Episode 6 of Life on the Edge: Taiwan, China, America, and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said, Series 3 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtimes Stories from See Through News‘ podcast
In Episode 6, we learn what happened to Small Wang, in his wooden wheelbarrow, on the beach.
For best results, start this story at the beginning…
If you’d like to listen to the 10 episodes one by one, like chapters in a bedtime story, click the link to Episode 7 below.
If you’d prefer to hear the whole story in one go, here’s the omnibus edition.
Written, Produced & Narrated by SternWriter
Audio Production by Rupert Kirkham
The Truth Lies in Bedtime Stories is a See Through News production.
See Through News is a non-profit social media network with the goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active.
Episode 6: The Boy In The Wheelbarrow
What of Small Wang?
We left him on the beach, having urged Middle Wang to save himself, watching his weeping brother catch the last landing craft off Big Chen Island.
There was, of course, literally nothing he could do. He’d long developed a raucous squawk to deter rapacious sea birds from pecking out his eyes, a danger he faced as a parplegic with no one else around.
The last US Navy warship steamed away, its decks smothered with his fellow-islanders. The last fighters and helicopters returned to their carriers. The birds re-occupied the skies.
At first their occasional squawks and calls, along with the waves on the beach, were the only sounds around.
After the deafening maelstrom that had enveloped the island since dawn, the silence seemed more silent.
By and by, chickens in nearby coops started to demand their morning feed. Pigs too started to emerge from overnight shelters, wondering what had happened to their breakfast. Donkeys and buffalo began to bray and low, their rumbling stomachs an indication only one human remained on Big Chen Island.
That human was Small Wang. He possessed many gifts and skills, but moving anything other than his head, eyes and tongue were not among them.
All he could do was watch.
Small Wang had been left facing the sea, so what he watched were the black tendrils emerging from the funnels of the communist warships turning into black ribbons, then black plumes, and eventually, thick black columns of sooty exhaust.
The columns reverted to tendrils. The warships weighed anchor, and started deploying their landing craft.
Small Wang noted the different design of the communist vessels, the different body language of their sailors.
The only military sailors he’d met before that morning had been the crew of Nationalist patrol vessels – no more than motor launches with machine guns really. They’d occasionally stroll by the brothers’ garden on shore leave, lean on the fence and chat to the boy in the wheelbarrow.
Now, in the space of one morning, Small Wang had been able to compare the operational manoeuvres of the Pacific Seventh Fleet of the United States Navy, with the East Sea Fleet of the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
The huge gulf in firepower, size and technology was obvious to a child. But what about the crew?
The American sailors, jabbering away in their strange language, and clearly as stressed by the imminent deadline as the islanders they were evacuating, had nevertheless been efficient, and professional. And, given the circumstances, friendly.
Small Wang had absorbed all that Nationalist propaganda about the Communists eating babies and torturing grandparents. Though only 16, experience and natural intelligence had taught him to treat this with more than a grain of salt.
Recently, Small Wang has asked to spend some mornings parked at the back of the rickety shack that constituted Big Chen Island ‘s only school.
Of course Small Wang couldn’t join the other children when they practised writing in chalk on slates, or for those without slates, writing with their index fingers on their outstretched palms.
But Small Wang didn’t need to. Small Wang remembered most things first time.
On the other hand, Small Wang was able to parrot Teacher Li’s pronunciation of the official Beijing dialect that was China’s common language, Mandarin. In fact, he was much better at this than any of the other students. Small Wang was a quick study.
Teacher Li only had a high school education, but he was an amiable, mild, gentle man. Few of his pupils had much time to pursue studies outside the classroom, and not that many had the energy or capacity to achieve much inside it.
Teacher Li was more than happy to share what learning he had with this strange pupil. After the other children had gone home for lunch, he’d stay behind to chat with Small Wang, while they waited for one of his brothers to come and retrieve him.
Small Wang began telling his brothers later and later pick–up times. If they suspected this, they never let on, and Teacher Li didn’t seem to mind either.
Before long, Small Wang had got Teacher Li to fill their ever-expanding waiting time by reading him the classical histories of bygone dynasties aloud.
As Small Wang lay in his wooden wheelbarrow, concentrating on the words and storing them away for future reference, he reached his own conclusions.
Some, he shared with Teacher Li.
Small Wang would remark on how history was written by the victors. He’d note that following periods of disaster and chaos, oppressed people were more ready for big changes. He’d observe how corrupt old rulers painted upstart rivals in the worst possible light.
Other thoughts Small Wang thought prudent to keep to himself. Like the bucket full of Big Chen Island sea salt, with which he was now taking all that Nationalist propaganda about Communists eating babies and torturing grandmothers.
Now, in his wooden wheelbarrow on the beach, Small Wang was about to come face-to-face with his first actual Communists.
Would they shoot him? Would they garland him with flowers? Would they ignore him?
The first landing craft, packed with blue-uniformed sailors, roared away from the flagship in a cloud of blue smoke.
As it approached the beach, Small Wang began to make out the red stars on the sailors’ caps.
A minute later, the first Communist set foot on Big Chen Island. He scanned the deserted beach and the deserted slopes above. He walked up to the wheelbarrow, and loomed over Small Wang. Small Wang reckoned the stripes on his sleeve must mean he was some kind of officer.
‘Are you the only person here?’, asked the officer. He spoke in standard Mandarin, slowly and loudly, as if addressing a mentally retarded peasant child.
‘I certainly appear to be, officer’, replied Small Wang, in perfect Mandarin. ‘Welcome to Big Chen Island’.
In Episode 7, The Circumnavigating Cook, we find out what happened to Middle Wang, after he became the last resident to leave Big Chen Island.