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《Fatal Weakness》Chapter 5: Sudden rise of corruption

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热度1606票 时间:2011年3月24日 09:01

I get off the plane at Chek Lap Kok international airport in Hong Kong, pass through customs, and have to wait about ten minutes before I can pick up my suitcase. I place it carefully on a cart and open the combination; I can see from the markers I set that it was searched by agents back in America. Feeling a bit restless and jittery, I walk towards the exit. To avoid having to see the strange faces all lined up waiting to greet their family and friends, I keep my head down, pretending to look at a sticker on my suitcase, walking at a faster pace to get through more quickly. I think I hear someone call my name, but I don't look up. I must be imagining things. Out of the blue, a fat, bloated figure jumps in front of me, blocking my way out, and then I realize someone I wasn't just imagining things. I'm shocked when I look up: "Tian Haipeng, what a coincidence!"

"No coincidence, I came just to pick you up man." Tian Haipeng grabs my suitcase, grabs me by the shoulder and walks us out the door.

"Just to pick me up?"

"What, I'm not allowed? You're one hard guy to find. Xiaohai said you went to New York, but I couldn't get through to Guo Qingqing's number. I finally got hold of Liu Mingwei in Washington, and he told me you were flying back to Hong Kong today. I drove down from Guangzhou, been waiting here for two hours already. You didn't know I was coming, so I was afraid I'd already missed you. You need to get with the times, man, and get yourself a roaming worldwide number."

"Me?" I can tell something's up with Tian Haipeng, but we've got three hours to chat on the drive from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, so I just laugh: "there isn't anyone who'd need to get ahold of me that bad. You and I only see each other every few years or so as it is. You want me to get a worldwide just for you? I can't afford that..."

Tian Haipeng puts my suitcase in his car where it sits just outside the airport. I hop into his BMW with its dual Hong Kong-Guangzhou plates and off we go. Out of all of us from school, Tian Haipeng was the first to quit his government job and go into business for himself, and he's a returnee Chinese as well. Though we're both in Guangzhou, we almost never see each other. I remember two years ago when one of our college classmates from out of province came to town and the three of us got together for dinner once or twice. I see he's done quite well, cross-border BMW and all. He was born with a big frame, muscle from head to toe, the biggest guy out of the lot of us. Over the years, though, the muscle has turned to fat.

Leaving the airport, he picks up speed. "Did you hear? Li Jun's in trouble."

Li Jun is a classmate of ours who got assigned to work in the Guangdong provincial government. He, Tian Haipeng and I have been nicknamed 'The Three Musketeers' by the others, most likely for our reputations of being chivalrous and warmly hospitable. Every time any classmates pass through Guangzhou, the three of us always come together, one paying, one driving, and pulling all the necessary few strings, putting in every effort to make sure all visitors get a hearty dinner, a night cruise up and down the Pearl River or, if they want it, a night of karaoke fun with no fear of any legal consequences with Li Jun our resident government official there. It's a lot different when we head inland, running into a lot of classmates making all sorts of excuses: an ill-timed meeting, a business trip, sometimes even faked enthusiasm in bringing us to their homes for a barebones tea-and-soup dinner, so us 'three musketeers' feel no qualms about this nickname. Though Li Jun is the only one of our classmates to have risen to the vice-director level of a government sub-department, he's still very discreet, very cautious of becoming too arrogant or overcautious, to the point that I'm unable to imagine what it is he might have done. I look to Tian Haipeng in disbelief, wanting him to go on.

"Li Jun was arrested, a week ago already. Charges were formally laid yesterday. It looks like he's really done in for this time."

My mind flashes back to my own arrest just two months prior. Thinking back to then, I feel Haipeng might be worrying too much. "Don't be so nervous, just getting arrested doesn't necessarily mean he's a goner."

"What are you talking about? He's only a rank below vice-governor. They wouldn't have just arrested him without conclusive evidence. He's not just some bum like you!"

"Hey, what you trying to say? And how'd you find out I got arrested anyhow?"

Haipeng might be trying to sneer, but his flabby jowls just sort of wobble, and he quips: "I think the only ones who know are you and―everyone! Buddy, this is the information age. I can't believe old relics like you even still exist."

"Let's not talk about me already. You gotta tell me, why'd Li Jun get arrested?"

"Graft, bribery, corruption, take your pick," Haipeng says.

"No way," I sound sceptical: "that guy's just in charge of processing files, passing them up and sending them down. I can't imagine there's many chances to make money through work like that. Anyways, you know how Li Jun is, he's the last person that one would ever think would get into that stuff."

"I'm not going to discuss this with you if you're just going to be a bloody moron about it. How'd I even end up going to school with someone like you anyhow. Listen, don't rats stick together? Does a snake not slither? Every job, every profession has something to offer for those willing to take bribes. Try and use what you know. You live too much by the book. You can't tell the bad people from the good just by looking at them. Anyway, I'm not talking to you about this anymore. There's got to be a way to help him."

"Have you got him a lawyer? How are we going to help him?"

"Not we, you. As weird a guy as you are, I know you've got your methods; maybe just this time they'll prove useful."

"Enough kidding," I say in all seriousness, looking at him. "Just what methods is it you think I have? Or have you forgotten that I just got locked up for three weeks on bogus charges?"

Tian Haipeng turns his head and gives me a vicious look: "I don't know what to say to you. Do you seriously not know how popular you are, who you've got backing you, or are just trying to keep us all guessing? I can't see through this desire-free, proper-minded facade of yours, but I do know how many people admire you, especially those in positions of power, and the older generation. Sometimes I wonder, could Yang Wenfeng have been born with such virtue or is it all just an act he goes to pains to put on?"

"So what conclusion have you come to?" I laugh.

"Geez, you might just have been born this way, ya know? You see, this personality of yours, whether it's in school or at work, all your teachers and superiors like you. And yet you've never taken advantage of that. Back in college, all you would have had to do was open your mouth and the teachers would have given you one of the alloted work assignments like Hong Kong, the Ministry of Commerce or the Foreign Ministry. But then you went and chose the bloody Ministry of State Security. After you went over, I heard that wou were well-liked, of course, being groomed for promotion even. Then because of the climate and your parents you just quit and took off for Guangzhou? You're the first person I've ever heard of who enters the Ministry of State Security and then just up and walks away from it, and still lives to tell. Your supervisors clearly liked you a lot. Ahh, what can I say? You don't know how to work your connections. Just look at that Lai Changxing, he only knew a couple section chiefs in the MoSS but that was enough for him to get to Canada, and with all that money. If I only had your connections, I'd totally be on the top fifty richest people in China list."

"Hah. If you really were me, you wouldn't be thinking like that." I say, cutting him off. "Let's talk about Li Jun; you went to see him, how bad is he?"

"See him my ass. If they'd let me, do you think I would have come looking for you?" he shouts. "Solitary confinement, no visits allowed."

"That serious, huh? According to the law, though, he can have visitors any time, just as long as a guard's present."

"Oh yeah, you couldn't have known. He was secretly arrested by the Ministry of State Security." Tian Haipeng says dejectedly. If it weren't for the seatbelt, I'd be jumping out of my skin.

* *   **           **                **               **               **               **                **            **            **

I make more than a few phone calls, waiting in agony all day, and finally at night we enter Li Jun's small solitary confinement room. Seeing no obvious changes in our classmate, that his mental state seems fine, Tian Haipeng and I breathe simultaneous sighs of relief.

"Always good to see old classmates," laughs lean Li Jun the second he sees us. "I'm going crazy here with no one to talk to."

"So you're okay?" I don't know how I ought to broach the subject, so I ask flat out. Haipeng waits until the guard stationed in the hall isn't looking and pulls a small booze bottle out of his pocket, slipping it to Li Jun. Li Jun looks over the export label on the small bottle and the gold embossed words 'Maotai rice wine,' leans close to Haipeng's ear and whispers: "is it real?" Haipeng and I gape at each other, breaking into bitter laughter right at the same time.

"The food here's not half bad." Li Jun holds back a laugh, "and life in general's not all that inconvenient, it's just unbearably lonely in here." He stops, then continues, "I always thought I could handle being alone, it even used to be something I prided myself on, but since coming in here I've come to learn what real loneliness is. Luckily, true loneliness is great for working out one's thoughts. It sounds strange, but in the ten-something years since we got out of college, it's like my brain's come to a complete standstill. Yet after just a few days in here, I'm halfway to becoming a philosopher. Back outside, free and at ease, trying to get promoted and get rich, I had to watch everything I said and did, and eventually, consciously stopped entertaining all wild thoughts. It's good now, though; my body's lost its freedom, but it's like my mind and thoughts have been liberated. Not having to look anyone in the eyes, I can think and say whatever I want here."

How quickly this place produces philosophers. We check around: there's a bed bolted to the floor, a concrete basin and a flush toilet. It's three steps from the door to the bed and three steps from the bed to the basin and toilet bowl. If it weren't for the lack of windows here, it wouldn't really feel all that different from my own small room.

"Being locked up in a bloody room like this has got to be lonely," Tian Haipeng says, glancing around.

"Oh, being locked up this room isn't lonely in itself. I've already had nearly forty years of free air on the outside, yet I never felt it was anything special. I often used to think that if I could just find a place to be by myself, to sit down and think about life, or at least leave the mundane affairs behind and get serious on reading some books, that that wouldn't be so bad. So when I first got in here, I didn't think the loneliness would be so hard to bear." For the first time, his eyes reveal pain. "Loneliness isn't having no one to talk to, or having no friends. Loneliness is something in the heart. The first time I felt lonely when was I realized that I might just end up spending my whole life in here, unable to see the future, unable to see any light."

"You're being too pessimistic." I want to console him.

"You don't need to comfort me. I'm lucky enough that I didn't get the death penalty. I confessed to everything, anything to escape the death penalty." Li Jun says with a forced smile.

The three of us suddenly lapse into silence; a sense of solitude and helplessness hangs over the room. I get up and walk the three steps to the basin and give Li Jun's styrofoam mouthwash cup a rinse, motioning for him to give me the bottle of Maotai that Tian Haipeng snuck in. I twist the lid open and pour the wine into the cup, placing the empty bottle in my pocket. Li Jun gives me a grateful look: "relax, Yang, I'm not going to kill myself." He lifts the cup, takes a sip of the rice wine, and begins telling us a story that in all these years neither of us have heard.

These last few days confined and lonesome in this small room has allowed me to think so much more clearly. The past replays in my head just like scenes from a movie, crystal clear. I feel like I've just awoken from a dream. I came clean on everything, finally. They said that in cooperation with the anti-corruption, clean government campaign and as a graduate from such a renowned university, as a writer well-known throughout the province, they hoped I would be so good as to use myself as an instructive example and write out a decent yet hard-hitting self-reflection. Consider it one last good deed done for The Party and the people, they said, mentioning what great educational materials such reports of degraded behavior written by those before me had made: Hu Changqing in Jiangxi province, Cheng Jieke in Beijing, Mu Xinsui up in the Northeast and Meng Qingping in Hubei. 'We can't be depraved here in Guangdong, right?' Though my few superiors thought my rank came nowhere close to theirs, I had the promise of youth―that and I'd come from the politics school at a brand-name university―so they placed a great deal of hope in me, so much to the point that it seemed the first shot in the Guangdong province clean government campaign would ring out from me.

But I had no choice but to tell them that even though I'd confessed, and owned up to my own crimes, I still had no idea how I'd ended up here. It really seemed like some sort of dream. Even if all the circumstances were perfectly clear, what precipitated all this, my own bafflement at how I came to appear in this dream, even its seemingly logical conclusion, all still seemed so confusing. Have you ever had dreams like this? In the dream, one day, you suddenly find yourself driven by a kind of nameless fear, and then you start running like hell, running and running, running through a ransacked cemetery, jumping over a muddy ditch, running mindlessly headlong into a stretch of forest―right, a forest! As far as how the forest looks, that depends on the person. If you've seen a lot of horror films, then you'll see the forest from one of the movies you've ever seen. Or it might be the forest that lies on the mountain behind the place you grew up, except a lot more terrifying, trees laying scattered and bent everywhere, reaching for you like the claws of Evil. The you in the dream can't let itself be frightened into laying down, so it continues screaming and running like mad. In your subconscious you know that the fear behind you you're desperately running away from is actually just your own shadow, yet you have no way of making the dream stop. The only thing you can do is run, keep running. All of a sudden, faster than a flash of light, a tree trunk comes crashing down, smashing down on your legs, throwing you to the ground with a thump, and in the instant that you're falling, your shadow disappears and then in the blink of an eye the fear too, gone without a trace. Only now do you realize that the "trunk" pinning you to the ground is nothing more than your wife's fat, thick leg pressing down on your body.

Such is my life right now. When I first started working, I was completely committed, putting everything I had into working hard, and eventually it all paid off: I didn't just get promoted, but I made a small fortune, too. But then suddenly one day, when ice-cold handcuffs were placed around my wrists, only then did I realize that it was all just a dream. Haha. When I was running in my dream, feeling there was always a big tree trunk just about to pin me down, putting an end to my fear, and right at that moment my wife's leg comes stretching out―you two have read Freud, right? You tell me―thinking about it now, if I'd known then that my wife had stuck her leg out like that, would I still have kept running for my life in the dream? But real life is the same. It's been tough for me all along too, right up until the 'ka-chink' sound of the ice-cold handcuffs, which is when I finally realized that all my trembling in fear had actually always just been in waiting for this one day to arrive. I regret it all so much. Right at the beginning, before I'd done anything, I might as well have just started waiting then for the 'ka-chink' sound.

Don't the two of you laugh, and don't you go thinking now that I'm a prisoner that I've become useless. You forget that just one week ago I was still the highest-ranked out of all forty of us classmates. You think getting there without anyone's help was easy? Right out of college, when I first started working, I didn't know who or where I was. I wasn't in the Director-General's office yet then, but just a department head's. Everyone around me had all these different ranks, then there I was, just an office clerk.

I had to wrack my brains for a way to get ahead of everyone else. You know I was working in the government's secretarial department. We just took care of documents there, writing speeches and whatnot. Achieving anything there was next to impossible. First I started by working hard; I wasn't scheduled to show up for work until eight, but I'd come into the office at seven, clean up the office, get a cup of tea ready for all co-workers and leaders. Because a lot of our leaders back then, most of them hadn't been to college―those who did who hadn't been trade, agricultural or military students, got their diplomas through shady connections―so I was extra careful not to let it out that I'd been to college, and had to remind myself every few minutes to do my best to forget everything I'd learned there. And that's how it was for the next three years; I didn't just not get to sleep in even once, but for three years I was afraid to read even a single book that might increase my knowledge or confidence. The lucky thing was that by not letting myself be human, people began doing so for me. Before long, the Director began to take a liking to diligent little me, this seemingly uneducated college graduate, and began to like having me around. The old Director had been a cadre from the Liberation days, so at the first chance he had, he began teaching me through lectures and personal example, telling me everything he'd ever learned down to the smallest detail, and not just once, but several times. Before the two of you start criticizing me, just know that listening to the old man ramble on again and again about his dull experiences, every time concentrating on pretending to be deeply sympathetic, each time trying to find something new to be amazed at, new questions to keep his teachings going, let me tell you, my old classmates, was not an easy way to get by!

Longing for the stars, longing for the moon, then, finally, longing for this old Director to just retire, I was promoted before my time to Vice-Director. The new Director had been one of those who missed most of high school during the Cultural Revolution, so I thought this would make for less of a generation gap, but no, turns out this generation was no better. He was Director and he was going to teach by lecture and personal example whether we liked it or not and that's just how it was. So for the next three to four years, week in and week out I got to listen to a one-time intellectual youth's stories of being sent to "study" in the countryside, up in the mountains and in the great northern wilderness. The new director told his story about the time in the countryside when he was so hungry he stole potatoes from the local peasants so many times and with such flavor that in order to prove his 'if you're hungry enough you can eat anything' theory, I couldn't help but sneaking down to the wet market to buy some potatoes, taking them home and eating them raw.

Now I'm Vice-Director and I don't need to listen to the Director's stories. These past few years I've been getting a lot of young staff coming in and I keep thinking that I ought to be giving them a talk or two, but what could I say? You two know what when were in college, studying Marxism one day and listening to lectures on Nietzschean philosophy the next, the fact that we all didn't go schizophrenic was good enough. Later, I eventually remembered―back in the day didn't we participate a few times in the anti-spiritual pollution campaign? So then I told those younger staff all about this period in history. That didn't go well. They all just turned around, whispering: "idiot", "what's wrong with him?". Hearing them talk, oh was I ever frustrated. Had I come so far to get this position just to deal with this? I remember the lofty visions I had when I first started working, but don't get me started on the ideals we had back than, I'll spare you two the jokes. Eventually I scaled way back those ideals of mine, thinking that if I ever made department head or bureau or ministry director, I'd launch my own workplace reforms, do my part for the Party and the people. I think it's mainly my lofty and mischievous convictions at work, that's why all along, as I played the underdog and climbed my way up, I was for the most part able to maintain a balanced mind, and even occasionally be quite happy. It's just that the higher I climbed, the more I forgot the convictions I'd started out with until eventually blindly climbing upwards then became my goal.

It was the same for me with making money. You know I didn't start thinking about money until quite late, throwing my all into my work, so yeah, I pretty much much threw myself into climbing to the top. Right up until my kid was about ten, our family still lived a pretty poor existence. One day, the kid was in grade nine and had to write an essay for homework, the topic was "Is Money Everything?". The kid asked me which way to argue, so I said without hesitation that of course money's not everything―and not just that, it's also the root of a lot of unhappiness and crime, that it's actually quite a filthy thing. The kid wasn't happy to hear this, just pouted and said, "Daddy, what you're saying isn't right. Money can buy toys, and if you have too much you can donate it to the starving kids in Africa and North Korea. And, Daddy, if money's dirty, why does the American dollar have George Washington's face on it? Our renminbi has Chairman Mao, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai too.." Heh, you see? When the kid retorted like that, I really didn't know how else to respond. The kid just doesn't know that the core of the education our generation received was to despise money.

The kid and I talked back and forth for a little longer, but I didn't notice my wife standing next to us and the 'tick-tock, tick-tock' of the tears dropping from her face. That night my wife pressed me to tell her the truth: "Ah Jun, don't tell me that you've never looked around, eyed all the families that are so much richer than ours? I mean you're a Vice Director and yet when I'm at the wet market and want to buy some fresh produce I have to spend half the day counting first, terrified that come the end of the month there won't be anything left to put in the bank..."

I'm not really an idiot; you think I don't know that the people around us keep moving away to better neighborhoods? We just have different ambitions, that's all. Didn't I become an official just so that I could do better for the people? But what my wife said does make sense. After I took a look at the books the wife keeps I didn't feel so cool about our family's financial situation, and first thing the next morning, after not getting a wink all night, my wife and I came up with a target for how much we wanted to keep put aside. I was feeling a little bold, so I put the target at two hundred thousand yuan, because though my department's not a moneymaker, there still are people who come looking to us to get things done through the backdoor. I just needed to keep my eyes open and meeting this target would be a breeze. I remember that at the time I warned myself, saying that as soon as we hit the two hundred thousand mark, when the wife can buy what whatever her heart desires down at the market, I'll have a clear conscience and will be able to focus all my energy on doing better at work, no more worrying about not living up to what the Party raised me to believe, or disappointing my Party leaders by still being poor. Yes, you heard me right.

Where there's a will there's a way, I just had to keep my eyes on the target. In just a year's short time, the whole two hundred grand was in my hands. Though it was a nerve-wracking year, it was still worth it. I was able to keep working hard and at the same time pad my wages ten times faster with the business on the side. It didn't just affect my job, but things between me and everyone got a little better. My superior and colleagues began to have more trust in me. The day I told my ecstatic wife, seeing her so happy she started to wail and cry, I was moved too. For the entire next month, the whole house felt like a big celebration was on with all the happiness. A month later, the wife stopped sneaking the bank book out to admire it, and the festive mood gradually faded. That day, I gave the wife a new target, this time five hundred thousand yuan. Inflation was rising, the economy had already stopped booming and we had brothers and sisters facing the threat of being downsized and having to start their own businesses, so I just did early what would have been expected of me: when I reached 500K I'd get right back to working hard. I was still young, after all, so why not?

I never imagined that I'd reach the 500K target within just seven months, and also at the end of those seven months, I just happened to get promoted a rank higher up on the civil servant scale. It was like my luck couldn't be stopped. With this double happiness having arrived at my door, I couldn't resist the urge to set the target just a little bit higher, and to try and get it done faster. This time I put it at one million yuan and planned to have it all within a year and a half. The two of you both live in Guangzhou―Haipeng, you've been a millionaire for years, you should know better than I do, that a million yuan in Guangzhou doesn't amount to much, does it? The kid just has a few more years before going abroad to study: a cent less than five hundred thousand just doesn't cut it. Yang, you know people, you can check―how many bureau directors have kids studying overseas? On top of that, by this time the wife had gotten used to using the company car to take care of errands, which was no good, so whenever Guangzhou Honda came out with a new model, I was going to buy her a car. With things going this well, you can imagine, I hardly had anything left to worry about. If I could just reach this goal, I was going to make full use of everything I'd learned in school, making contributions to the country, to the people.

But it was all that smooth. I didn't make the one million until a good few months later than I'd planned, but I wasn't about let any difficulties deter me. As I drew up the next plan, I made sure to split it into short-term and long-term goals.

Just as I said earlier, I kept getting promoted until I'd forgotten why I'd ever wanted to get promoted in the first place. When the million target was achieved, I'd even forgotten why I'd ever wanted money to begin with. Then from there my only target was bigger numbers: 1.2 million, 1.4, 2 million...and every time I'd hurry to constrain the joy of hitting each new target, then begin eyeing up the next number, and the fun by this point wasn't even in thinking what could be done with the money, but rather in merely knowing that this number had just gone into the bank. By now, getting promoted and making money had become my goals for living.

Now that I think about it, those were such damn absurd days. There was over two million in the bank, and a few hundred thousand in cash kept under the bed. And I didn't just not buy the wife a car, I even had to keep reminding her to never start flashing our wealth around down at the market. If someone from the office's family happens to be there, do your best to buy some cheaper produce, or go out of your way to get some of the half-rotten vegetables; we can always throw them away when you get home and go out to the country for dinner. Don't laugh, you two, you know how cautious a person I am. If it weren't for what happened next, I wouldn't just not be here, but I'd have been Director by now, and you never know, there might have even come a day when I might have become the next Cheng Jieke, both a Party and State official, the highest ever to be sentenced to death for corruption. What're you laughing at? I've studied enough, I'm cultured enough, and I've even got the heart to be a servant to the state and the public.

It was like I'd become infatuated with officialdom and obsessed with money. But you two must never misunderstand: it's not money that did me wrong, it's me that did money wrong. If I'd only just been content with the money from the first target, the second or the third, and let myself get back to my job, back to learning with earnest, giving the family nothing to worry about, how great it all could have been. But I took that bitterly-earned money and kept it secretly hidden in the bank and stuffed beneath our bed. Of course, with that much money coming in, I naturally went gave myself rewards. I went to Hong Kong and bought a high-end business suit and watch, only I couldn't wear them outside. Sometimes late at night when everyone was asleep, I'd keep tossing and turning in bed, trying to work out exactly how much money I had, when actually I already knew perfectly well how much, I just wanted re-enjoy the happiness I got from adding it all up. Sometimes I'd get way too worked up, unable to stay lying down on the bed and I'd quietly get up and duck into the bathroom and put on my suit, my tie, my diamond Rolex watch, and then pace back and forth in front of the mirror. Thinking of that stranger in the mirror, such a refined, chic and heroic-looking guy, I'd go back to sleep only to wake myself up by laughing in my dreams.

Aye, if only everything could have just stayed like that. But I'd already unconsciously made getting promoted and richer in themselves my reasons for living. I only risked taking bribes at the beginning just so that we'd have some money saved away, and that was nothing to get worried about. But then later it became its own career, all I had to live for. From there I slowly stopped caring about the family, even abandoned my job, to the point where I was risking my life just to make more money, not that I had any plan what I'd do with it all once I decided I'd had enough. I got what I deserved. From the day I turned making a few extra dollars on the side into a numbers game, my appetite just kept on growing until finally, when I'd already made over two million yuan, I got an idea in my head: if I keep on going like this, how long will it take until I become a multi-millionaire? You know my office is just in the secretarial department, and money only flows through there at a trickle. People rely on you to take care of things for them, so you can't not think about the benefits, but then there’s almost nothing significant you can do for them, so it was just little backdoor favors for a few thousand here, ten thousand there. I began to lose patience, especially since I was already Vice-Director; little bits straight out of people's pockets wasn't very dignified. When I started having thoughts like this, my mood took a turn for the worse. Starting from the time I was appointed Vice-Director, I was always a little bummed. I couldn't think of any ways to use the power that came with the job and turn that into money.

And then this happened. They weren't afraid in the least. After I'd meet with them a few times, they put their hand straight down on the table: "Mr. Li, we know how hard things are for you, so we'd like to co-operate with you, but we need to say a few things first. If you're not interested in co-operation, we'll leave immediately and never come back to bother you again. But you need to promise that even if you don't work with us, you won't report us to any of your country's security agencies. Say in any case you do, we're not afraid. We have foreign passports, you see, and the worst we can expect is to get deported. But with your situation, you might not fare so well.

"Mr. Li, just as long as you're willing to work with us, money won't be a problem. You just need to make copies of documents that come into your hands, and we'll give you a hundred thousand yuan a piece, regardless of quality or quantity, we'll buy them all. Unless we're mistaken, the sum value of the top secret documents that pass through your hands each year would come to somewhere roughly around five million yuan. What you have in your hands, Mr. Li, are some of the most expensive goods in the world, yet you worry yourself so much about making trivial little pocket money."

I was shocked by what they were saying, although I didn't jump up. You should go, I said. So they just left a phone number, and then they were gone. They seemed reliable enough, but then they didn't contact me again. It was me, later, who phoned them. When we met next, they threw fifty thousand US dollars at me, and said: "Mr. Li, take this and go buy yourself some photocopying equipment."

And that's how I got started, copying confidential documents for them. I thought, as long as I'm careful, two years of this, I'll have made over ten million yuan. And then, I'll――

 


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