"What is SACO?" Bob asked. I was very surprised.
Having never set foot outside China, I thought every American knew the
name SACO ("Sino-American Cooperative Organization"), just as every
Chinese knew the name "Zhong-Mei hezuosuo."
I told Bob what I
had known since elementary school: SACO was an American-operated
concentration camp that tortured and killed underground Communists in
the 1940s. It had two prisons, one called Refuse Pit, another Bai
Mansion. The name of SACO's American co-director was Milton Miles, a US
Navy official, and its Chinese director was Dai Li, the head of the
Nationalist secret services (called euphemistically the Military
Statistics Bureau, or "Juntong"). Dai Li was known to my parents and
their Communist comrades as "China's Himmler."
apolitical, was hardly interested. If anything, he dismissed the notion
of an "American-run concentration camp" as a myth. MIT-educated, he had
done some reading on Sino-American history before traveling to China in
early 1987, but had never heard of such a thing.
Though I had no
desire to have Bob visit the SACO site, and was unhappy about my
father's intent to instill guilt in an American, Bob's dismissal put me
in a mood to argue. "This one is real," I said. I had seen, in the SACO
museum, handcuffs marked "Made in USA," and pictures of the dead bodies
wearing them. My statement was not ideologically based (in fact, I had
gotten into political trouble for my dissident thoughts and writing in
the early 1980s), but history is history, or so I thought. Bob barely
shrugged, unconvinced yet with no desire to argue.
retrospect, Bob was the first person I know to counter the mainland
Chinese notion of SACO's history, albeit intuitively (and with an
American bias). He did later speculate that, if there were actually such
a graphic concentration camp in China operated by Americans, the
ubiquitous US journalists wouldn't have foregone a Pulitzer-winning
opportunity to expose it, ergo SACO would already have been public
knowledge in the US.
But things are not always that
This much was well known in China: on November 27, 1949, at the cusp of regime change, a massacre took place at Chongqing's Refuse Pit and Bai Mansion, two prisons in walking distance of one another. Over 200 people were slaughtered that day. At Bai Mansion, the executions were carried out in batches, still not quite finished by the evening, at which point the remaining twenty prisoners, with the help of a sympathetic guard, fled. In Refuse Pit, the jailers cut down over 140 prisoners with submachine guns, poured gasoline on the bodies, and burned them, but a handful escaped in the fire and chaos. Days later, on the hill next to the massacre sites, a pit was found full of bodies bound with handcuffs made in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA.