March 2016

A Harbin postal inspector’s copy of a young midwife’s letter (September 1949)

哈尔滨市公安局治安处第一科邮电检查股 邮登第2062号(简抄)件
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Text: Zhang Huansheng, trained as a midwife in Harbin’s prestigious No. 1 Hospital writes from Tianjin – where she has gotten her first job upon graduation – to a hospital member of staff with whom she is still on good terms to complain bitterly about a very negative evaluation sent to her new employer.

Context: Zhang Huansheng’s letter is intercepted prior to delivery by Harbin’s public security postal inspectors. On the eve of the founding of the PRC, postal inspection in Harbin was managed by a Post and Telecommunications Inspection Sub-Section, directly under the 1st Section of the Public Order Division of the municipal Bureau of Public Security. The inspectors surreptitiously open, copy, and reseal Zhang’s letter not because they are particularly interested in her (they are even less interested in the woman to whom she was writing), but because the Public Order Division is conducting a predicated investigation of Zhang’s brother on the basis of information indicating that he may be involved in domestic extremism. Since she corresponds regularly with her brother and occasionally provides him with material support, Zhang Huansheng has been watchlisted and every letter from her arriving in Harbin is intercepted by default, just in case its content has a bearing on the brother’s case.

Paratext: The word 陆军printed in the lower right-hand corner reveals that the sheet of paper used by the postal inspector comes from a stack of keishi (“ruled paper”) left behind by the Imperial Japanese Army. At the top of the sheet, the postal inspection officer has written 简抄. This indicates that his is a “simplified copy” and not a 全抄 (“full copy”) or 摘抄 (“excerpt copy”), two additional copy categories occurring in Harbin postal inspector records at this time. In the upper right-hand corner, a clerk has written #2062. This is the copy’s unique so-called 邮登号 (“postal registration number”). At the bottom of the sheet, the date 9.16 reveals that it was made on 16 September 1949. The stamped digits are a page number, indicating that in the bound file in which it eventually survived, this sheet of paper became page 188. In the upper left-hand corner, the postal inspector has noted that the original intercepted letter had also included one photograph.