My Name Is Number 4: A True Story from the Cultural Revolution

My Name Is Number 4: A True Story from the Cultural Revolution

by Ting-xing Ye

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Number Four will have a difficult life. These are the words that were uttered upon Ting-xing Ye's birth. Soon this prophecy would prove only too true. . . .

Here is the real-life story about the fourth child in a family torn apart by China's Cultural Revolution. After the death of both of her parents, Ting-xing and her siblings endured brutal Red Guard attacks on their schools and even in their home. At the age of sixteen, Ting-xing is exiled to a prison farm far from the world she knows.

How she struggled through years of constant terror while keeping her spirit intact is at the heart of My Name Is Number 4. Haunting and inspiring, Ting-xing Ye's personal account of this horri?c period in history is one that no reader will soon forget.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429989725
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 651,581
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Ting-xing Ye is the author of the international bestseller A Leaf in the Bitter Wind. Once an English interpreter for the Chinese government, she now lives in Canada.

Ting-xing Ye is the author of the international bestseller A Leaf in the Bitter Wind. Once an English interpreter for the Chinese government, she now lives in Canada.

Read an Excerpt

My Name is Number 4

A True Story from the Cultural Revolution

By Ting-xing Ye

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1997 Ting-xing Ye
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8972-5


I was born in Shanghai, late on a hot June afternoon in 1952, the fourth child in my family. So I was called Ah Si, Number 4.

My father decided four kids were enough, but rather than rely on birth control, which was officially discouraged at that time, he put his faith in the power of words. Choosing a formal name for a child was no small matter: it required the weighing of tradition and precedent.

My surname, Ye, means Leaf. My generation name, Xing — Capable — had been decreed by my paternal grandfather after casting bamboo fortune telling sticks in the family ancestral hall, so all Father's children were called Xing. My three older siblings Father had named after characteristics he admired; my brothers were Upright and Steadfast, my sister Diligent. For me he chose Ting, a homonym that means Graceful in writing but sounds like Stop when heard.

The word magic didn't work. A year and a half later my sister Maple was born, Mother's fifth and last child.

Normally, June was the beginning of the rainy season, a time of year hated by most people in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. There was usually a solid month of drizzle and extreme humidity. Green mould grew on walls and floors; dampness seeped into people's bones. On the rare days when the sun appeared, courtyards and sidewalks were festooned with clothing, bedding and furniture. Everyone dreamt of living in a "zipper-roofed building."

As Great-Aunt never tired of telling anyone who would listen, my coming into the world was unlucky, a girl born in the year of the dragon. She also said I was destined to lead a hard and unpredictable life, since June 1952 was uncharacteristically hot and dry, a sure sign of the King Dragon's disapproval, for he was the God of Rain. King Dragon, she said, dwelt in a crystal palace at the bottom of the Eastern Sea, where he was surrounded by crab generals and an army of shrimps, all of them male. I was often tempted to ask who did the household chores if there were no females like Grandmother, Mother and Great-Aunt herself around. But I had learned at an early age that there were two topics I should never question: the gods and the government.

* * *

A week after my birth, Mother brought me home from the Red House Hospital, so named because red paint covered its brick walls, wooden window-frames and doors, to my family's three-room apartment in the centre of the city. Shaded by plane trees, Wuding (Valiant Tranquillity) Road ran east and west through the former International Settlement and many long-tang — lanes, some as wide as two cars side by side, some only shoulder width — connected with it, forming a densely populated yet quiet neighbourhood. Shanghai itself, only ten miles wide and ten miles long, was inhabited by about six million people. We lived in Zi Yang Li — Purple Sunshine Lane.

Our two-story brick building was a traditional Shanghai-style house, built in a square U-shape around a courtyard or "sky-well" that served as the front entrance. Two black-lacquer doors, heavy and tall, with brass door-knockers shaped like dragon heads with rings through their noses, guarded the courtyard. Residents used the back door, however, reserving the front for occasions such as weddings and funerals.

In all, eight families lived in six apartments, three at each level. Two water taps in the tiny corridor at the back served all the families, and their use was strictly regulated and policed by our neighbour, Granny Ningbo. The upper tap, with its brick sink, could be used only to wash food, clothing and dishes. The lower one was for cleaning chamber pots and rinsing mops. On each floor, one small kitchen served four families. From the roof terrace I could see the chimney of the Zheng Tai Rubber Shoe Factory, which my father owned.

Where Purple Sunshine Lane intersected with Wuding Road was the cal chang — food market. Its rough plank stalls stretched about thirty yards along both sides of the shady street. The centre of our neighbourhood, it opened at six o'clock in the morning, but lineups for popular food like pork bones and fat, which were cheaper and required fewer ration coupons, began to form hours earlier. Some residents would get out of bed early, take up spots near the front of the line, then sell them for a few cents. By early afternoon the market was closed, and the residents used the empty stalls to make quilts on or to air their bedding.

For several years the sky-well, the lane and the busy market were my world.

* * *

One day when I was four years old, my father came home from the factory with a big red silk flower pinned to the lapel of his Western-style jacket. Even at that age I knew that wearing a red flower, real or not, meant praise and honour. But Father didn't look happy about his prize. He limped past me, tossing the flower on the dinner table, and closed the bedroom door behind him. I stared longingly at the red blossom. From inside the bedroom, I heard Father and Mother talking. Only then did I realize that Father had come home early. All my older siblings were still in school and two-year-old Number 5 was having a nap.

Mother came out of the room and saw me eyeing the flower. She said I could have it so long as I kept quiet. She helped me pin it to my jacket and I rushed joyfully downstairs to the sky-well, sporting my colourful reward. I didn't know that Father had been given the flower for surrendering his factory — the enterprise his grandfather had established and he had operated for almost twenty years — to the government. In return, he was to receive a ridiculously meagre compensation of cash and bonds, paid in installments over seven years.

Father was kept on as "private representative" to run the factory he used to own. But when he insisted on claiming his compensation, he was labelled a "hard-minded capitalist" who, the government said, could be reformed only through hard physical labour. Thus, before I turned five, my father had fallen from a respected and prosperous business owner to a labourer.

Even though I was too young to understand the momentous changes that worried Mother, Father and Great-Aunt, I was old enough to notice certain changes. Father no longer wore his Western-style jacket and tie. Instead he put on a dark blue or black worker's jacket buttoned up to the neck. Despite his physical disability — a childhood attack of meningitis had crippled him in one leg and he had to walk with a cane — he was assigned to one of the most menial jobs in the factory, pushing a heavy wooden cart loaded with rubber shoe uppers between workshops. It was the humiliation and deep wound to his pride that led him to make a decision that turned to tragedy.

One morning in April 1959, Father left home to go to work as usual. It was the last time I saw him walk. Later that day, Mother was called to a district hospital, where she learned that without telling anyone in the family Father had undergone surgery to cure his limp. The operation had been botched and Father was paralyzed from the waist down. Mother was horrified to see Father's entire torso wrapped in bandages that hid a wide scar from the base of his neck to his pelvis. After three years of suffering, confined to his bed, he passed away at the age of forty-one. I was nine.

Left with five kids and no job, my mother took me time after time on her visits to the factory, where she begged the officials to cash some of the bonds Father had been given when the factory was expropriated. The family had no income now, she argued, and her children were hungry. Her pleas and my tears had no effect. The bonds could not be redeemed for many years, Mother was reminded.

In order to feed her family, Mother had to face the fact that one of my brothers, seventeen and fifteen at the time, would have to quit school and find a job. One day in May 1963, a year after Father's death, Mother once again took me with her to the factory. She asked the director to take one of her sons on as an apprentice to help ease her burden and support the family. If there was any way she could have avoided coming to him for help, she said, weeping harder, she wouldn't be sitting there begging him. An hour later, we were sent away without an answer.

For weeks the atmosphere at home was so tense that I could almost touch it with my fingertips: tense because my brothers were forced to make a decision neither of them wanted; tense because the factory director might turn down Mother's pleas. Finally the answer came: the Rubber Industry Department would take Number 1 on, not in Father's factory, but in one that specialized in melting and refining raw rubber.

Mother was relieved but worried. She had wanted her son to work in Father's former factory because it was nearby. Most of the workers there knew our family and she hoped that they would look after her son. An added complication was that, although the director had specified a position for my eldest brother, Number 1 and Number 2 had decided differently. None of us knew how they had come to the conclusion that Number 2 was to be the one to quit school so that Number 1, who was one year short of qualifying to sit for university exams, could continue his education. My father had always wanted both of his sons to go to university. Since no one in the new factory knew my family, Number 2 pretended to be Number 1, and by the time the director found out, Number 2 had turned sixteen and was already a skillful worker.

So by the time I was twelve, my family had been on welfare for years. Where I had once sported a silk coat covered with a cotton smock, I now wore my brother's hand-me-downs. And when I passed up and down our lane, the residents, in particular the members of the neighbourhood committee, suspicious that my "capitalist" mother had secret income, would stop me and lift up my jacket to make sure I wasn't wearing good clothing hidden underneath. When I became nearsighted, Mother ignored my pleas for prescription glasses because she couldn't afford to buy me a pair. Instead she gave me a pair Number 2 had outgrown. They caused me constant headaches, and I put them on only when necessary.

However, my personality had grown far from the modest and passive Chinese female praised by tradition. In defending myself and my family's name and, at times, fighting against my bullying neighbours over my mother, I became combative and argumentative. This often saddened Mother. The degradation of poverty and social discrimination had left deep scars.

Our household, meanwhile, struggled to return to normal. In August 1964, I was accepted by an all-girl middle school named Ai Guo — Love Your Country — which had been run by foreign missionaries before the communist government came to power. My sister, Number 3, was enrolled in a new middle school closer to home. Number 1, after scoring extremely high on his entrance exams, won a place at the coveted Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. In five years, he would be an automotive engineer. Mother was especially happy to see Number 2 spending more time at Father's desk. He had been admitted to a workers' night school and was taking courses to complete his senior middle school education.

But throughout the fall of 1964, Mother continuously lost weight. She insisted that everything was fine but I frequently saw her holding a hot-water bottle to her stomach. Then one day, her pain drove her to the hospital. The diagnosis was final and devastating: cancer. Two-thirds of Mother's stomach was removed. We should hope for the best, the doctor said to the five of us.

Six months later, the cancer returned. This time Mother was sent home from the hospital with a gloomy prognosis and a large dose of painkillers. On December 31, 1965, after enduring months of awful pain and misery, Mother too died, three years after Father had left us.

In the days after Mother's funeral, I refused to go to school. In fact, I felt I wouldn't mind if I never saw my classroom again. The sight of my parents' silent bedroom and empty bed frightened me. I was scared to stay home yet scared to go out.

The spring passed slowly as the five of us tried to face our parentless life. In March, Great-Aunt turned 55 and was retired from the factory. She was home all day. Yet her care and devotion to us made me miss my mother more than ever.

* * *

One warm April morning, two months before my fourteenth birthday, I was busily working at my desk during a break between classes. Most of us at Ai Guo Middle School used the recess time to make a start on our homework so we would have less to do after school. As I got out of my seat to head for the bathroom I felt something warm and sticky running down the inside of my leg. One of the girls sitting behind me cried out, their necks and whispered. There were red spots on the floor and a pool of blood on my seat.

Remembering Great-Aunt's gruesome tale of her cousin bleeding to death from a gastric ulcer, I was suddenly sick with terror. I have to get home, I thought frantically, snatching up my belongings and stuffing them into my bag. I adjusted the strap so the bag would cover my bottom and raced out of the school.

I ran all the way. First Father, then Mother. Now it was my turn to die, bleeding to death! I burst into our apartment and found Great-Aunt darning Number 2's cotton socks. She looked up, startled, as I squeezed past her, ducked behind the curtain and plunked myself down on the chamber pot.

"Great-Aunt," I cried, "I am bleeding to death, just like your cousin!"

"What are you talking about, Ah Si?" Through a gap in the curtain I noted that she hadn't even looked up from her mending.

"I have blood all over my pants and it's still coming!" I yelled. What's wrong with herí I thought. Can't she see I'm sick?

Finally she put down the sock and needle and slowly rose to her feet, mumbling.

"What did you say?" I shouted, exasperated by her apparent calm.

"I really don't know what to tell you," she said, opening a dresser drawer. "It should be a mother's job to explain this."

I hated it when she talked like that. Whenever I got on her nerves, she wouldn't criticize me. Instead, she would blame Mother for spoiling me. If I complained about the ugliness of my clothes, she would say I had Mother's vanity in my blood. I had given up arguing years ago; she always got the last word.

Now here we go again, I thought. I'm dying and she makes remarks about my poor dead mother.

"Why can't you leave Mother alone? At least you're still alive."

I yanked the curtain closed, expecting her to criticize me for my outburst. But she brought me a small paper parcel and a square brown package with "Sanitary Paper" written on all four sides. Her lack of concern calmed me somewhat and I examined the parcel. I had seen ones like it in store windows and had often wondered why there were two kinds of toilet paper, one called straw paper — an accurate description, since smashed straw pieces made a wrongful appearance here and there — and the other sanitary paper, which was sold in glued packages rather than stacks. Now that I thought of it, I had also seen it from time to time in our toilet paper basket at home.

But why was Great-Aunt handing me this stuff when I was in such danger? My very life was flowing down my legs. I recalled what the doctor had told us when he had diagnosed Mother's terminal cancer: "Let her eat what she likes." Was that why Great-Aunt was giving me such fancy toilet paper?

I turned the second packet over in my hand. "Sanitary Belt" it read. I thought, double sanitation. Inside was a pink belt-like contraption, shaped like the letter T, made of soft rubber with white cotton bands.

"What's this?" I called out to Great-Aunt, who had returned to her work. "Why are you giving me these instead of pills?"

"Are you really as stupid as you sound? Can't you read?"

"Of course I can, but there's nothing here to tell me what they're for!"

"Don't try to fool me. I may not know how to read, but I can see there are words all over the packages," she insisted.

Knowing I had already gone too far, I softened a bit. Besides, I knew I could be left in this position all day if I opened my mouth again. In a moment Great-Aunt came back and showed me how to fit the paper inside the belt.

"Believe me, you are not going to die. Your parents wouldn't let that happen to you."

I put the strange contraption on and waited for Number 3 to come home for lunch. She went to a different school because of her entrance exam results. Maybe I could get some answers as well as sympathy from my elder sister.

"Number 3! I thought I was going to die this mor —"

"Cut your voice down, Ah Si," Great-Aunt interrupted.

"What happened?" Number 3 asked.

I dragged her into the front room. "I have gastric bleeding, just like Great-Aunt's cousin. You can't imagine what a mess I made in the classroom."

Before I could go on, my sister pushed me away. "It's a pity you only look smart," she sneered. "Didn't you read your health textbook?" She walked out of the room, muttering, "Dying! As if there isn't enough death in this family already."


Excerpted from My Name is Number 4 by Ting-xing Ye. Copyright © 1997 Ting-xing Ye. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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My Name Is Number 4: A True Story from the Cultural Revolution 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
sedelia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wasn't able to put this book down. The events are well-depicted and at times, simply horrifying. While this was definitely written to a young adult audience, it is a book that anyone with an interest in history and the struggle to live in a hostile environment would enjoy. At times I thought the narration was choppy and the way in which time goes by somewhat vague, but it wasn't enough to lose my attention.
silverwing2332 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this as an Early Review book. I was happily surprised by this book, it was a quick easier read and was genuinely interesting. Having read books on the subject before, I was prepared for a rather dry and dull piece of the subject of China's cultural revolution. The book was not dry, it is geared for a younger audience and you can tell that from the way that it reads, as well as the tone of the piece. It takes you step by step through her life in China, from explaining what the revolution was to basic information on Chinese life. The narrative can be somewhat broken, it doesn't go into in depth details and tends to skip from subject to subject without fully focusing on one thing. There is sometimes an emotionless quality about the narrative, the emotions portrayed in the story do not always carry over to the reader. The perseverance and strength Ye shows is astounding and really a great role model for anyone. I found myself in awe of the way she (and her family) handled things during those times.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This Young Adult memoir is an abridged edition of the author's 1997 adult book of memoirs A Leaf in the Bitter Wind. I find the Cultural Revolution amazing to read about. It is almost impossible to believe it happened as it sounds so much like dystopian literature. But the reality is that it did indeed happen and millions of Chinese people were brutally treated in their own country. Ting-Xing relates her childhood at the beginning of the Revolution and the hardship of her 5 orphaned siblings living with an adored Great Aunt who wasn't really a relative at all. The story of how her life quickly changed from school girl to political exile on a prison farm out in the countryside.An astonishing and tumultuous tale from beginning to end. I was hooked from the outset and felt deeply for this girl who spent her late adolescence on a work farm. The story ends with her finally leaving the farm after six years and being allowed to go to university as an English major.Not included in the book is how she became an English-Chinese interpreter and eventually defected to Canada in 1989 and now lives with fellow Canadian author, William Bell. Highly recommended!
ZechariahStover on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Overall I would say this is a fairly well written book, though it was not good enough that I would recomend it to all my family members. It was certainly written to targets young adults so she tried to be careful. It is certainly much cleaner/safer than most of what is out there for that age group. She was certainly successful in portraying some of the horror and agony of the Cultural Revolution in China. Personally I would have prefered more historical information but it did have quite a bit and that was probably more than what she had at the time. I think it would be helpful to read an overview of the revolution before reading this book to make it easier to follow the political side of things.
sheelysmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ting-Xing grew up during a particularly bleak time of China's modern history: the Cultural Revolution. Despite her family's incredibly poor circumstances (with both of her parents dead and five children to feed), in middle school she is labeled "bourgeoisie" is tormented and ridiculed because her father had owned a factory before the communist take over. As the political climate gets more and more fevered, Ting-Xing is soon exiled to a prison camp as a laborer, to help "ease overpopulation in the city" and life in the camp is, if possible, even less pleasant than in the city.One of Ting-Xing's strengths as a writer is her ability to really capture her teenage self. I think teenager readers will relate to her experiences because beyond the horrific and disturbing experiences, she includes details that still concern teens today (relationships with siblings, the horrors of menstruation, guilt and loss). Not only that, it also makes plain that often during the cultural revolution it was teens and very young adults who turned against their friends and classmates (this is consistent with other memoirs I have read of the time). And while she paints herself as a victim, I think again, she is describing her teenage feelings - so it never felt as though she is begging for our sympathy for her experience, more so she can show others that she was just a normal teenage girl going through a horrendous experience that could've happened to anybody.As Ting-Xing survives ordeal after ordeal in the prison camp, she slowly comes into her own and finds, somehow, a seed of hope that her life won't have to end in the rice patties. Her perseverance and strength are evident and a great example for teens and adults alike.
lefty33 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ting-xing Ye grew up in a politically fractured China, where the "wrong" political allegiance could be a death sentence. Her parents died when Ting-xing was 14, but her father had owned a business and land, thus he was branded a capitalist, a grave offense on the new communist China. This was held against the entire family for life. With a black political background, Ting-xing and her four siblings endured attacks on their school and their home. At the age of 16, Ting-xing was ordered to a prison farm far from her home and family where she suffered from poor living conditions, illness, and loneliness while forced to do hard labor. She was teased, tormented, and tortured for having a capitalist father. Fellow workers invented crimes against the state for which Ting-xing was also held accountable.Ting-xing's story is heartbreaking and frustrating to read. I just wanted to knock some sense into the Red Guards. The leaders came up with whatever stories they wanted against a family, and to say the charges were false would earn a beating. The only escape from such charges was to confess and accept whatever punishment the authorities deemed appropriate. People were beaten (sometimes to death), humiliated, exiled, and murdered for having the wrong political affiliations or for being suspected of not embracing the new China. I cannot imagine growing up in such a place. It is unbelievable that this happened just 35 years ago. Ting-xing told her story well, including cultural and historical background that makes the story easily understandable to other cultures. The personal details enhance the story's depth and sadness. It is a wonderful book about struggle, courage, failure, and triumph that I would recommend to all human beings in hopes of avoiding a repeat of such events.
mymother on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent! I read it in 3 nights and couldn't put it down. I am planning to read the other book Ye wrote A Leaf in the Bitter Wind to learn even more.The book was a first hand account of a girl who spent (6?) years at a Prison Farm during Mao Tse Tung's Cultural Revolution. It is so interesting, because Ye was an average Chinese girl minding her own business when the Revolution began. She wasn't a "news hound" and she seemed to have a very uneventful before it. However, after the Cultural Revolution began her life was turned upside down and through circumstances she was sent to work at a Prison Farm (which was more like a work farm since she was not a prisoner.)Ye has a great sense of irony and makes great insights into the lives of Mao and his subordinates. It was so interesting to read a first hand account of the Cultural Revolution. I had never studied Chinese History and it makes me want to study it so I can see what made a whole society fall under Mao's control.I don't think I really did the book justice, but I did LOVE it and would highly recommend it to anyone of high school age or older. It found it extremely thought provoking (as a student of politics) and unlike anything I had read before. It was difficult to read about her treatment at times, but knowing that she eventually gained her freedom made it so much easier to bear.
keristars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was eager to read this book because of a new interest in China in the mid twentieth century, especially in what life was like for ordinary people. My Name is Number 4 definitely did not disappoint on that front! It is a fascinating story about Ting-Xing Ye's adolescence during the Cultural Revolution, and is just one example of how someone with a "capitalist" family background fared during that time. It is a nice counterpoint to Adeline Yen Mah's story Falling Leaves and its abridged YA version Chinese Cinderella, where Yen Mah is in Hong Kong during the Cultural Revolution and thus escapes the worst of it.As interested as I was in the details of Ye's story, I found the narrative itself to be somewhat lacking. It felt rushed and confused at times, as though it were trying to encompass too much in too little space, thus leaving many of the anecdotes without any real depth. But perhaps this is by design: there is no doubt that as I read the book, I was able to imagine the fear and confusion that Ye must have felt during the Cultural Revolution herself. In all, I found My Name is Number 4 to be interesting and enlightening, but not completely satisfying. I suspect that the version of Ye's story meant for adult readers will fill in many of the gaps left by this abridged version.
supertalya on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I fell in love with this memoir. Number 4 is an unlucky number in Asia. In a lot of elevators the letter "F" will indicate the 4th floor instead of the number 4. Ting-xing Ye, as the fourth child was told she would have have a hard life and during China's Cultural Revolution her whole world turned upside down. The author's voice is gritty and real. I felt like I was fighting for survival along with her. I am looking forward to reading the whole adult memoir.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
An old proverb says: When at home, depend on your parents; when away from home, rely on your friends.

Ah Si, which means number four, was told this by a beloved teacher when she was sixteen and about to leave for a prison farm.

The author was born into a capitalist family in China. Her father was a prosperous business owner who was forced into becoming a laborer. His sudden death caused the family to take drastic steps to survive. The older children needed to find jobs to support the others. Then their mother died of cancer and the children were totally on their own.

Number 4 found herself in the middle of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. She was treated poorly because of her upbringing as a capitalist and protested with other students in Beijing. She made a brave decision to work at the prison farm in exchange for her sisters to remain in Shanghai.

Life at the prison farm was grueling and Number 4's capitalist background causes the guards to bombard her with questions. Yet Number 4's spirit and drive remain strong and she knows she has the courage to succeed.

This was a very good novel full of history about a time period that Americans may not be familiar with. I found it to be educational as well as motivating.