The Fearsome Min’gong Man

by B.

At lunch time on that burning August afternoon, Zhang laoban overlooked the Minhang-construction site from his 3rd floor office window while smoking a Zhonghua and taking sips from his water bottle. Zhang laoban was getting itchy: power at the site had been going on and off all day, cement deliveries had mysteriously been turned away upon entering Shanghai, and the very morning of the Min’gong-man’s arrival, 5 out of 10 huge steel balks had been found mysteriously twisted and destroyed that very morning, turned into a pile of useless garbage, halting work that day. How something like that could have happen to the massive steel balks, Zhang laoban could not figure. There were dark signs, that was for sure, but it could be dealt with. But then there were also the rumors, and the black looks his dark skinned workers were passing around.

For his own personal safety, he had installed a group of Jiangsu thugs for hire at the gate of his manager’s office; he was not going to be caught off guard, that was for sure. Zhang laoban was really getting itchy, nervous even. The site manager Mr. Lee was on his neck, and had been screaming at him over cell phone all day. “Do you cao ni ma realize how much money I’m losign every day construction doesn’t move forward?”. He realized. “Are you aware that you’re on a deadline cao ni ma? And are you aware that if you can’t make it, cao ni ma, someone else can?” He was aware. cao ta ma

He could deal with Mr. Lee though, he thought to himself, wiping the dripping sweat from his forehead. Perhaps we did go a little rough with the city funding this time, Zhang laoban admitted to himself, but for fuck’s sake, his new Pudong apartment purchase was about to go through, and raising 3 kids through private schools and preparing to put them through university demanded certain risks. He would have liked to have paid the workers before the national holiday as per their contracts but after all, he said to himself, invoking a fitting quote from the Analects to assure himself family comes first and workers last.

Meanwhile, down at the site something was boiling up outside the workers’ dorm, 40 or so idling away the afternoon with no material to go to work on. The  normally chain smoking and card playing bunch were now huddled together in a tight ring, seemingly holding a council, voices and tempers running high. For months now their wages had been withheld, and word from the top was that they would not be getting any leave for the national holiday, much less their paychecks as agreed upon. Their ring leader Lao Gao had been to the manager’s office twice a day for weeks now already, but word from Zhang laoban was always the same, and were not intended to please him, nor his fellow workers: ‘these are tough times, everyone has to make sacrifices, but if you do not get back to work right this minute there will surely be no money for you tongzhi.’

Outside the office, Lao Gao took a sip from a bottle of baijiu before passing it along the ring. The sun was beaming down and tempers were rising among the ranks, some of the men openly cursing and screaming, demanding, if not money, blood, and openly mistrusting Lao Gao’s wait-and-see strategy. A seasoned and calm man, Lao Gao had worked different construction sites around the suburbs of Shanghai for more than 15 years, and he was nervous about this development. Hailing from Zhejiang himself, he considered his fellow, mostly Anhuinese workers hotheads with little sense for strategy, and in his experience open or even violent conflicts with management was sure to lead to little but tragedy. Lost in his own thoughts, he hadn’t noticed that the angriest group – the new comrades from Anhui –, encouraged and adrenalized by the cheap baijiu, had marched off towards the manager’s office, picking up bricks and iron pipes along the way. Snapping to, he starting running after them, as they were already closing in on the armed thugs at the gate alarmingly fast.

At precisely 4 a clock the bell outside the manager’s office rang four times, indicating a shift change, and as the thugs and the workers from Anhui charged at one another, as Zhang laoban with trembling hands struck another cigarette, as he braced himself for the disaster that would inevitably play out, as Lao Gao was screaming at his Anhuinese rebels to stop; it was then, out of nowhere, mounted on a flying water buffalo that the fearsome Min’gong man appeared. 1.50m tall, his skin darker than the rice pickers of Sichuan, his tea and cigarette blackened teeth sticking out of his mouth at odd angles, and with bulky inflated muscles – he was truly a sight, landing his water buffalo between the groups who had stopped at his arrival, a mere 10 meters separating them. Wearing silicone foam slippers, an orange helmet and a ragged t-shirt under a wrinkled shiny grey two-piece suit made matte with cement dust and stained with motor oil. The Min’gong-man raised his battle cry, sending the hired thugs off running for the gates in panic. Zhang laoban dropped to his knees, put his hands together and in panic prayed to all gods that could possibly find it their duty to protect embezzling managers against the fury of this fearsome creature.

What transpired that afternoon was never officially established. The construction site was never reopened, and none of the workers ever seen again in Shanghai. Zhang laoban was found strangled in his office, the manipulated books of the company lodged deep down his throat. The worker registry was not to be found, and just in time for that year’s National Holiday the workers of the Minhang-construction site all arrived at their homes, bringing with them more than an entire year’s wages. Lao Gao’s first action when arriving back to his Zhejiang hometown was not to start building his own house, but to erect the first of many shrines to the fearsome Min’gong man.