(a) The rejection of Mao
(b) Back to the bonus
(c) Reopening the mosque
(d) Towards the three-piece suite
(e) The generation gap
China had already become a very different place within two years of Mao's death, as Deng Xiaoping gained
control and pushed for economic reform. In Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang in the far north-west, I visited recently re-opened
mosques in the Muslim quarter with inscriptions in the Arabic script which had been banned during the Cultural Revolution.
At the Shengli Oilfield in Shandong on the eastern coast, the talk was all about `putting production first' - a far cry from
Mao's insistence that `politics is in command.' I visited the first street markets and peered at handwritten advertisements
stuck on telephone poles offering job exchanges and foreign language lessons. Hua Guofeng, Mao's immediate successor, had
proclaimed a new policy of `Four Modernizations' in agriculture, industry, science and technology, and national defence. It
was a `magnificent plan' to make the Chinese economy `one of the most advanced in the world.' Roadside posters showed China's
youth looking ahead to the year 2001, across a vista of rockets, speeding express trains, and electric pylons.
Democracy Wall in front of a bus station in western Beijing sprang into life in the grey late autumn of 1978.
Former Red Guards debated why the Cultural Revolution had become such a disaster, who was responsible, and what sort of society
China should strive for. They also aired the cases of peasants and workers who had been victimized. I peered at the wallposters
and tightly written essays pasted up on the wall, over the shoulders of young people earnestly copying the texts into notebooks.
Even foreigners could subscribe to the mimeographed wall newspapers which were sold for a few cents. Out of the mist a bus
pulled up near Tiananmen Square, selling illegal photos and poems from the great demonstration on 5 April 1976 which was still
officially regarded as `counter-revolutionary.' Soon this verdict was reversed as the remaining Maoists lost power to Deng
Xiaoping. Hua Guofeng, who had made himself look ridiculous by trying to look like Mao in propaganda posters, was allowed
to remain: others were evicted.
Deng consolidated his power, and then turned on the democracy movement which had helped him. Wei Jingsheng,
who argued that democracy should become the Fifth Modernization, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Deng also put the Gang
of Four on trial, and called on China to `liberate its thoughts'. For the older generation who had suffered in the Cultural
Revolution, he remained a hero. The first of many campaigns against corruption was launched. Wages were increased and new
consumer demands emerged, modest at first but breathtaking by comparison with the Cultural Revolution.
I visited factories where lists of piece rates and bonuses were displayed instead of quotations from Chairman
Mao. Fridges, TVs and new furniture were carried home precariously on three-wheeler pedicabs. People stopped reading the Party
journal Red Flag, and started buying magazines with titles like World Cinema and Modern Living. The first cans of Coca Cola
and packs of foreign cigarettes were imported - though only available in the hotels which were still barred to ordinary Chinese.
Patriotism began to replace politics: Chinese football teams no longer put `friendship first; competition second', but played
A more open China also revealed social tensions which had been concealed, and others which were being created.
In Xinjiang I caught a glimpse of the persecution which the Muslim minorities had suffered till recently, and visited schools
where the educational system was based on separate development. In Beijing I talked to graduate students whose path was blocked
by old cadres resuming the privileges of power. On street corners in Shanghai, I met disaffected youth who had returned illegally
from the countryside to live by their wits. China really was changing.
(a) THE REJECTION OF MAO
October 1978, Beijing
The Cultural Revolution has now been denied in all but name in China two years after Mao Zedong's death,
and it may not be long before it is done openly. As wall-posters in Beijing begin to raise the question of the state of Mao's
mind in his final years, it is extremely hard to find anywhere in China a convincing defence of the Cultural Revolution which
he started in 1966.
Negating the Cultural Revolution is the means by which the dominant group in the leadership hopes to get
rid of some Maoist dead wood - perhaps at a new Third Plenum of the Central Committee early next month. Many ordinary, and
especially young Chinese will also see it as the best way to criticize and expose the middle-ranking bureaucrats and to achieve
both a more efficient society and something approaching real `socialist democracy'. Three weeks of travelling and interviewing
widely in China, as these questions were coming to a head, have convinced me that the Cultural Revolution as a source of political
inspiration is now dead, and that if people want to return to the issues which it raised they will choose a very different
The immediate conflict within the leading Politburo is between the modernizers headed by Vice-Premier Deng
Xiaoping - the Gang of Four's chief enemy before Mao's death - and those whose past is compromised by equivocation when the
Gang held power. The main target is Wang Dongxing, the Communist Party Vice-Chairman who was Mao's bodyguard during the Revolution
and whose special troops removed the Gang led by Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, two years ago. Wang is portrayed in backstreet gossip,
no doubt with encouragement from his enemies, as a rather stupid fellow who cannot keep up with the times.
Chairman Hua Guofeng himself has been attacked in one wallposter this week, and a case can be made that he
too has some explaining to do for his rise to power (at Deng Xiaoping's expense) before Mao's death. But his previous political
record is clear, and most people probably feel that with his Party connections and support from the armed forces he is a very
important part of the new team. The Politburo still includes Wu De, the former Mayor of Beijing who was compromised by his
suppression of the Tiananmen incident in April 1976, when Deng Xiaoping's supporters occupied the main square in Beijing to
mourn the death of the late Premier Zhou Enlai. Another Politburo member likely to go is Saifudin, from the far west Muslim
region of Xinjiang, where I was told he had `suppressed the national minorities' during the Cultural Revolution and had closed
down the mosques - now open again.
Some criticism is also attached to Chen Yonggui, China's most famous peasant who led the `model brigade'
of Dazhai - from whom the rest of Chinese agriculture was urged to learn during the Cultural Revolution. He too seems to be
unable to move with events. Models in general are not so popular. The industrial twin to Dazhai - the oilfield of Daqing -
is still to be emulated but there is one feature from which one is asked not to learn: Daqing's policy of low wages which
conflicts with the nationwide move towards `more pay for more work' plus bonuses for the deserving workers and deductions
for the lazy ones.
Last week's official verdict that the Tiananmen demonstration in April 1976, which led at the time to Deng
Xiaoping's removal, was a `revolutionary action', will obviously further weaken the power of the residual Maoists in the leadership.
But it means more than this for many ordinary people who still demand much more radical political changes. Condemning the
Gang, or criticizing (obliquely at first) Mao's tolerance of them, is not just an historical issue, but a weapon with which
to curb the still considerable power of large numbers of middle-ranking bureaucrats. A marginal note, scribbled by an anonymous
`citizen of Beijing' on a poster which I read in the city centre, made the point clear: `Every goverment unit,' he wrote,
`still has secret lairs where the minions of the Gang of Four still hide. Unless we dig them out, then their poison will rise
again and infect the masses.'
The rule of law is to be restored, though it seems to be taking rather a long time. (During the week I spent
in the region of Xinjiang, I was told that fortunately there were `no cases at all' coming up before the courts, so less fortunately
there were none that I could attend.) Significantly the official Party newspaper People's Daily has published a long
article, which first appeared in Chinese Youth, demanding a `massive development of people's democracy.' More outspoken
articles have been appearing in the Youth Newspaper, only - it is rumoured - after Chairman Hua himself insisted they
should not be censored.
In the cultural world, there is a sense too of more serious questions trying to break through. So far the
new spirit of `a hundred flowers' has mostly meant lots of foreign films (especially those which are shown by invitation only)
and the revival of Beijing opera and local plays. But there are essays and stories about the scars left upon China by the
Gang of Four, which by implication also say something about the future. Cultural bureaucrats cannot very well object to these
`scars' being exposed, but they would like intellectuals to write rather more about the `positive' side of what has been achieved
since the downfall of the Gang.
I began my visit to China by carefully enquiring, at every school or factory I visited, what advantages had
accrued to this particular unit from the Cultural Revolution. The answers were uniformly embarrassing. Some fell back on the
official formula that the Cultural Revolution had been a 70 per cent success; most people mumbled something about how it had
improved their style of work and brought them closer to the masses. But all the actual mechanisms by which this was supposed
to be achieved were described in wholly negative terms. The managers had come too close to the masses to the point where they
did not dare to take decisions. `People seized power from us', one factory manager said with unusual frankness. `The Revolutionary
Committee' (which has now been abolished and used to include worker representatives) `was legal at the time, but we did not
The return of institutions and practices which one had thought the Cultural Revolution had finally disposed
of - particularly in the restoration of material incentives and competitive education - is quite staggering for the naive
foreigner who felt that in these fields at least socialist morality had taken a step forward. Now one is told with a laugh
that `you can't eat socialism.'
(b) BACK TO THE BONUS
October 1978, Beijing
Last month was Quality Month all over China. Workers who excel in the course of it can earn a special bonus
of anything between thirty and fifty yuan. In more normal months they may now get as much as ten yuan, about
a fifth of the average skilled worker's wage. At this rate the most diligent among them should be able, I reckon, to buy a
Swiss watch by the end of 1979. Not perhaps the Longines which I found improbably in an Urumqi department store in the far
west of China. But a reliable brand for around 200 yuan (roughly sixty pounds at the current exchange rate).
If there was one thing of which most observers outside China were thoroughly convinced during the Cultural
Revolution, it was that bonuses had died a decisive death. Differences in pay would continue according to the `eight-grade
scale for workers' and the more elaborate scales for other state employees. Where there was room for argument was whether
the differential gaps should remain the same. But the Shanghai dockers had surely got it right when, rejecting a proposed
bonus scheme in 1974, they proclaimed that `We shall be masters of the wharf, not of tonnage! '
Now it appears that this was the `absolute egalitarianism' preached by the Gang of Four, under whose regime
things got to such a pass that `it did not matter if the worker checked in late or not at all.' Last year the higher-paid
workers all got a rise, and the new bonus system is just getting under way. There are various kinds of moral incentives, too,
carefully listed for me as consisting of public praise, banners and flags, individual certificates, a favourable entry for
one's work record, and being awarded the title of `advanced worker'. These moral incentives should in theory take precedence
over those of a material kind.
Mao said so and is still quoted to this effect. But what one sees being emphasized at the moment in every
factory are the sort of incentives which produce more cash, with the targets written up on blackboards. Several national conferences
have been held to work out a proper `socialist' basis upon which bonuses sould be awarded. The principles are sensible enough;
the only problem is that as far as I could tell they were already being eroded in practice. First, the basic wage system should
consist of a time rate, plus bonuses. But two important exceptions have already been made, allowing for piece-rate wages to
be paid to manual labourers and those working in handicraft industries.
The diggers of ditches and the makers of plastic flowers will be paid entirely on the basis of how much they
produce. Is this not retrogressive? No, one is told, because the piece rates will be carefully fixed to assure a reasonable
A second principle is that a basic wage should be guaranteed. This is only more or less true, since the new
system also provides for deductions for managers who are inefficient, for workers who damage equipment, produce too many faulty
products or use too much raw material. However, one is told that the reduction of wages should never be excessive - perhaps
a figure of ten per cent would be in order. Nor can workers be sacked except for criminal behaviour, though they can be placed
in a special category of `dismissal on retention' where they are nominally sacked but allowed to continue work.
The Chinese accept that there may be a law of diminishing returns with any bonus system, as the economic
slack in the system gets gradually taken up and the marginal gains become less. But they feel - and most Western experts who
visit their factories agree with them - that a 20 to 30 per cent rise in efficiency, using the same plant and manpower, is
quite feasible in most industries.
Any doubts as to the compatibility of a bonus scheme with the socialist system are speedily dismissed by
referring to the Marxian principle `to each according to his work' or, more bluntly, in the Chinese phrase duolao duode
- `the more you work the more you get.'
A banner flies in one of the factories which I visited, with a little jingle on it in praise of Chairman
Hua Guofeng and his Four Modernizations. Roughly translated, it says:
The heights to which he does aspire
Are what the masses all desire.
To modernize thoroughly the whole of China by the end of the century is indeed a lofty peak, and it is being
scaled by competitive methods which leave the visitor with memories of the Cultural Revolution gasping.
(c) REOPENING THE MOSQUES
November 1978, Urumqi, Xinjiang
The bearded patriarch, Tuerdi, whose `workers' home' I am visiting, has only two teeth left, but he can count
eighty-two direct descendants down to his great-grand-children. This is one for every year of his life. The Uighurs, a Turkic
`national minority' in North-west China, evidently have that Central Asian capacity to produce very old men. The last Imam
before the present one, at the mosque which Tuerdi attends on Fridays, died at the age of 100.
In Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, these old men warm themselves in the late autumn
sun - some outside the mosque, some outside the new Chinese department store. There is a cold wind from across the Gobi Desert,
and they are wearing their high, leather boots and fur-lined caps with the flaps hanging down. The street looks at first glance
like a photograph from a missionary's album of China `before Liberation'. Old women sell raw pepper, bread, and glasses of
tea on the pavement. Cobblers sit in their dark doorways. The houses are of whitewashed mud - one-stored, with thick wooden
shutters, painted dark brown.
The Muslim minorities in this farthest west corner of China had had a hard time in recent years. They were
'persecuted by agents of the Gang of Four,' I am told by Temur Dawamad, himself a Uighur and a vice-chairman of the ruling
Revolutionary Committee. The chief agent, he reveals indiscreetly, was Saifudin, the veteran Communist Party first secretary
of the region who was transferred to Beijing last year where he is still a member of the central Party Politburo.
`They closed the mosques, and would not let people wear their caps', he says. `We are still trying to eradicate
their poisonous influence.' Later I discover that all the local community organisations for the national minorities, including
street committees and the religious affairs committee, are only now being `restored' after having been closed since the Cultural
Revolution began. There are now at least 20 mosques open again in the old Uighur quarter of Nanliang. I even saw a woman begging
outside one of them, perhaps tolerated because charity is one of the main Islamic virtues.
Xinjiang has only just been `opened' to foreign tourists, and next year as many as 1,700 are scheduled to
visit the region, helping to relieve the pressure on the main tourist routes to and from Beijing. The local officials are
often more straight-forward and helpful to visitors than those in the more familiar parts of China, but they are slightly
at a loss on how to deal with the expected tours from Thomas Cook.
Tuerdi, in his new house outside the old quarter, represents the more acceptable face of `national minority'
development which the Chinese will want to show their visitors. If one enquires closely into the lives of his eight children
and their children, it is clear that within certain limits things have greatly improved. Education, as so often, is the key.
The first four children only attended `lower middle' - the first three years of secondary school. (The two eldest daughters
have sixteen children between them). A fifth daughter went to Xinjiang University; a sixth completed the full five years of
middle school; the seventh went to a technical school. The path forward for all these young Uighurs has been as skilled technicians,
working in the post office, on the railways, or in the armed forces. They are proud of one grandson in the airforce.
Xinjiang was first developed after the 1949 Liberation by a Production and Construction Corps, formed out
of the Liberation Army forces and the Kuomintang troops who surrendered to them. Then, in the late 1950s, as relations with
the Soviet Union across the border worsened, a big influx of civilian settlers from China proper began. These Han Chinese
form distinct communities in Urumqi, living mostly in the new part of the city across the river.
Despite the upward social mobility shown by Tuerdi's family, it is still very difficult for a member of a
national minority to cross the cultural divide between non-Han and Han. But his last child, a daughter now aged 24, has done
so. She studied physics in Wuhan on the Yantgzi River for three years, and is now a supervisor in the Urumqi telephone office
earning the standard rate for university graduates of sixty-two yuan a month - a third more than a worker's starting
wage. She speaks reasonable Chinese, and has her foot on the first step of the officials' salary scale.
By law, all government documents should be published in the four major languages in Xinjiang: Han Chinese
(41 per cent of the total population of eleven million), Uighur (45 per cent), Kazakh (6 per cent) and Mongol (1 per cent).
Yet the Chinese language is such a strong unifying cultural force that those without full mastery of it suffer a political
disadvantage. At the simplest level, a Uighur official in Xinjiang will have to use Chinese to communicate with a Chinese
official; the latter will not reciprocate in Uighur, unless it is a formal occasion with a translator present.
The Han Chinese cadres also have a different status. They have been appointed by the State to serve in Xinjiang
and may be transferred elsewhere in the future. My own impression, based upon observing the way that Chinese and minority
cadres behave together, is that there is an air of deference towards the superior culture. A senior Uighur official does not
command the automaic respect a Chinese at the same level of hierarchy would enjoy.
The children of a mixed nationality school finish their morning drill, 1,400 of them in unison on the dusty
exercize ground. Then they disperse for five minutes free play - Han Chinese children to the left, all cropped black hair
and round faces, Uighur children to the right, with a hotch-potch of long noses, broad foreheads, even some ginger hair, and
earrings for the girls. There are Hanzuban, Han classes, and Weizuban, Uighur classes, pursuing a common curriculum
each in their own language. The Chinese children are supposed to learn some Uighur, but it is not essential to their lives,
and recently it has been dropped in favour of English. The Uighur children must learn some Chinese, but how much?
A few minority children, one or two in each Han class, follow the Chinese side of the system. One imagines
that their home background and job opportunities will be very different. At Xinjiang University, the separate language streams
continue. Minority students do a year of preliminary Chinese, not so that they can join the Chinese language stream, but so
they can use original Chinese texts in their subjects.
The language of instruction is Uighur (the lingua franca for the other nationalities too) but the content
is mostly Chinese. Only 20 per cent of the textbook material is of Uighur origin, dealing with things like local customs and
raising sheep, but at university there is no study of regional history - abolished, I was told, by the Gang of Four. Proper
histories of the national minorities have been written but they come in the category of neibu (restricted) material.
At the main Urumqi bookshop, and at another one in the biggest department store, I found two recent novels in Uighur and one
in Mongolian, as well as a handbook of local traditional medicine. Everything else was translated from Chinese, including
the great classial novesl like the Dream of the Red Chamber and the Water Margin. There was a good deal of puzzling
over titles by Chinese shop assistants who had no idea what the books were.
(d) TOWARDS THE THREE-PIECE SUITE
April 1980, Shanghai
The window of a photographer's shop in Shanghai illustrates a new aspect of Chinese life in the 1980s. `Western
garments may be hired here,' says the sign, in response to the popular preference for having one's picture taken in foreign
clothes. Some samples of the studio's efforts are on display. They include the picture of a real live foreigner - a rather
shaggy North European with a large beard - and another of a sharply dressed Chinese lad wearing shades. Then there are some
wedding photographs in traditional bridal white, but propped against one of these is a very Chinese slogan: `For the sake
of the Revolution, only have one child!'
On a lamp-post farther down the street, the other end of the human cycle in Shanghai is dealt with. `Public
cemetery with a view of the hills!', says the fly-poster. A passing Chinese student stops to explain it to me. Space at the
Shanghai crematorium is apparently so limited that after three years they throw away the ashes unless you come and collect
the urn. Enterprising communes in the countryside now augment their income by selling off minute plots of land for sixty yuan
(eighteen pounds or a month's average wage).
Insights like these into the everyday preoccupations of Chinese life make the Cultural Revolution and our
former vision of a new socialist man in China seem more than ever unreal. At least in the cities, the picture is now one familiar
to us from the developmental experiences of most other Third World countries. It is the same jumble of traditional (Chinese)
and modern (mostly foreign-based) images and aspirations, the same articulation of consumer demands none the less real for
being posed in a much less advanced economic context than ours. The Chinese say that these demands are all the more intense
for having been politically pent up during the Cultural Revolution when it was wiser not to betray any material aspirations.
Another reason is simply that, in spite of what is said about the `wasted years' of the Cultural Revolution,
there was continued economic progress, even if by fits and starts. Whereas in the 1960s many people were still saving up for
their first bicycle, today in the towns and wealthier rural areas they have the bicycle and the watch and probably the transistor
radio too. Add to this the new money released into the economy by recent wage increases and bonuses for industrial workers
and we have the familar phenomenon of a lot of money chasing too few goods.
The shafa, a word I had never even heard used on previous visits to China, has now become a new measure
of purchasing power. There are single shafas (armchairs) and double shafas (sofas - the word is a Chinese transliteration
of our own term). The three-piece suite has appeared on the Shanghai high street at about 400 yuan - more than half
a year's wages for the average worker - for a rather shoddy set with simulated leather covers. `But you can get them made
much more cheaply by people working on their own, something they were afraid to do in the years of the Gang of Four,' it is
explained. Furniture workers are happy to do some moonlighting on their day off from the state-owned factory and build you
a single or double shafa in your home.
At the local street market one may see, tacked up on a wall, a duplicated sheet of furniture designs which
can be bought for a few fen (cents). These free markets are themselves a new concession to consumer demand, abhorrent
to anyone who still believes in the `progressive limitation of bourgeois rights,' but they are on quite a limited scale and
seem very popular. `It means that you can get eggs when you want them, and more vegetables in the winter.'
The peasants with produce from their small `private plots' may have travelled through the night to be there
at dawn, dozing on their barrows as they wait for the first six o'clock customer. They must pay a small stall fee to the market
inspector, who is supposed to check for excessive prices and prohibited items. Prices that I saw were not wildly above those
in the state markets. Shopping is a lively collective business in which everyone standing around is quick to denounce the
seller of peanuts asking for five fen more than the accepted price that day.
Outside the main department stores in Beijing and Shanghai, the crowds gather to gape at Japanese colour
TV sets on sale for 1,000 yuan (three years' wages for the average worker) and other bits of expensive electronics.
Is this really a common aspiration in the same category as the need for more vegetables and cheaper furniture - or do the
displays of Sony, Sanyo, Hitachi and Toshiba serve a more subtle purpose? Though the brand name differs, the marketing approach
is the same everywhere. An entire shop window has been filled with the products of the company concerned, in the home setting
of a model consumer family - Mum and Dad plus child. Dad looks Eurasian, and is listening to his stereo on a headset. Mum
has an apron, blonde hair and nice European legs. She may be doing the ironing, or usiing one of those new vacuum cleaners
which can get into all the corners. The son in the Toshiba display on Xidan (Beijing) is wearing a Snoopy shirt and looking
bored. The daughter on Nanjing Road (Shanghai) is wearing shorts and has the looks of a trim nymphet. It is all absolutely
amazing for the crowd, rarely less than a hundred strong, pressing its collective nose against the shop window.
The goods displayed are not entirely for show: I myself saw two purchasers of Hitachi colour TVs manoeuvring
their cartons onto the back of a bicycle or into a pedicab. Often a Chinese-made equivalent product is available - including
stereo sets and TV - at a lower price. But it can only be purchased with coupons which are allocated in very restricted numbers
through one's place of work.
What I found most disturbing was the lack of any clear rational economic argument for these displays, which
are backed up by giant ads on the billboards. In the end I had to conclude that the answer most frequently given was the right
explanation. `It will show the masses how hard we must struggle to catch up with the advanced technology of the developed
world. It will encourage them to work harder for the Four Modernizations.' This makes sense of a sort. The sustaining myths
of the Cultural Revolution, based on an anti-materialistic philosophy which may have been partly bogus but was compelling
at the time, have been systematically and scornfully demolished. The gap has been partly filled by the quite reasonable demands
of the Chinese people for a higher standard of living, after fifteen years in which nobody got a wage rise and it seemed as
if not a single building in the capital city of Beijing had received a lick of new paint.
But the masses do not demand, unprompted, these expensive goodies from abroad. Just as the ads have replaced
the quotations from Mao on the billboards, so these inviting displays are an act of official propaganda, a deliberate attempt
to substitute the myths of consumer socialism for those of a revolution which went wrong.
(e) THE GENERATION GAP
April 1980, Beijing
The old men who run China have been offered a nice deal by Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping, himself in his 70s
and pledged to retire before 1985. They can take their well-deserved rest on 120 per cent full pay, the story goes, plus retaining
the office car for their personal use. The problem is that most of them still prefer to hang on to power.
A revolution that has aged means inevitably that its leadership has aged with it. In the absence of the job
mobility associated with capitalism, where dud ministers can move painlessly into company boardroooms, old cadres never seem
to die. China's system of work organisation means that the perks of high office go with the `unit' - danwei - to which
one belongs, right down to the provision of free cinema tickets. They cannot be bought with a retirement bonus.
`The old cadres in our place may have been fine in the past', says one impatient Chinese in his late 30s.
`But now they take five hours to read a document you or I could finish in one.'
During the Cultural Revolution, there was a new institution, or at least a new aspiration, called the Three-way
Alliance, which was intended to bring together `the old, the middle-aged and the young' in equal and harmonious shares of
power. One used to meet them all together, smiling a bit too emphatically, on the 'revolutionary committees' which took over
management in factories, schools and local goverment. Now the managers have come back, and new measures of social and economic
stratification - such as restoration of academic titles and selective pay increases to the better qualified - have only helped
to widen the generation gaps. The young are impatient with the middle-aged, the middle-aged with the old, and he old - it
sometimes seems - with everyone else. One might say that age warfare has replaced class warfare.
`We have seventy teachers in our schools', a junior member of staff at a university in Tianjin told me, `but
less than a third of them teach. There are fifteen more working on a dictionary of Chinese-German synonyms, and the rest just
collect their pay.'
At the other end of the scale, many of the young people living off their wits in Shanghai have escaped from
the land, illegal returnees from Xinjiang in the North-west or Heilongjiang in the Northeast, without proper papers or ration
coupons. Although no numbers are given, enough have come back for this to be officially cited as an important factor in the
The crime and illegal trading generated by these problems is only a symptom of much deeper discontent. Twelve
million students went `down to the countryside' during the years 1968-76, of whom more than a million came from Shanghai,
and only a small number have been allowed back. Those who remain, like the ones in the Aksu Reclamation Zone of Western Xinjiang,
whose `illegal organisations: have recently been banned, not have no future, but have been deprived of the political rationale
which partly sustained their exile.
`What did you think at the time?' I asked one student of a foreign languwge college who spent six years in
`Of course, then, I believed it was a good thing. I would learn what manual labour was like and help to bridge
the gap between the worker and the peasant. But now I know I have lost six years of my life.' This student belongs to a particularly
vulnerable group who returned to higher education at the end of the Cultural Revolution, having earned their ticket as gongnongbing
`worker-peasant-soldiers' in the portmanteau phrase for those who had been `steeled through labour' in factories, villages
or in the army.
This year the class of '76 will graduate all over China, yet so far there is confusion as to how they will
be examined and whether they will merit proper graduate status and the same job prospects. At the national level, the intellectuals
who have regained control of education and research say with resignation: `We have lost a whole generation, maybe two'.
It is little wonder if those who are lost, and cannot even fill their rice bowls by legitimate means, should
find it necessary to sell mimeographed love stories or Turtle shirts or foreign coins cadged from tourists on street corners.