection into the financial ocean, millions of hands shifting folding sorting transferring changing, millions and millions of transactions, and finally this bill had reached shore, his shore. The shore on the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. Somewhere in Zen’s mind heroic background music began blaring with brass horns and bass drums.
He’d post them online for other foreigners to see. Ha! Occupy Wall Street indeed! That abortive failure by well-fed Americans. Here is actual rebellion. Imagine someone marking dollar bills with messages urging people to overthrow Wall Street, cast out Congress, and take back the government for the People of the United States. That’s illegal in the YOO-ESS-AY. It was written in the Constitution somewheres, “Thou shalt not deface the instrument of your subjugation.”
That’d never happen. Americans have a short attention span, easily distracted by Rubenesque reality TV stars or someone increasing the rates on their video streaming services.
Americans have such a cushy life that they have forgotten what real suffering is like. Zen sighed. He had forgotten as well. When was the last time he was hungry? Really really hungry. Not I’mlosingweightinordertofitintomybikini, but we-don’t-have-enough-money-for-food hungry. Too long. I should fast, he thought. To remind myself how most people live in the world.
It was true. Here in China, although there was a sense of all of that is solid melting into air, some things still carried significant consequence, gravy-tas, groovy-tas. Gravitas.