John Gittings

China through the Sliding Door: Chapter II
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The Black Hole of Bali

 
1971 - 1976
 
Mao Zedong's Last Years

 

(a) Vision of a new society

(b) An agricultural debate

(c) Biking in Beijing -

(d) As Mao Zedong lay dying

(e) A hero becomes a clown

 

The Cultural Revolution had abated, and select groups of foreigners were allowed to visit on `study tours'. Our party from the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding crossed the railway bridge from Hong Kong by foot, and sank into huge armchairs on the Chinese side to be greeted by our earnest guides. A new society, we were told, was being built in which peasants and workers would go to college, and college students tackle real life in the factories and fields. After supper in the empty dining rooms of gloomy hotels we were shown films of the Revolutionary Operas devized by Madame Mao (Jiang Qing).

We visited schools, factories and people's communes, listened patiently to lengthy `brief introductions' and took copious notes. Sometimes our hosts seemed nervous: they waved the Little Red Book uneasily and exchanged glances if our questions were too searching. More often there seemed to be a real sense of enthusiasm, especially among youth and in particular among young women who in their confidence seemed to justify the slogan that `women hold up half the sky'. We made allowances for the more dogmatic statements, and laughed at the more absurd examples of the cult of Mao - but not out loud.

Other foreign visitors came back impressed by the spirit of commitment. After the February 1972 visit of President Nixon ended China's diplomatic isolation, they included Americans: even passionate anti-communists found something to admire. Returning home, we followed closely the theoretical debates in the Chinese press. Should those who worked harder get more for their efforts? (The answer was yes, but not too much more). How much should the peasants consume, and how much should be put aside for investment? How fast should the level of ownership be raised to a higher degree of collective organisation?

Though the Red Guards had been packed off to the countryside in 1968, there were outbursts from militant workers who denounced the return of the bureaucrats, and from students who criticized the revival of formal education. Some of this was genuine, but extremist views were encouraged covertly by the ultra-left leadership. Madame Mao and her followers waged a vicious propaganda war against Premier Zhou Enlai, masked as an attack on the ancient philosopher Confucius. They were vigorously resisted by Deng Xiaoping, brought back by Zhou to help restore normality. Zhou died in January 1976 at the start of a climactic year.

The atmosphere in Beijing in April was extremely tense. I arrived with a group of British sinologists on the day after a vast and completely unexpected demonstration in Tiananmen Square had been broken up. The crowd were mourning Premier Zhou who was popular both in his own right and as a symbol of moderation. They laid wreathes, recited poems, and chalked slogans on the pavement denouncing `evil demons' in the leadership - the ultra-leftists now manoeuvring for power as Mao lay dying. There were scuffles and fighting: a police station was set on fire. The feuding leaders watched the demonstration through binoculars from the Great Hall of the People at one side of the square. Then Deng Xiaoping was banished, while the sycophantic Hua Guofeng took over as acting Prmier. An official counter-demonstration was organized hailing Deng's dismissal and Hua's elevation as a triumph: everyone who took part looked miserable in the spring sunshine.

I borrowed a bike and enjoyed my first exploration of Beijing back alleys. But I also talked to survivors from the dark side of the Cultural Revolution, and began to understand how the `masses' had been manipulated for the sake of a vicious power struggle, and how far the vision of a new society was flawed. Events now moved rapidly: Mao died in September, the Gang of Four was arrested a month later, and its closest followers were soon rounded up.

(a) VISION OF A NEW SOCIETY

April 1971, Beijing - Shanghai - Guangzhou

Schools in revolution

`The world is yours as well as ours,' Chairman Mao told the youth of China in a quotation which became famous during the Cultural Revolution, `but in the last analysis, it is yours.' And the Cultural Revolution itself must, in the last analysis, be judged by the effect it has had upon the country's education system and upon those to whom the future of China belongs. It is not just a demographic fact that the youth of China outnumber the adults. They are literally everywhere, marching to the fields to do labour or camping exercizes, practising gymnastics in the parks, chanting quotations from Chairman Mao at well-known beauty spots (especially if foreigners are around), or standing at street corners to recite road safety slogans.

Of course children in China also do many of the more mundane and unpolitical things which we expect them to do, like skipping and playing tag, but we cannot take refuge in the comforting cliche that children are the same all over the world. These kids are different, and the Cultural Revolution has made them more different. One reason why they are different is that they are taught from the age of seven when they enter primary school that `learning is not everything' - learning, that is, in the classroom.

At a primary school in Nanjing, the school workshop was turning out oil filters and other car fittings, and the fifth grade 12-year-olds spent four weeks a year in these workshops and two more in the countryside. At a `middle' or secondary school in Peking, the children spent two months in the year at local factories or in the fields. At a teachers' training college in Canton, the students assembled oscilloscopes and radios, grew experimental rice, and planted sugar cane on waste land. At Qinghua University in Beijing, they turned out trucks, producing most of the parts - engine and suspension included - on the spot. Not all of this work has a vocational purpose. Some of it, especially at the primary school where the children were working punches and stamps in a primitive assembly line, was repetitive and dull. The purpose is not so much to teach a trade as to bring the children to understand that manual work is not degrading and that they should not complain if that is their lot in the future. The goals are explicitly stated: to eliminate the difference between countryside and factory, between workshop and office, and also (by means of military-type exercizes) between the army and the people.

This area of productive work is where the biggest changes have taken place since the Cultural Revolution. The content of formal tuition in the schools has changed much less. Chinese language and mathematics are the main subjects, although English is taught in the middle school and experimentally in the top classes of some primary schools. There is a daily session for Mao-study. but politics in general only takes three or four periods a week. With large classes of forty to fifty and a tradition of collective learning by rota teaching methods in the classroom may strike the British visitor, brought up to believe in self-expression, as excessively formal, although a French or German visitor would, perhaps, be more at home. Mao once advised children to fall asleep in class if they were bored by their teachers, but none of those whom I saw would have had a chance. On the other hand, there were student representatives on the revolutionary committee which runs the middle school in Peking, speaking up quite freely alongside their teachers.

Discipline seems to be more a matter of group criticism than of punishment. On the walls of each classroom, the children pin their own `small self-criticisms'. `At a time when the situation is unprecedentedly good at home and abroad,' said one of these, `I still fool around in class and I don't run out fast enough for exercize in the play- ground. I must learn from the Liberation Army and improve my working style.' But apart from the productive work there has also been a major change in the length of the school curriculum, now reduced from a total of twelve to nine years, although the new system is still described as `experimental.' After years of primary school and four years of middle school (although not everyone in the countryside gets even that far) the children become workers - or peasants, or soldiers. Only after two or three years of practical work can those who wish to apply for further education. Their applications must first be approved by their work-mates, and if they go on to college, they are most likely to go back to their place of work after graduation. Under the new system there is even less room for competiveness and ambitions of `having a career' than in the past.

We were told that formal examinations, criticized by Mao because they were like `ambushes' on the student, had been replaced by open book tests and discussions between students and staff. There was no grading either - `All read the same standard and none fall behind.' This cannot literally be true, but it does suggest a system where collective study has won over the competitive instinct. Job direction and participation in labour was a feature of Chinese education before the Cultural Revolution, but the new changes have made it more comprehensive, taking in the small minority of bright students who used to go straight from middle school to college without shifting so much as a single load of night-soil in between. To compare it with our own system is beside the point. A more relevant comparison can be made with those Third World countries which allow their intellectuals to choose their subjects and withhold their labour, and have in consequence a surplus of unemployable arts graduates while those whose skills are needed emigrate to the United States.

What happens if the Chinese system is allowed to lapse was vividly illustrated during the Cultural Revolution. It is not so much the violence which upsets the Chinese who spoke to us about the Red Guards movement as its lack of discipline, and the competition which developed between rival factions. The actual fighting, they insisted at Qinghua University, had been much exaggerated. Only 300 students out of 10,000 physically took part. And it lasted only for 100 days. Only two or three were actually killed, they said, laughing hilariously. (The truth may lie somewhere between this bland version and the lurid Red Guard reports of the time.) What was unforgivable was the factionalism. Even after the workers and soldiers were sent by Mao to sort out the university (5,000 came in at the start), the students would kick each other under the table while shaking hands over it.

Higher education is still being sorted out. The Cultural Revolution began in the universities and many leading officials - some of whom are now under criticism - were actively involved in the factional ups and downs. One feels a certain political edginess about the way in which institutions like Qinghua University are put on show for the visitor, with a tendency to stick to interminable set speeches which can be very off-putting. There is, perhaps, a danger that this area of education will be retarded for some time to come by an over-dogmatic and fussy approach to getting it politically right.

Yet the innovations are impressive enough in the class-rooms and workshops. Here, the value of productive work is vocational: students of architecture work on construction sites. (The `reactionary theory of the big roof', which meant that traditional ceramic-tiled roofs were put on top of otherwise modern buildings, is especially criticized.) The School of Water Conservancy goes to work on a dam: engineering students learn how to make machine tools, and so on. Even when the universities are fully open, the staff-student ratio will be exceptionally high - at one to four in Qinghua University, plus the worker technicians who teach practical skills.

But it is the sense of a collective spirit which is, perhaps, most impressive in education as it is in the rest of Chinese life. And the thought of Mao Zedong, itself a rather off-putting concept for eclectically-minded visiting Western intellectuals, begins to make sense as the cement which holds the whole system together. It is not so much a cult of personality but more a collective way of life, which provides the moral imperatives for the youth of China who will inherit Mao's revolution.

The Pace of Daily Life

One of the most striking features of Communist China today, and yet perhaps the hardest to communicate to people outside, is the relaxed - almost leisurely - pace at which the country lives. It is only in propaganda films that the Chinese peasants work flat out. In real life, with a working day which starts in the busy season at 5five a.m. and ends only at sunset, the pace is rhythmic but slow. The great set piece scenes of thousands of peasants working side by side, red flags flying, and Mao-posters planted in the ground, are rarely to be seen. Usually they operate in small groups, often just singly, seeming almost immobile to the passer by, as if they have grown roots.

In the factories the tempo of work is generally faster, but it varies according to the degree of mechanisation. It is not uncommon to see a fully automated process established next to one which is still entirely labour-intensive. At a fertilizer plant near Nanjing, completely rebuilt since the liberation, nitrates were sent on their way by conveyor belts and fork-lift trucks, while the phosphates were still being moved by wheelbarrow. Vast steel and concrete girders are trundled on hand-carts through the city streets from the factory to the construction site. A lorry might be quicker, but it might be bringing fresh vegetables to the market. The dividing line between industry and agriculture is blurred, just as the local commune cultivates its fields right up to the factory wall.

The atmosphere also seems relaxed because, in the whole, life is quite good these days. The shops are full of basic consumer products, from children's toys to spare parts for bicycles, not only in the city centres but in the back street shops, the workers' settlements, and the communes. I saw only one queue here in nearly a month in China. The contrast with the Soviet Union, where shopping queues provide everyday evidence that many goods are in short supply. was remarkable. Most shops are open from nine am until nine p.m., seven days a week. Local factories take their working day off in rotation, so that the demand is spread evenly. The only goods subject to rationing are grain and cotton. The grain ration, at nearly 41lb. a month for the non manual worker and more for the heavy worker, seems adequate. The cotton ration is tighter, but it can be extended by buying synthetics or wool. In Shaanxi province, where temperatures were still wintry, everyone was warmly clothed. There were, to state the obvious, no rags in China (and very few flies, either).

Comparing wages and prices is a complicated business but as far as I could tell, an ordinary family with two wage earners, each receiving minimum rate of forty yuan a month. can get by adequately on a daily diet which should include some fish or cheaper cuts of meat. Higher wage earners - sixty yuan is the average - are likely to have money to spare. Factories, housing estates, and even Government offices will have their own kindergartens where working mothers can leave their children. Rents are cheap-no more than forty yuan a month for a two-room flat. Standards vary considerably in the towns from modern estates which include schools and shops to higgledy piggledy timber-frame or mud-wall housing. But slums would be too strong a word for the lower standard accommodation, since the majority have light and water laid on, and - of great importance in a rainy climate - pavement outside.

Standards of health, diet, and clothing seemed only slightly lower in the country than in the town. Housing was perhaps in advance with more land to build on and cheap materials (mostly mud brick) and labour available. Health facilities have greatly improved, with clinics at the brigade level where semi-trained 'barefoot doctors' can treat common ailments, give inoculations, and teach hygiene. The tell-tale sign for rural poverty - skin diseases, cataracts, and rickety children - were almost non-existent.

Street scenes in China are conventionally described by some Western visitors as `drab' just as the uniform clothing of baggy trousers, tunic, and cap attract the epithet `sexless.' Certainly the streets are dimly lit, but the natural colour comes from the movement of thousands of people on foot or on bicycle, ebbing and flowing in a leisurely but purposeful way. Vehicular traffic is limited to buses and trolleys, which provide fast and cheap services to the suburbs, some lorries and a handful of official cars with chaste lace curtains in their windows - a curious vestige of the old bureaucracy. As for `sexless', I must say at the risk of sounding incorrigibly bourgeois, that it is simply not true. With no ornaments except a couple of ribbons to tie to their pigtails, the Chinese girls command attention, and the most stunning of all are those in army uniform. It is not just a question of looks, but of the self-confidence and `liberated' way in which they handle their work, whether they are bus conductresses or air hostesses.

During the Cultural Revolution, or even a year ago, everyday life in China might have appeared to be a good deal more `tense', to use a favourite Chinese word. But it is a measure of the success with which the revolution has been tempered by practice that the atmosphere now seems so relaxed. Perhaps the very blandness of the atmosphere has an anaesthetizing effect upon the interpersonal relationships which we value so highly in the West, and the high and low emotional peaks may, for most people, have been ironed out by the cultural revolution. But these may be luxuries in a collective society; it seems to be a good working atmosphere for a society which must live by its work.

Workers' control in Shanghai

Before the Cultural Revolution, the organizational system in, for example, a factory, looked rather like an inverted pyramid. The management and the Communist Party Committee occupied the two top corners, bearing down on the lowest point where the workers were represented by their trade union. Today the new system centres upon the Revolutionary Committee, a group which contains representatives from the Army and Party, from the old management, and from the workers' mass organisations which have replaced the unions. The Party Committee is still the ultimate authority, but most of the management offices such as Production and Welfare are run directly by the Revolutionary Committee. A typical Committee in a fertilizer factory near Nanjing had a total of twenty-seven members, seventeen of whom were workers, seven officials and three from the Army.

One hardly ever came across the kind of nervous bureaucratic fuss usually to be expected when the management brings visitors to the shop floor. The workers carried on unhurriedly with what they were doing, or chipped in with information if it seemed to be needed. And it was painfully obvious on the one occasion where the system was working badly. At a machine tool factory in Shanghai, there was much edgy laughter and harrying of visitors who stepped a few feet off the guided track, with cries of `Let's go, we are late.' The plant is supposed to be a showcase for the policy of transforming factory floor workers into technicians, but in some shops there were idle machines and workers who did their jobs in sullen slow motion. Posters on the wall denounced the management and Party for bureaucracy, and the leaders of the Revolutionary Committee criticized themselves in front of their visitors. `If we think we are better than the masses,' they said nervously, 'that is a remnnent of [disgraced former Head of State] Liu Shaoqi's revisionism.' As the Chinese would say, this factory still has `big problems.'

Peasant power in Dazhai

New productive forces, it is claimed, have emerged in China which can move mountains like the fooolish old man in the legend made famous by Mao. Most of the mountains are being moved, as they always have been before, on the back of the Chinese peasant with his carrying pole and two buckets. The showpiece communes like Dazhai [brigade] in Shanxi province, where whole ravines have been levelled and mountainsides terraced, are impressive enough. But the point is really driven home by the casual glimpses which one gets from the back of a bus or the window of a train, of feats of labour so commonplace that the guides from the China Travel Service hardly notice them. It is easy enough to straighten a bend in a river and gain two acres of land. All that is needed is the stones from this hill, the earth from that one, and fifty pairs of feet trotting a barefoot path till the sun sets.

Dazhai may be a showpiece, but they are still up against it there. The retaining walls of the new terraces used to burst in the winter floods until they learnt to build them bow-shaped like the coffer of a dam. Brigade leader Jia was much less interested in impressing his foreign guests than in plunging his fist into the soil of every field that we passed, searching for a trace of moisture to help the spring sowing. That new reservoir which they built last year will be needed: so perhaps will some of the eighteen months' store of reserve grain in the barn.

Most of Dazhai's successes antedate the Cultural Revolution, and it is noticeable that fewer claims were made in the communes that we visited than in industry for the specific success of the Cultural Revolution in promoting new increases in production. The Great Leap Forward [1958-60] had reached a sort of productive plateau by 1964-65, and it was Mao's belief that the peasants were being restrained from greater efforts by bossy and bureaucratic local officials. If he is right we should expect another leap forward in the next few years. But if it happens it will come from below this time.

The army keeps guard in Beijing

It is a truism of China Watching that the army is everywhere after the Cultural Revolution, and one knows that the new party apparatus and the provincial revolutionary committees have a high percentage of military men. The military control committees, set up during the Cultural Revolution to safeguard essential services, still display their signboards in the cities.

Public security is one of the services still under military control, as I discovered in Beijing when I and another colleague inadvertently ended up in the local cophouse. The masses, in the shape of some large and heavy-footed high-school girls, thundering after us down one of the narrow hutong alleys, had suspected us of being class enemies. Only too aware of our eccentrically un-Chinese appearance, we could see their point of view. It was the People's Liberation Army (PLA) officer who checked our story in the police station and sent us on our way, still maintaining the polite fiction that we had been lost and that the masses had only wanted to help us.

And yet, to use a different sort of China Watching argument, the injunction to `Learn from the PLA' only came seventeenth in the list of May Day slogans this year. One simply does not get the feeling of an oppressive military presence in the country, and propaganda in favour of the PLA does not stand out from the general run of slogans. The PLA is undeniably around in the urban areas, where most factories, schools and offices have at least one soldier on their revolutionary committees in a position of some authority. In the rural communes, where there was less disorder in the Cultural Revolution and less need for PLA intervention, the army is hardly to be seen.

It is not perhaps a question of straightforward PLA control, but of a less easily definable influence which keeps the country on the straight and narrow revolutionary path. People do not have to submit to PLA discipline, but they should and do learn from its `working style'. In the factories, workshops are designated as companies and the workers divided into platoons. Each worker takes part in the `five-good' campaign, copied from the PLA, pinning a personal assessmetn of his merits and demerits on the noticeboard for everyone to read. Twice a month he and his comrades discuss their progress, with an annual summing-up to decide who has become a `five-good worker', excelling in the five essential departments: political study, military training, working style, good behaviour, and good conduct in the canteen. The same system is practised in the schools.

There is also a para-military aspect to learning from the PLA. Schoolchildren from primary age upwards march out to the coutryside for camping exercizes like miniature conscripts with bedding packs on their backs, as part of a national campaign to `prepare against war'. A new drive has been launched to build up the militia, and in some cities workers' auxiliaries have been organized to help keep public order. In Guangzhou, they were armed with black and white striped staves and crash helmets.

Then there are the mounds of earth, about which it is more tactful not to enquire, which obstruct so many urban streets but which provide excellent adventure playgrounds for the local children. New drains and pipelines may account for part of the work, but half-completed shelters are sometimes clearly visible. Preparedness against war obviously includes some form of civil defence against the contingency of a surprise attack which today is more likely to come from the revisionist North than the imperialist West.

 

(b) AN AGRICULTURAL DEBATE

January 1972, Hong Kong

A major debate within the Chinese leadership over the future direction of agricultural policy is now becoming evident. A strong call has been voiced in the Communist Party journal Red Flag for a new upsurge of socialism in the countryside and for greater efforts at saving and investment by the Chinese peasants. This basic question of economic and social priorities, affecting eighty per cent of China's population, appears to have been one of the central issues behind the downfall last autumn of Mao's `successor' [former Minister of Defence] Lin Biao and his followers.

In an economy where growth is essentially based upon the accumulation and investment of agricultural surpluses, it is vitally important to strike a correct balance between what the peasant consumes and retains for himself and what he saves or contributes to the collective enterprise. The Maoist strategy, as it has emerged in recent months, is to promote a boom in the establishment of local industries, in thos key sectors - fertilizer, farm machinery, and building - which directly affects agricultural productivity. But this boom can be financed only if the Chinese peasants refrain from taking a larger share of the surpluses which they are now producing.

According to the Maoist view, argued at length in the latest issue of Red Flag, the Chinese peasants already have a fair share. The causes of poverty have been eliminated, and `after taking the socialist road they have become rich'. It is only on the basis of the further `accumulation of funds', argues Red Flag, that production can be expanded. There is no contradiction between this process and the interests of the working people, since `the funds accumulated under the socialist system are used directly or indirectly to improve the welfare of the producers.'

Red Flag accuses those who oppose this argument of preaching a kind of half-baked egalitarianism, in which the short-term interest of the rural population is satisfed by a larger share of the surplus but at the expense of their long-term interests. The magazine claims that `[ex Head of State] Liu Shaoqi and other swindlers' (a standard phrase to denote the current political opposition) have `opposed the accumulation of funds under the socialist system', and that they argue instead that `socialism means to get a little more and distribute a little more.'

Another article in Red Flag evokes the spirit of the great collectivisation movement in 1955-56, when at Mao's prompting the campaign to establish agricultural cooperatives was speeded up, a process which prepared the ground for the Great Leap Forward in 1958. Chairman Mao's discovery in 1955 of `the essence of the masses' enthusiasm for socialism' is said to be `of vital significance today.' Once again the unnamed opposition is criticized for belittling the readiness of the Chinese peasant to push ahead on the socialist road.

Two practical questions arise out of this debate over how, and at what rate, greater agricultural productivity should be financed. First, there is the share-out itself. How much should the State take, how much should the individual keep, and how much should be re-invested in small-scale industry by the `collective'? This is a very real issue at the present time when every commune in the country is discussing how to distribute the income which has been accumulated in 1971.

Second, under what system of social organisation can funds for reinvestment best be accumulated in the countryside? This question has been only hinted at in the Chinese press, but it affects the whole structure of the commune system. The basic counting unit of the commune - where the vital `share-out' is made - is pegged at the lowest level of the `team', where such decisions are more likely to favour the individual producer. Should these decisions be taken instead by the higher level `brigade' or even by the commune itself, which would be more concerned with investment?

Paradoxically the present debate is being conducted not because the economic situation is so poor but because it is so healthy. It is precisely because output has increased so impressively since the Cultural Revolution (by ten per cent in 1971 according to the latest statistics), because the granaries are full and the shops well stocked, that the question of how to distribute the surplus now arises.

 

 

(c) BIKING IN BEIJING

April 1976, Beijing

Some may prefer to go walking on the Great Wall, or explore the pavilions of the Summer Palace. For me the best sensation of all in Beijing is simply to take a ride on a bike. A lot of the pleasure comes from being part of that life-stream flowing by at the rate of a hundred bicycles a minute in the rush-hour. We spend so much time observing it from the pavement or, in a still more alienating form of behaviour, bursting through it in our tourist bus. Today it takes a quick push off the kerb, a bit of nerve and we had joined it.

Of course there are some rules to be learnt. 1. Never stop except (sometimes) at a red light. 2. Maintain the same speed as everyone else. 3. Don't take any hooting personally - keep going regardless of trolleybus or taxi. 4. Ring bell all the time. To slow down or stop out of turn is the Chinese equivalent of being caught on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway - you will never get moving again. The contradiction between 3 and 4 is intended: everyone hoots or rings; nobody listens.

To ride through the great square of Tiananmen itself is the sort of heart-catching experience that makes me ask `Am I really here?' For a moment I share some of the feeling of those Red Guards who marched one thousand miles to Beijing, toiled up Changan Avenue for several more miles, found themselves in the Square for a minute and a half and then on into the dusty haze, their backs now to the Great Sun of China, perhaps not even quite sure whether they had actually seen him. That was ten years ago when Chinese politics were rather different. Today the main part of the square is still blocked off by militiamen after the 'counterrevolutionary' demonstration at the Spring Festival. We turn right into the Forbidden City, under the vermilion arch. Inside we find more militiamen in lorries ready to be transported to a better sort of demo. No other foreigners are around; the bikes have earned us immunity.

Around to the north side now to visit the antiquities. Rather casually exhibited in an unheated pavilion is the twin to the Chinese exhibition that came to Europe in 1973. Equally magnificent ancient bronzes and pots, gold ornaments and prancing horses, just more. more of them. And remember the Jade Princess? Well, here is her mate, the Jade Prince. He is distinguished by a large belly and a very princely jade cod-piece. We shall never know whether or not it was just feudal flattery.

Beijing's parched miles are annihilated by the bicycle. Now we head west to the Xidan district, a friendly, rather scruffy area good for parking and food. We park our bikes. The Chinese people are honest but we still have to lock our bikes. Otherwise they do tend to get knocked off by the occasional bad element. `Hooligans' are officially recognized as a social problem these days, and they were blamed for some of the trobles in Tiananmen. They crop their hair very short and have rather fancy footwear. Some of them are school leavers who have refused to go to the countryside, or have come back illegally. But they may also be local lads who have simply been corrupted by the sight of the increasing numbers of foreigners like ourselves. There are never less than a couple of dozen youths outside the Beijing Hotel, peering through the hedge at the tourist traffic and at the most famous set of sliding doors in Asia.

South now in search of the Liulichang where one may find such art and antique shops as still remain. We stop for free air at a cycle shop (yes, another service to the community...) and then plunge east into the narrow hutongs - paved lanes lined by the blank doors of traditional Chinese courtyards which, where they survive, take one instantly back to nineteenth-century Beijing. There is a difference. The courtyards have running water now, though sewage isstill collected by nightsoil cart and hauled to the countryside. And eadh courtyard (several families will share one) is organized in a `socialist courtyard', the `street committee' translated to a smaller dimension where neighbourly things like sweeping up, looking after children, and swapping contraceptive advice, are done.

Even in the narrow hutongs, the same rule applies: keep moving. Here we stand out again; loose-kneed foreigners squawking round corners and looking lost. It is easy enough to end in a neighbourhood factory but on this occasion the maze unravels satisfactorily. The Americans have ruined the market, the old Beijing residents say, and there is nothing much to buy. So we have lunch in the local restaurant which is fortunately too small to have a special room for foreigners. Our table has not been wiped, and will not be till the end of lunchtime when a dozen more people have spilled their bowls on it. One of the realities about Beijing is that things can be very dirty. But the food is excellent and comes to a ridiculous one yuan (30p).

So back to the sliding doors of the Beijing Hotel. On the way I discover that a yellow and green light combined means that one can turn left, if one dares, across incoming traffic. Very interesting.

 

 

(d) AS MAO LAY DYING

May 1976, Beijing

To visit China during an acute political crisis clears the mind wonderfully. Mao's death in the near future now seems more likely. The situation is inevitably transitional, giving rise to uncertainties and tensions. These have been exacerbated by the factional struggle which the Cultural Revolution, in spite of its achievements, unhappily brought about. And that struggle is visible. One sight, the Chinese are fond of saying, is worth ten thousand words.

That sight, for me, came on the fifth day after the notorious affair in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in April, when the members of various government departments had supported a pro-Zhou Enlai demonstration. On subsequent days they were obliged to do penance. For two days the Martyrs' Memorial and the square itself were symbolically washed by municipal watercarts and scrubbed clean by hand. (True, there were chalk-marks and even some blood to be erased, but it became an act of purification.) Then came the right sort of demonstration: three days of sponsored enthusiasm for the `Enlightened Resolutions of the Party Centre.' These included the dismissal of Deng Xiaoping and the appointment of Hua Guofeng as Premier and First Vice-Chairman of the Party.

On the last day, as I stood watching, the marching ranks of the entire staff of the Fourth Ministry of Machine Building appeared out of the dusty haze at the far end of the square. Never have I seen such glum enthusiasm. Just in front of me, by the vermilion gate of Tiananmen, two cameramen from the New China News Agency fussed around with an aluminium stepladder. They were trying to get some good shots of spontaneous joy. They called out to the marchers, but the response was pathetic. The front echelons of the Fourth Ministry of Machine Building limply raised their little red and green flags, mumbling a sacred slogan which should properly have echoed against the walls of the Great Hall of the People.

Not all the marchers who passed through Tiananmen Square (several million according to official statistics) were so dejected. Many of the schoolchildren and factory workers seemed to enjoy the outing. Every column had its activists who were quite keen. The university students who appeared first of all, late on the evening that Deng's dismissal was announced, shattered the cold stillness with their drums and cymbals. They really seemed enthusiastic. But the general opinion, even among friends of China and long-time residents in Beijing, was that the first demonstration, when wreaths were placed in memory of Zhou Enlai, had been a spontaneous one, while the later ones were definitely not. Nor, to judge by the television newsreels I saw in various provincial capitals ith their stony-faced line-ups of the local leadership, were the demonstrations elsewhere any more spontaneous. It was striking that even in edited films an impression of liveliness should be so difficult to convey.

Of course the vast majority of these reluctant marchers are not supporters in any personal sense of Deng Xiaoping. There is no evidence that he enjoyed a mass following. Foreign diplomats who come into contact with the ministries in Beijing have found scant evidence of bureaucratic support for Deng, whose rough style was if anything a liability. A majority of ordinary people are almost certainly in sympathy, not with him, but with the `radical' view on how to continue the Socialist revolution - along the lines developed since the Cultural Revolution- though they may have reservations about how it is working out in practice. But they are worried about who is manipulating the anti-Deng or anti-revisionist campaign for their own purposes. They want to know who else is jumping on the radical bandwagon, and where it is all going to end. The anxieties of ordinary people can be traced quite distinctly, even if one has to read the message back to front, in the attempts now being made by the official press and the provincial radio stations to allay them and to refute the `counter-revolutionary rumours' which are supposed to be circulating. Quite a number have also been referred to in anti-Deng posters which foreigners are allowed to read.

An obvious question concerns access to power and the use which has been made of it by the trinity of `radical' figures in the Party Politburo, Jiang Qing (Mao's wife), Vice-Chairman Zhang Chunqiao and the Shanghai intellectual Yao Wenyuan. These three are widely regarded as indivisible although Zhang is sometimes set slightly apart. Both Jiang Qing and Yao were criticized at some provincial demonstrations and in wallposters during the Spring Festival. (The group with which I was travelling saw a `Down with Jiang Qing' slogan in Nanjing.)

The chief source of the power enjoyed by this radical trinity comes from their access to Mao himself. They gain substantial advantage from bring able to interpret his utterances to the general public - and perhaps to their own political colleagues as well. Chinese officials are noticeably reluctant to mention any of these leaders by name when talking with foreigners. I had several long discussions in various places on the problems of `socialist transition', for which the most obvious reference points are two long articles written by Zhang and Yao last year. Yet only one Chinese official, in Shanghai, quoted either of the articles to me. Another cause for concern is that the radical takeover has to some extent created its own bureaucratic machine. Many of the younger cadres who have risen since the Cultural Revolution are idealistic and uncorrupt, but others are ambitiousand none to scrupulous about how they gain power. This was one of the complaints made by Deng Xiaoping.

`There is a batch of people,' he said, `who make their name by criticizing other people, and who climb on other people's shoulders to get on the scene of power.' Deng also claimed that some of these young radical stars `don't know how to get things done, lack enthusiasm for their work, but have a factional spirit.'

And yet another reason for concern is the way that the radical group seems to accept a compromise and then breaks it in order to attack new ground. These same tactics led in 1967-68 to a good deal of the `ultra-leftism' which disfigured the Cultural Revolution. The initial appointment in early January of Hua Guofeng as Acting Premier was just such a compromise. But several leading members of the Party and Government, dismayed at the way the anti-Deng campaign (with its anti-Zhou Enlai undercurrent) continued to develop, then deliberately withdrew from the scene to cultivate their own gardens. These seem to have included the Minister of Defence Ye Jianying, the veteran Vice-Premier Li Xiannian, and the popular peasant leader Chen Yonggui, himself a genuine `radical'.

The events in Tiananmen Square at the Spring Festival, however they were engineered, forced the struggle on to a new stage and led to a new compromise. Deng was dismissed; Hua's appointment as Premier was confirmed; and Ye, Li and Chen came back into view as if to offer public reassurance that the campaign would go no further. But by this time many people must have been quite glad to see an end to the uncertainties of the spring, and hoped that the whole business had been finally resolved with Deng's dismissal.

Yet only last week the People's Daily returned to the attack, denouncing the `counter-revolutionaries, desperados and social scums' who had allegedly staged the affair in Tiananmen Square. The paper called for a fresh offensive against the `ghosts and monsters, demons and clowns who dance to the music from Deng Xiaoping's flute.' This is not the healthy language of a principled struggle on behalf of socialist policies which most Chinese would support. Yet it is important to require that that struggle, in a more genuine form, does indeed go on.

 

(e) A HERO BECOMES A CLOWN

December 1976

The Chinese student who became a national hero after turning in a blank examination paper is now being called a `counter-revolutionary clown' and an agent of Jiang Qing (Madame Mao). In July 1973 the case of Zhang Tiesheng, a student in the north-eastern province of Liaoning, set in motion the whole `anti-Confucius campaign' which sought emphatically to reassert the values of the Cultural Revolution.

Today Zhang stands accused of being an `opportunist and thug' used by the Gang of Four and particularly by Mao Yuanxin (Mao Zedong's nephew), who was linked with them, to stir up trouble. By implication the whole revolt of youth against authority in the Chinese educational system could be vulnerable to attack.

Zhang was an `educated youth' - a former high school student - who had been working in the Liaoning countryside for five years before he sat a college entrance exam in the summer of 1973. Unable to answer the questions, he turned over the paper and on the blank side wrote an open letter to the examiners. Zhang explained that he had no time to prepare for the exam from his old high-school textbooks - he had been too busy in the fields. `To tell the truth', he added, `I have no respect for the bookworms who for many years have been taking it easy and have done nothing useful. I dislike them intensely.'

Zhang's story was published in the local press, and soon appeared in the official People's Daily, then controlled by Jiang Qing and the radicals. Priggish though he may sound, Zhang struck a note which many other young Chinese radicals quickly echoed. The old elitism and bureaucracy, they complained, of which the examination system formed an important part, was being re-introduced despite the Cultural Revolution.

The radical press praised Zhang for speaking out and `going against the tide' of official opinion. A wave of criticism developed in which Party and army officials were exposed for trying to get their children to college `through the backdoor.' Wang Hongwen, one of the Gang, persuaded the Party's Tenth Congress which met soon afterwards to record its approval of `going against the tide.'

Today Zhang Tiesheng has been debunked. He did not leave his examination paper blank, it is now claimed. He made a very poor shot at answering the questions and his mark was only six per cent. He then gained a place at a veterinary college `through the back door' because he had become a protege of the Gang.

Late in 1975, the radicals launched a fresh offensive against more traditionally minded educationalists led, behind the scenes, by the formr Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping and the Minister of Education Zhou Rongxin. Zhang was paraded around university campuses urging the students to `struggle' against their teachers. In April this year, when Deng (now rumoured to be on the verge of a comeback) was ousted by the radical group, Zhang Tiesheng `struggled' against the minister himself for a week on end. Soon afterwards Zhou died, it is believed, of a heart attack.

Clearly the case of Zhang Tiesheng was a special one, and not every Chinese student who `went against the tide' and criticized his elders need necessarily fear denunciation in the same terms. Zhang's connection with Mao's nephew - a Party secretary in Liaoning who made many enemies (he is now accused of `enjoying dirty foreign films and smoking foreign cigarettes') - did him no good either. But Zhang stilll represents a more general spirit of assertiveness among Chinese youth who have been radicalized by the Cultural Revolution and who are now likely to have their wings quite firmly clipped.

The most common complaint of older Chinese about the Gang of Four is that Jiang Qing and her colleagues `led China's youth astray.' Of course China needs fresh blood for the future, it is now explained, but the young people should be properly `nurtured' and `tempered by experience.' They share the complaint voiced last year by Deng Xiaoping that young Chinese radicals were shooting up intothe higher ranks of the Party `like helicopters.'

Zhang Tiesheng was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 1982 for the crime of `counter-revolutionary propaganda and attempting to subvert the government.'