Surviving hunger in the anti-Japanese war
In this story, Wang was a Communist working in the Communist guerrilla in Shandong Province in 1942. This was the fifth year of the Sino-Japanese war, and the Communists were fighting a guerrilla war while the Nationalists largely conducted regular warfare against the Japanese. Although the Communists built up a base in certain areas of Shandong, they sometimes "strategically" gave up their bases in the face of Japanese onslaught, following the famous Chinese philospher Sun Zi (who lived 2,500 years ago)'s advice: when the enemy advances, I retreat; and when the enemy retreats, I advance.
To retaliate, the Japanese often used a policy called "burn all, kill all, and loot all" toward Chinese villages that assisted the Communist guerrillas. These retaliations were conducted in what is called "mop-up campaigns" where thorough searches were made of Communist guerrillas or Communist sympathizers/contacts and massive numbers of people were tortured or killed, and large numbers of villages torched. The job for Wang in this particular story was to see to it that the non-military personnel be escorted back to a designated area for hiding to avoid unnecessary casualties.
The story is a very humanistic depiction of the Communists: the young and romantic Wang Lei, committed to her fiance and Communism, and carrying an excessive amount of things that could easily have been condemned as "bourgeois" by a radical Communist; the experienced, self-confident leader Zhang who nonetheless believed too much in himself; the young, high spirited author Wang and fellow comrades who maintained high spirit much of the time although often deeply disappointed when they could not find a way out of the dense woods. They impressed one with their dogged desire for life and unwavering belief in their cause to fight the Japanese "devils" (Chinese way to refer to foreigners, especially hostile foreigners).
That was how the hunger experience of 1942 was remembered in Wang Ruowang's mind. Obviously, it was also remembered in contrast to later events such as Wang's incarceration in the Cultural Revolution (chap.3). The indomitable human spirit that shines through chapter 2 will receive a severe test in chapter 3.