A photograph captioned “Miners suffocate in cave!” showing the bodies of several Chinese workers being laid out near the entrance of a mine drew Jason’s attention. In another photo, an Asian man of unusual height stood proudly and defiantly before two armed white men. An inscription beneath it stated, “Chinese labor leader Deshi Peng protests mining conditions.” In another photo, Peng was shown speaking before a group of his fellow laborers, his arms raised high and his fists clenched. What a brave man, thought Jason. His mood suddenly turned dark when yet another photo showed the rights activist being led away in chains. Its caption read, “Troublemaker led to gallows for inciting a riot resulting in two deaths and several injuries.”
“That was wrong. So wrong,” grumbled Jason. “He was standing up for his people . . . my people.”……….
Jason continued to read the website article and when he finished he was thoroughly committed to informing his class about Deshi Peng’s courageous acts. In the two weeks leading up to his class talk, he continued to research the plight of Chinese workers. To his disappointment, however, he did not come across any further information about Peng other than a photo of his newly discovered hero standing on a hangman’s scaffolding with several white men clad in black. A rope dangled above Peng’s head. There was no account of his actual execution. They hid this injustice from the public, he reflected feeling his sorrow and anger increase. He made a copy of the photo and kept it close at hand to help him maintain his indignation over the tragedy.
* * *
When the day of Jason’s oral presentation arrived, he was filled with feelings of both dread and purpose. He tried his best to concentrate on conveying the important message he wanted to get across in order to dispel his jitters, but he was only partially successful. Give me strength, Master Peng, he repeated to himself, as the appointed hour of his great task arrived.
In his seat in the back of the classroom, Jason waited for his name to be called. I can do this, he kept repeating to himself while he fought to draw air into his compressed lungs. This must be how those men felt as the oxygen was used up in that collapsed mine.
“Mr. Wu, time for your presentation,” declared Professor Black.
Jason felt light-headed as he stood before his classmates.
“Go ahead, Jason. Your time starts now,” said Black, activating his stopwatch.
“My report is on the plight of Chine . . . “ gasped Jason.
It felt as if the last bit of air in his lungs had been used to say those words. He stood staring at his classmates as they returned his stare. Then he noticed the copy of the photograph of Peng had partially slipped from his notebook. He turned to it and was shocked by what he saw. It had morphed into a grotesque scene. The figure he considered his noble ancestor now dangled from the end of the hangman’s rope. The sight of it was like an electric charge to him, and he suddenly felt fully restored. His lungs filled with oxygen, and words began to flow forth from his previously frozen lips with a power he had never experience.
“Chinese miners were treated like slaves and forced to work in deadly conditions. They gave their lives so that their American employers could become rich . . .”
Jason finished his speech with a flourish just as Professor Black announced that his time was up.
As his classmates applauded enthusiastically, his professor nodded in approval. Jason returned to his seat feeling exhilarated and relieved. Yet he was curious about the strange thing that had just happened. The photo, he thought, turning to it. “Dong!” he blurted in his native tongue.
Again he could not believe his eyes, though this time the transformed picture provided him with great joy. No longer was Deshi Peng dangling from the end of the hangman’s rope. He had vanished from the scene, and his executioners stared wild-eyed toward the sky as if their prisoner had floated off into thin air.