Mr Chopsticks had a cat called Mimi - a very Chinese lady cat. Mimi was very frightened when the Red Guards came to the house and destroyed everything of value - original paintings by famous artists such as Xu-Beihong; Tang and Song dynasty potteries; Ming dynasty furniture. But she helped Mr Chopsticks hide some old family photos in her basket.

A few days later, the Red Guards returned to "clean up" the empty house in which only beds, tables, chairs and some simple cooking utensils remained. One guard noticed they hadn't checked Mimi's bed, so he stepped on her tail and Mimi cried and ran away. They found the photos hidden in her bed. They were so angry that they caught Mimi, and gave her a "revolutionary lesson": they hung her from her front feet in the tree in Mr Chopsticks' yard, with a notice reading "Capitalist Cat" tied to her collar, poured chilli sauce into her tiny nose and beat her body with a leather belt. A few minutes later Mimi couldn't miaow any more. Mr Chopsticks was forced to watch to the very end, when the soldiers took her away. His heart ached.

Mr Chopsticks became very ill afterwards and none of his children could look after him because most of them had been sent to the countryside to be "re-educated by peasants". In fact, some of his children were ashamed of being a capitalist's child and didn't want to contact him in that Red time.

About three months later, early on a dark winter's morning, Mr Chopsticks heard a noise at the door. He got up, opened the door, and was shocked by what he saw: his cat, Mimi, lay there bony and dirty, with dying eyes. Mr Chopsticks couldn't save her; she died a few hours later. He couldn't bring himself to bury her, so he stayed with her cold body for many days, holding her and stroking her again and again. Suddenly he found something in her hair and feet: pieces of dry rice straw, boat lacquer with fish smell, and corn dust.

Where had she been? Mr Chopsticks lived in Nanjing, a city near the Yangtse river, but not on the north side where there were rice fields. How was this possible? Had she been taken to the other side of the river and back by boat? He sent a telegram to his seven children to say he was dying and that he wanted to see them. He told them the only thing he wanted to know before he died was where Mimi had been. His children held a meeting and made a plan: they would retrace Mimi's journey home.

At first they couldn't find any information. But when people on the north bank of the river heard about the "cat hunt", many people who knew Mr Chopsticks joined the search because he had helped them in the past when they were in difficulty, or short of money, or jobless, or their houses had flooded. A fisherman's son said he had heard about Mimi from a boat factory worker. One day he saw a cat with a name tag of Mr Chopsticks' hidden in a bale of rice straw on his way home from the factory. He had heard his family talking about Mr Chopsticks' cat, so he took her back home. His mother said the cat was very ill and needed treatment before she could go home, so she fed her with rice liquid every day. But the cat looked very unhappy all the time. After two weeks, the family, worried that Mimi would soon die, gave her to the owner of the river ferry to take her back across the river. The worker didn't know what had happened next, but he gave the name of the ferryman.

Mr Chopsticks' children went to talk to the ferryman, who looked very guilty. He told them: "I had no idea how to look after a cat. It was cold, so I thought we should put her near the engine stove. Then she disappeared. I didn't worry about it because the boat was still on the river, but then someone shouted: "Catch that cat! It stole my food!" I had forgotten to feed her! I ran out of the engine room and tried very hard to find her. But I couldn't. I'm so sorry."

How had Mimi got off the boat and back home from the river bank to the city centre, full of cars and people? No one could find out.

But the next Chinese new year was the first time all Mr Chopsticks' children had spent new year with their father for a long time. They talked about Mimi's journey and their search, and their faces were full of respect. They were proud to be Mr Chopsticks' children.

Mr Chopsticks is my grandfather; I read this story in his diary. He wrote: "I have got back my children, my love and my family, all from Mimi's journey home."



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