CHAOS, PURGES AND A BILLION MARCHING FEET CHINA
A Maclean's editor describes an awesome spectacle: the world's largest nation deciding its future in a frenzy of mass hysteria
ON THE TRAIN from Nanking to Soochow I met a group of 16 tourists from the Soviet Union who were on a 10-day visit to Red China. We got into friendly conversation at once, no doubt confirming the Chinese suspicion that capitalist-imperialists like me and “modern revisionists” like them had become identically villainous. As we talked, the loudspeaker in our railway car (which as usual was pouring out a steady drone of propaganda and Maoist uplift) rose to such a deafening screech that we could no longer hear each other. When it slackened off a little, one of my new Soviet friends said, “Makes you think of George Orwell’s novel 1984, doesn’t it?”
It was not a remark I ever expected to hear from a Soviet citizen — I was astonished to realize that he’d been allowed even to know about Orwell’s savage “black Utopia” of a Communist society — but I agreed. China does make the visitor think of 1984
and its intellectual apparatus of Newspeak, Doublethink and the Three-Minute Hate.
But just now, in the throes of the “Cultural Revolution” that has been going on for the past year, China makes a Western traveler think of something else. It has been turned into one vast, continuous revival meeting. Every day in every city, from long before daylight to long after dark, gongs clang, drums bang, loudspeakers bray, streets and sidewalks echo to the marching, singing, chanting of 20-odd million hypnotically faithful boys and girls who ring every change on one unvarying theme: “We love, we adore, we worship Chairman Mao.”
I left China before the enigmatic outbreaks of mid-January, which were seized upon by Western wishful thinkers as proof that Mao’s hold on his people was palsied, if not illusory. They can be interpreted, just as plausibly, as evidence that the Cultural Revolution against Mao’s enemies, real and imaginary, is reaching a triumphant climax. What seems most plausible of all to a Canadian visitor is that the ordinary folk of China have finally balked, not against Chairman Mao himself but against the incessant, fanatical intrusions of his self-appointed spokesmen and inquisitors, who have overlaid the traditional ways of China with an appearance, perhaps a reality, of chaos.
A Shanghai professor: "Every word of Chairman Mao's Works contains a great truth. We are determined to imprint them on our minds, express them in action"
This is the dominant impression on a visitor returning after 10 years. He begins to feel it within minutes of crossing the iittle creek that separates Hong Kong from Red China, and it grows steadily — becomes almost unbearable after a month — as he goes from city to city, from factory to People’s Commune, and from one pious, pompous, unctuous guide to another.
The atmosphere of hysterical confusion is so all-prevailing and so overwhelming, it takes conscious effort to perceive that behind or beneath all this, China has made considerable progress. Living standards, where they have altered at all, are slightly better. Whatever ground may have been lost in the Great Leap Forward eight years ago seems to have been made up. Prices are low, and residents say they’ve been stable, no inflation. There is plenty of food and household goods in the city shops and apparently, to judge by the crowds that swarm there all day every day, no lack of money to buy them. The young all look vigorous and well nourished, and there are fewer now of the noticeably, dreadfully old, the men with bent backs and the women with bound feet who are the dwindling survivors of an era gone forever.
On the roads are more trucks and fewer, though still many, men and women employed as beasts of burden to haul or carry heavy loads. In this respect there is great variation from city to city. Peking is much improved — this is the change that first strikes the returning visitor’s eye. Nanking, on the other hand, is far more backward now than Peking was even 10 years ago, with women and young girls harnessed to big loads in heavy wooden carts.
But all quantitative appraisals are guesswork, for China publishes no figures. A trade official in Peking told me they had been suppressed “for security reasons” ever since 1960. (He did not add that 1960 was the year the government discovered how wildly exaggerated had been its own production figures for the Great Leap Forward. 1958-59. Faced with an embarrassing choice between correcting its statistics to admit a massive mistake, or suppressing them altogether, the government took the latter course.)
So the traveler is left with only his own observations. He can see, for example, that the port of Shanghai is many times busier than it was in 1957. He can see many products made in China which then had to be imported. He can see that the truck factory in Changchun, which in 1957 ran at 10 percent of capacity, is now operating efficiently, and said to be producing at over 100 percent of the rate originally scheduled. China now exports the big trucks that had only
begun to come off the assembly line 10 years ago (I saw a whole fleet of them on the wharf in Shanghai, bound for Pakistan). The traveler can see for himself hundreds of new dwellings, and can easily believe the total runs to millions. He can see many of the formerly outcast “boat people” of Canton (80 percent of the 50,000, I was told) no longer living in their squalid little boats but rehoused in large, bright flats ashore.
But these advances, though substantial and impressive, have not been enough to change the outward appearance of China. City and countryside look much the same to the casual eye. Even a place like Anshan, the northern steel town that has doubled its population since 1957, is not different in its physical aspect. The new plants are extensions of the old, the new workers’ flats are built from the old plans.
What’s new and startling in China is not physical but emotional — the great sustained, nationwide convulsion known as the Cultural Revolution. Chinese say with pride that there has never been anything like it in the history of the world. They are probably right. Not since the time of Peter the Hermit and the Children’s Crusade, anyway.
Travelers get their first exposure as the train to Canton pulls out of the border station. After a shrill barrage on the public-address system (including 10 minutes in English), a girl and a young man came into our car waving the little red books of Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung that are now the Bibles, the prayerbooks and the breviaries of Communist China. They began to read short bits from the sacred text, and the passengers — or such of them as could speak Chinese — responded in chorus. The girl then led the car in a song I soon learned to recognize, Fast Is Red.
Canton station was swarming with youngsters aged, 1 guessed, between 14 and 20. I asked the Travel Service guide what was going on to bring such a crowd into town on a Wednesday. He looked at me oddly, as well he might. 1 was the only person in all China who seemed not to know that teenagers needed no reason for travel. They’d been roaming the land by train, free of charge, since August 18 when Chairman Mao received them in the Square of Heavenly Peace, Peking, and gave his blessing to their revolutionary ardor.
The streets as well as the station teemed with them, most but not all wearing Red Guard armbands. (Red Guards told me later only one quarter to one half the students in their schools were Red Guards, but the proportion is higher among students who migrate.)
“These are boys and girls from remote villages. I can tell by their accent,” my guide said. “They certainly never saw a big city before, maybe never an automobile, maybe never a foreigner.” From the way they gawked at us as we drove through town and out to the airport, I could see he was right.
Aboard the aircraft, the stewardess handed out songsheets. The Chinese words were spelled out in Roman letters so nobody would have an excuse for not singing, but an English translation was also added. It was the song Ed heard on the train. The first verse went: From the Red East rises the sun.
In China appears Mao Tse-tung.
He works for the people's welfare,
He is the people’s great saviour.
The stewardess led the singing, and clapped to beat time. She had a voice like a parakeet, but the Chinese passengers all sang lustily.
At the airport in Peking while I waited for my luggage, a group of army officers came in and sat down. Insignia of rank have been abolished in the People’s Liberation Army, but by their age and bearing these men looked like colonels or higher. In a few minutes in came four little girls in airline-stewardess uniforms, brandishing their little red books. The colonels obediently dug out their red books, too, and the girls led a choral reading of Chairman Mao’s Thought. They were still at it when my luggage eventually arrived and I left.
I got to the Hsin Chiao hotel shortly after 10. Five hours later I was awakened by a column of men marching past my bedroom window, singing and chanting. The song, one of the three or four that never stop in China just now, was called Sailing On The Sea Depends On The Helmsman. Second line: “Our helmsman is Chairman Mao.”
I ROM 3.30 A.M. the singing and chanting never stopped, but by five o’clock, long before daylight, the marchers were boys and girls on their way to the Square of Heavenly Peace (or so they hoped) to be “received” by Chairman Mao at another monster rally. Two million students were assembled that day, probably the largest group of human beings ever got together in one place. Or more or less in one place.
That was the trouble — they couldn't all get into the Square of Heavenly Peace and actually see Chairman Mao. Three quarters of the two million never got closer than the streets leading toward the great square (which, of course, were closed to all traffic all day). Nevertheless, there was no audible complaint, no pushing or shoving or breaking of ranks among the million and a half who didn t get in.
Foreigners were barred from the rally, of course (even unauthorized Chinese were not allowed in), but it wasn't hard to elude the outer ring of guards. I was able to walk four times, on different streets, to within a quarter mile or so of the centre of the rally, and 1 was amazed at the docility with which these boys and girls sat on the asphalt, then stood on the order to stand, then sat again hour after hour, singing and chanting and waving their Mao books, showing no impatience or discontent.
Some had brought luncheon packs, others stood in long queues for the small sidewalk cafés or the fresh-fruit stands set up for the occasion. Latrines had been dug behind screens of blue canvas or straw matting — shallow ditches with boards across them to stand on. They were cleaned out at dusk each night, into tank cars that carried off the valuable fertilizer. One way to tell when the rallies had come to an end, or rather to an interval of weeks instead of days, was to notice when army trucks took away most of the sidewalk latrines.
At the end of the day the various groups were marched off, some directly to their sleeping quarters in schools or public buildings (the famous Temple of Heaven, for one, became a Red Guard dormitory) and others to wait for trucks to take them back to the suburbs. The operation looked like a miracle of discipline. Before coming to China I'd had the notion that Red Guards “on the rampage” were like the English Mods and Rockers, or the American beatniks of Berkeley. Nothing of the sort. These Chinese youngsters are frightening for the opposite reason — they’re so totally obedient, so ritually docile, so patient and yet so madly devoted to Chairman Mao's service.
"We've made a new kind of society and we must protect it against enemies from withoi
Foreigners who live in the heart of Peking, and who therefore witnessed the violence in the bad week ot August 20-28. believe the Red Guards exceeded their orders then — but not that they had no orders. There was method in the destruction they carried out. The unanswered and seemingly unanswerable question still is, Who gives the orders?
Moving some 20 million boys and girls around China, feeding them, housing them, finally sending them home again seemed a
masterpiece of organization, but the odd thing is, nobody will admit having done the organizing. Ask who did it and you are told, “It was done by the students themselves.” And the oddest thing of all is. there must be some truth in this statement.
I drove from Tientsin back to Peking on a bright afternoon of early winter. There was never a moment in the 80-milc drive when we couldn't see at least one group ot Red Guards on the road ahead of us. marching to the capital to pay their homage to Chairman Mao. They were emulating, in their way, his Long March of the 1930s.
We stopped to talk to some of them. One group had left Tientsin that same morning, and hoped to reach Peking within three days. It included some little boys of no more than 14. Another — six girls and 11 boys, all aged 17 — had set out from Shantung Province seven days before, headed for Peking. They'd been marching since 4 a.m., two hours before daylight, and would continue to march until 8 p.m., two hours after dark. They’d been sleeping each night in a People’s Commune, in their own bedrolls which they carried on their backs, and buying their food from the peasants along the way. All looked in good, tough health.
ind subtle corruptions within'
Not all Red Guards were so lucky, though. I went into a Red Guard dormitory in what had formerly been a classroom of No. 2 Middle School, Peking. Half a dozen youngsters were stretched out on the floor, looking thoroughly miserable. ‘They’re sick,” said our guide unnecessarily. But when 1 started to take a picture of the dormitory, they scrambled to their feet, tidied up the bedrolls, and settled down to pose studying Quotations From Chairman Mao.
Migration on foot began fairly late in the autumn. Ostensibly, the boys and girls were told to emulate their grandparents in the famous Long March of Communist forces across China to Yenan in 1934. Actually, the shift to pedestrian travel had become urgently necessary. Rail and bus travel had been virtually paralyzed by the teenage lemmings who were streaming in all directions.
Peking’s main station was closed to ordinary civilian traffic for months, and reserved for Red Guards exclusively. Paying passengers had to use an old disused station in the far west end of the city. When I went there to take the train to Tientsin, 1 found a queue half a mile long and three to four deep, waiting to hoard trains. These were “hard-car” passengers, of course — first come, first served. As a “soft-car" ticket holder with a reserved seat, I could walk right into the station and go aboard without waiting. The “soft” car was empty except for three Chinese army officers and one lone civilian who. perhaps afraid he might be taken for a Rightist-opportunist, studied his Quotations From Chairman Mao continuously during the two-and-a-half-hour trip.
Coming back, we had more difficulty. The evening train from Tientsin to Peking is a through train from Shanghai. Ever since the Red Guard migration began it had been running 12 to 20 hours late. My interpreter and 1 had a plane to catch for Manchuria the following morning, so we had to go back by taxi. (Fare: $35 Canadian.)
The cost of all this to the economy of China is obviously incalculable. Migration alone must have cost the Chinese republic a billion yuan or more. In addition, the nation is losing an entire year’s production of its educational machine — for which no recent figures are available, but which in 1964 produced about 15,000 doctors and dentists, 50,000 teachers and 80.000 engineers, all of whom are urgently needed. Add the inconvenience and economic drag of a dislocated transport system (city buses are as hard to get as trains, if not harder); of streets and sidewalks so continually clogged with strolling, gawking children that rapid movement is impossible; of sheer nervous exhaustion from the never-ending din of raucous loudspeakers, Red Guard drums and gongs, the songs and chants of Red Guard processions. It adds up to a formidable total.
One obvious reason for the migration, of course, is that they had to do something with the 20-odd million youngsters who are losing a year of school. The middle schools and universities were to have opened in January, but this hope died early. Now the optimists talk of reopening in September, but no decisions have yet been made on curriculum or on textbooks, and probably none on teaching personnel either.
So the young people wander from village to town, from province to province, to “establish revolutionary ties” and “share their revolutionary experience.” The boys and girls who go on foot are supposed to do “propaganda work” among the peasants cn route. I didn't get any peasant's reaction to this juvenile counseling service.
Nor did I get any clear idea, only a few oblique hints, of how much all the lip service to Chairman Mao's Thought really means in practical life. On the day 1 first met my Peking interpreter, a charming young woman named Mrs. Chu. she told me she’d been a teacher before joining the China Travel Service. I asked her which work she liked better.
“Kind of work is not important,” she said primly. “Important is only to serve the people.”
But three days later, when we‘d acquired a more informal relationship, she was prattling happily about how much better she liked her present job than her previous one as a teacher. Teaching, she thought, was “too narrowing.” Talking naturally in this way, she sounded like any bright, intelligent girl with an interest in her work.
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continued from page 18
What’s the Cultural Revolution done for industry? Not much
Some of my other contacts with
present-day Chinese thinking were less intelligible to the Western mind.
At a factory village near Nanking i visited a kindergarten and watched the five-year-old group go through a simple song - and - dance routine in adulation of Chairman Mao. They waved their little red books, which they couldn’t yet read, in a pattern
of well-drilled gestures as they sang: Quotations from Chairman Maß are given to me,
Our great leader is now talking to me
Asking me to follow the Party wholeheartedly
And become a worthy successor to the Revolution.
In the evening I went to an “entertainment” which, we were told, had been “composed by the workers themselves” for the edification of foreign guests. The first item on the program was the kindergarten song — same words, same gestures. What had been mildly appealing when done by fiveyear-olds was grotesque and somehow repellent performed by men and women in their 20s and 30s.
So far, though, the frenzy seems to be mainly verbal. The pace of actual work is still leisurely enough.
The evening 1 arrived in Peking, a six-man gang had reached the halfway point in repairing the hotel’s four stone steps. The old steps had been removed, the cement beneath them cleared away; all seemed ready for the simple task of replacing them. When I left Peking for the last time three weeks later, the job was almost, but not quite, finished.
At the 14 factories I visited in half a dozen cities, the routine never varied. We would be ushered into a reception room, served with a large mug of tea, then subjected to a “briet account” of the factory and its record (one went on for 65 minutes by my watch!) which would run something like this:
“In 1957 we had only a small factory, and we also imported many parts and raw materials from the Soviet Union and other Modern Revisionist countries. When our great leader Chairman Mao raised the banner of the Great Leap Forward we began to expand our equipment and our production, although the so-called experts from the USSR said we could not do this and if we did it would take us 20 or 30 years. Then in 1960 when the Modern Revisionists tried to strangle us and recalled their technical advisers, and cut off our supplies, we encountered many difficulties. But our workers studied Chairman Mao’s Works and they read where he said, ‘Be Resolute, Make All Sacrifices, Overcome Difficulties to Achieve Victory.’ So our workers adopted the Principle of Self-Reliance following Chairman Mao’s Thought, and now we produce twice as many tons for yards, or units, or whatever] as in 1957.”
We would then go out to inspect the plant and see what, if anything, the Cultural Revolution had done to it in practice. From what I could see, it hadn’t done much. Efficiency was not so much increased as disregarded, under the influence of Chairman Mao’s Thought.
The variations in competence, even among different factories in the same complex, were quite astonishing. In the northern steel city of Anshan we saw a plate mill, opened in 1958, which was obviously producing right up to the capacity of its machinery. The director talked relatively little about Chairman Mao’s Thought, but he did talk with bitter resentment, and with pride, of how they had recovered from the blow of the Soviet withdrawal in 1960, and had learned how to run the plant and even make spare parts themselves.
Right next door was a seamlesstubing mill that, just as obviously, was operating at 25 percent of capacity. (The machine that cut the raw material could supply enough in two hours to keep a whole eight-hour shift busy.) It was as badly organized a plant as I had ever seen, yet it was showm to us with the same complacency, and the same invocations of Chairman Mao’s Thought, as other mills had been.
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“Could Canadian workers criticize their bosses this way?”
(As we drove away, the local China Travel Service agent, a bland young man with a large rectangular smile, asked for my comments on what we had seen. 1 said I w'as amazed at the wide variation in efficiency, and mentioned the tubing mill as an example. I was amused to learn later that on the following day an Australian visitor who asked to see the tubing mill was told it was "closed lor repairs.”)
In Peking I was shown, w'ith equal complacency, one of the do-it-yourself steel plants set up by the Ci real Leap Forward in 1958. It had two small furnaces for making alloys, only one of which was in operation, and a small, crude, poorly organized rolling mill, obviously designed by someone w'ho had no more than a faint idea what a rolling mill is like. Its 4,800 workers made 7.000 tons of steel products each year, which an efficient steel plant would produce in two or three days.
Our lecturer and guide was the vice-director of the plant, a Mr. Wang. I asked him whether the Cultural Revolution had had any direct effect on this particular factory.
"There were some socalled ‘authorities’ wdio were imbued with reactionary bourgeois ideas and were Leading Us Down the Capitalist Road,” he began to explain, quoting recent official statements verbatim.
For instance, had he himself been vice-director a year ago, and who was the director?
Yes, he had been vicedirector — but in fact there was no director now.
Mr. Wang himself was boss, without the title.
What had happened to the ex-director, and other executives who’d been removed?
“They are working as laborers, under the eyes of the other workers.” he replied. “They are remolding their minds in accordance with Chairman Mao’s Thought."
I began to see why Mr. Wang was so enthusiastic about the Cultural Revolution.
The workers’ medium for criticizing their bosses, which they are employing with enthusiasm, is the “Big Character Poster” — large sheets of
newsprint w'ith handwritten messages, pasted up on walls or in some factories hung on wires like laundry. Every plant and every office seems to be festooned with them.
A correspondent of the New China News Agency told me, “We’re really very busy these days. Our regular work has to go on as usual, of course, but we’re spending at least half of
our time on the Cultural Revolution.”
"Reading Big Character Posters and writing Big Character Posters." he replied. "and what’s more we have sessions of studying Chairman Mao’s Works."
When I visited the office of the New China News Agency in the northern city of Shenyang, the former Mukden, I found two thirds of the staff busy writing Big Character Posters denouncing their local party secretary — a bureaucrat, they said,
who had “lost contact with the masses” and was “not following Chairman Mao’s Thought.” One of the senior correspondents, who had been rather reluctant to bring me into the office but seemed to enjoy my astonishment, said, “Could your newsagency workers criticize their bosses this way in Canada?"
I tried to visualize a Canadian
Press office in Toronto wherein junior reporters would spend hours of office time each day deploring the deficiencies of General Manager Gillis Purcell. The mind boggled. Thinking it over later, it occurred to me that the Chinese are treating their industrial leaders as we in the Western democracies treat our politicians — and. to a certain extent, vice versa. I wondered if Chinese executives would thus be made as inept, ineffective and unsure of themselves as Western politicians have become, and if so,
what this would do to the Chinese economy. Perhaps luckily for China, the Cultural Revolution seems less obtrusive on the farms. In the three People’s Communes that 1 visited, the guide and spokesman was as voluble as any factory manager in extolling Chairman Mao’s Thought, but the peasants themselves didn’t appear to be pestered about it.
As we drove away from a commune near Peking, for instance, the field workers were taking their morning break. Three platoons of Red Guards, volunteer helpers w'ith the harvest, were lined up in a field having a choral reading of Quotations From Chairman Mao, with the usual gestures. But the real farmers, who lived there, were all sitting around on straw stacks while the women got the fires going and made tea.
The communes that 1 saw. and any others I heard about, were simply enlargements or consolidations of the co-operative farms I had seen 10 years ago. Much the same arguments were used to justify the communes as had previously been used for the co-operatives: larger acreage, pooling of expensive machinery, joint undertaking of capital works such as irrigation projects. All the farmers were living in the natural villages where they’d always lived, and in their own family homes; only a few single workers lived in dormitories or barracks. Whatever excesses of regimentation were attempted in the first days of the Great Leap Forward in August 1958, they appear to have been corrected by 1959. Communes now look like what they are: large farming communities, with populations around 35,000, in which the municipal government and the farm directorate have been merged and the economic unit altered in important ways, but which otherwise are very like the co-operative farms out of which they grew.
The three communes to which I was taken were not typical, of course. I didn’t need to be told this by a resident foreigner; I could see it for myself just from driving along the roads. Each of the three showpiece communes was fully equipped with tractors; one of them had six heavy tractors for deep plowing and no fewer than 40 seven-horsepower machines for harrowing and cultivating.
Yet in 600 miles of travel by auto and train through the Chinese countryside I did not see a single tractor actually at w'ork in the fields. I saw lots of plowing, but always by water buffaloes: lots of heavy harrowing in freshly ploughed fields, but always by gangs of men and women swinging the long-handled, single-bladed mattocks that Chinese peasants have always used. Evidently tractors are still for the favored few, even after 10 years of continuous production in several Chinese cities.
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But even in the relatively rich communes I did inspect, I was surprised to learn how much lower is the income of the peasants — still about 85 percent of China’s population — than that of the privileged minority of factory workers. The richest of the three communes had an average income per worker of 37'/2 yuan a month. In most factories the minimum wage was 40 yuan, the average around 60 and the maximum more than 100.
In Chinese Communist doctrine, “workers, peasants and soldiers” are grouped as equals, and equally good as opposed to bad characters like bourgeois reactionaries or Modern Revisionists. In fact, they aren’t equal at all. Soldiers are probably the most favored, though this is hard to establish because foreigners are not allowed to see or hear much about a soldier’s life. But workers — factory workers, that is — are paid much more for doing much less than peasants. Moreover, a peasant’s income is determined by what he and his mates earn, what the commune gets for its produce. Factory workers get standard industrial wages whether their factory is run well or badly, and regardless of its production.
The underlying fear
Bureaucrats, of course, have an easier and better-paid life even than factory workers. Each of these favored groups tends to recruit its replacements from among its own sons, and therefore to grow into a hereditary privileged class like those the 1949 Liberation displaced.
This seems to he the fear underlying the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao and his followers are determined to avoid the relapse into bourgeois materialism that they think has overtaken the USSR.
Among my 50-odd talks with Chinese during a month in China were only two that I’d dignify with the name conversation. One was with a professor in Shanghai. The other was with my friend and colleague Pu Chao-min, Ottawa correspondent of the New China News Agency. Pu and his interpreter Yao were on home leave, and I spent several pleasant evenings with them in Peking.
Each in his own words. Pu and the Shanghai professor said the same thing about the Cultural Revolution. It boiled down to this: “We’ve made a new kind of society in China and we must protect it against enemies from without and subtle corruptions within. We used to think the Soviet Union had the same ideal, but now we know different. We see the Soviet Union growing more and more like the U.S.. basing its progress on material incentives, appealing to the selfishness in man and letting a new bourgeoisie establish itself on the backs of workers and peasants.” (Pu was especially emphatic on this. He had visited the Soviet Union and he spoke of it with contempt: “To find the director of any collective farm, all you need to do is look for the most luxurious house.”)
What’s better than going to school? Quoting Mao-endlessly
"We ourselves,” they went on, "know how easy it is to develop bourgeois tendencies because we can detect them in ourselves.” (Both men said this in almost identical words.) "We are not now as close to the masses as when we were younger. We no longer share their hardships as once we did. So we have to re-examine our own thinking and our lives, and renew our contact with the workers and peasants if we are to be true citizens of our new society. The aim of the Cultural Revolution is to make sure that the generation now' in school will preserve this revolutionary spirit, and keep our new society strong and pure. That’s why we don't regret what you call the ‘loss' of a year’s schooling for our children.”
Pu, for one Chinese parent, was proving the hard way his acceptance of this belief. He arrived in Peking to find his 15-year-old son was off w'ith the Red Guards, nobody knew w'here, and when I left Peking the boy still hadn't turned up. Pu was unperturbed. The lad would be back in due course, before his parents finished their home leave. Meanwhile,
he was gaining experience that w'ould do him good all his life.
All this sounds fine, but w'hat is the experience? What exactly are these youngsters doing, instead of going to school?
1 put this question to four Red Guard groups 1 met in Peking. Tientsin, Nanking and Shanghai. All answered in much the same way. First and above all, they “study Chairman Mao’s Works.” When I met the Shanghai group in a sitting room of the Peace Hotel, the eldest said, “We always begin every meeting, large or small, with a reading from Chairman Mao’s Works.” So they read in chorus from their little red books a bit about “U.S. aggressors and all their running dogs,” followed by a paragraph of Mao’s essay in memory of the Canadian doctor, Norman Béthune. They then told me the new' curriculum for Chinese universities had to be molded around Chairman Mao’s Thought, which they seemed to feel would be sufficient.
The Peking Red Guards were schoolboys and therefore younger, except for one who said he w'as 24. 1 asked what he was doing in a group of teenagers. It turned out he had graduated from their school in 1960 but stayed on as a recreational director and liaison man between students and teachers. Next year, he added, he’d be a teacher himself.
But what could he teach, when he’d had no other education than he’d got at this same school? What did he know that the boys didn’t know already?
He was taken aback by this question, which obviously had never occurred to him. It came out eventually that he considered himself thoroughly
acquainted with Chairman Mao's Works, and that this was qualification enough.
With a few exceptions the Red Guards were unattractive young men — serenely self-righteous, full of suspicions but devoid of doubts, certain they knew how to apply Chairman Mao's Thought to all of life’s prob-
lems. They were incapable of expressing any thought in words of their own. Every phrase would be one I'd read before, in some official statement or in Quotations From Chairman Mao. But when 1 expressed some distaste at this to the Shanghai professor. he flared up in anger.
"We have become aware.” he said
sternly, “that every word and every sentence of Chairman Mao’s Works contains a great truth, and represents the interests of the Chinese people. We are determined to imprint every one of them on our minds, and to express them in action.”
So far the action consists of marching up and down in endless, mindless, pointless processions, waving flags, beating gongs, singing the simple words of a few simple tunes. “Study” is the endless conning of Mao quotations, which also provide the words for most of the songs. “Work" is the composition of Big Character Posters.
The young are sincere—their elders support what’s safe
But at least there’s no reason to doubt that the young are sincere. Older men are less convincing. Their age and status shows they must have survived other changes, must have been equally deferential a year ago
to the men they now berate as reactionaries and class enemies. In the atmosphere of hysterical orthodoxy that reigns in China today, the middlelevel leadership must include a lot of Tartuffes, Elmer Gantrys and Vicars of Bray. Probably a lot of Joe McCarthys, too.
So the net impression the visitor
takes away, in this first year of China's Cultural Revolution, is not a happy one. He has to keep reminding himself of the evident progress of the last 10 years: the millions of new houses, all plain and some ugly but better than the Chinese masses ever knew before; the end of rationing for all foods except rice and all clothing
except cottons (and the ration for those seems more than adequate); the piles of food in the market at low prices, and the big crowds of humbly dressed people in restaurants that serve excellent meals.
Most impressive of all, to a Canadian. is the recovery from that terrible blow of 1960. the sudden withdrawal of Soviet experts, blueprints and spare parts. Imagine Windsor, Oshawa and Oakville if the United States abruptly cut off all supplies! Something very like that happened to China only six years ago, and the Chinese have already made up the loss.
These are no small achievements. They were accomplished in a decade that included the three worst harvest years of recent history — 1959-62 — when droughts and floods wrought damage that in any other decade would have meant famine. As it was, China had to import wheat from Canada as she is still doing (I watched a shipload being off-loaded in Shanghai). But as Edgar Snow remarked in his excellent book. The Other Side Of The River, China “actually kept enough foreign exchange out of the pockets of officials” to pay hard cash for the imported grain, “rather than beg from the United States as normal people do." No other poor country can say the same.
Whether or how much these advances have been wiped out by the events of January 1967, no foreigner can tell yet. Foreigners who live in China are seldom allowed to leave Peking or, for the small group of Western businessmen who live there. Shanghai. Transient visitors may travel only to approved areas, by approved routes, and if trouble did break out they would not see it unless by accident. All reports of disturbance in China — unauthorized disturbance, that is — are hearsay.
The incredible thing which the visitor can see, indeed cannot avoid seeing, is the authorized disturbance. In retrospect it seems a pity that China’s considerable achievements in the past decade should be obscured, as they are obscured, by what looks to the Western eye like a chaos of hysteria. ★