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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 22, No. 2. March 23, 1959

Reshaping the Industrial Map

Reshaping the Industrial Map

The Chinese People's Government has placed a heavy emphasis on industrialisation. The First Five Year Plan set aside £11,000 million for economic and cultural development; of this, approximately one-third was devoted to industry. The accent was on heavy industry, which has absorbed nine-tenths of the expenditure, and here the U.S.S.R. has played a major role by assisting in the construction of 156 key industrial plants.

The new pattern of industry is a planned pattern, determined by several considerations: the siting of new projects near raw material or fuel sources to cut down transport; the need to achieve a better balance of industry and agriculture in each region; the need to raise the economic level of minority regions to end the former wide inequalities between these regions and the rest of China; and the strategic need to avoid the exposed and vulnerable coastal areas.

This means that, while existing centres such as Shanghai and the North-east are being modernised and strengthened, the main impact of industrialisation has been in the interior. Two-thirds of the major industrial projects during the First Five Years were constructed in the interior and here the rate of industrial expansion has been twice as rapid as in the coastal margins.

The rise of the heavy industrial region centreing on Lanchow is a striking manifestation of this new industrial surge, so, too, is the emergence of the new iron and steel centre of Paotow in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Few, if any, of the cities of the interior have escaped the impact of industrialisation; the great areas of new factory development around old cities such as Sian or Chengtu, seen from the air, are dramatic reminders of the massiveness of the achievement.

Widening Scope

The initial emphasis has been on heavy industry and producer goods such as machine tools and in these fields China is becoming increasingly self-sufficient. At the same time, there is an increasing range of products and this was very clearly shown by the Exhibition of Light Industry at Canton and the National Exhibition of Industry and Communications at Peking.

The former featured a wide range of specialised goods, from pharmaceuticals to electrical and optical equipment, as well as high grade textiles and knitwear. The finish and quality of these left nothing to be desired. The Peking Exhibition featured the newest and most striking achievements of modern industry in China—electric locomotives, hydraulic presses, steam turbine generators, precision lathes, cars and tractors.

The exhibitions confirmed the impression I had formed while visiting the rapidly expanding cities of the interior and south—that a new and major industrial power was entering the world market. And later, in Hong Kong and Singapore, cheap and high quality Chinese-made consumer goods, such as cashmere sweaters and optical goods, were much in evidence, first signs of what may be a major trade drive in South and South-east Asia.

Accelerating Advance

It is not easy to appreciate the pace of China's industrialisation. It took Britain 35 years to expand steel production from 5.1 to 10 million tons; China achieved this in one year. It took 75 years to push coal production from 120 to 200 million tons; last year China more than doubled coal production, achieving an annual output of 270 million tons. 1958 was for China "The Year of the Great! Leap Forward" and as the months passed, the pace of industrialisation increased.

The value of industrial production in January, 1958, was 14 percent, above that of January, 1957; the value of September's output was 117 per cent, above that of September, 1957. This accelerating advance can be explained, partly by the pressure exerted by a developing agriculture, and partly by the skill with which Chinese planners have integrated the efforts of small, medium and large-scale enterprises.

The transformation of the countryside, the beginnings of agricultural modernisation, have created an insatiable demand for industrial products. The expansion of irrigation, for example, will demand vast quantities of irrigation machinery; mechanisation of farming, even in its initial stages, will call for half a million tractors and 20 million tractor-drawn implements.

Cartoon from Saturday Evening Post

If the machine-building industry is to meet the needs of a swiftly-evolving agriculture rapid expansion is essential. Several scientists with whom I discussed this topic were of the opinion that, rapid though this expansion had been. It had still not succeeded in keeping pace with the communes demand for more and more mechanical equipment.

The many-fronted advance of industry is one of the distinctive features of China's industrial revolution. Existing plants are being used to capacity and extended; new large and medium-scale factories are being established; the productive capacity of peasant or "native-style" industry is used to the full. The traveller sees examples of this multiple advance in every comer of the country; the industry which best illustrates it is the iron and steel industry.

"All make Steel"

Steel is the key to progress in both the agricultural and industrial fields and the drive for more steel has become a major theme in everyday life.

The core of China's iron and steel production capacity is represented by the great iron and steel complexes of Anshan, in the North-east, and Wuhan in Central China. These have been extended and modernised so that today some of the units, such as the Number 1 giant automatic blast furnace at Wuhan, rank among the largest and most up to date in the world.

These centres have been supplemented by the construction of a new major iron and steel base at Paotow (annual steel capacity 3 million tons) and by smaller plants in different parts of the country; four of these have an annual steel capacity of over 600,000 tons.

Perhaps the most striking and distinctive unit, however, is the small-scale native-style furnace. I must have seen hundreds of these all over China—in a park in Canton, in the playground of a Peking school, rising in batches amid the fields of rice or vegetables on many of the communes visited. It was claimed last autumn that some 700,000 had been built. They vary in size and design but are built by the local people — peasants or townsfolk — from local raw materials and use the coal and iron ore deposits which are widely distributed throughout China.

On some communes they are worked by more or less specialised production teams. Elsewhere, and in the cities, they are worked by part-time workers — peasants, office workers, or professional workers who arrive in droves to put in an evening shift at the furnaces; at one Peking university neither staff nor students of the geography department could be found—they were putting in a day's field work building a group of furnaces out in the countryside.

The furnace has become a focus of local enthusiasm; in the work of construction and firing the old barriers between the classes are broken down and a new unity forged. By the autumn of 1958 it was estimated that 20 million people were directly engaged in iron and steel production. The target for 1959 is 18 million tons of steel.

Human Element

Even in the brief few weeks I spent in China, I saw the many shapes in which industry has come to the country. I saw the giant textile mill at Peking, whose secretary was a girl from Shanghai who had experienced the old exploitation, and where the creche and the kindergarten were full of plump brightly-clad children and attractive, so-efficient nurses. I saw the co-operative silk mills at Chengtu — modem, locally-built machinery side by side with bamboo looms—turning out exquisitely-patterned woven silk. The secretary here was a tiny girl in her twenties, proud of the factory's expanding output and new housing.

I wandered around a Yi commune near Kunming and saw the wide range of small industries which had come to this sun-washed countryside of Yunnan—the brickmaking and iron smelting (the forced draught on the largest furnace passing along pipes made of American oil drums) and the manufacture of simple agricultural machinery. Here the industrial sector was organised by a young man of possibly 30 who had copied the designs for the furnaces in the city an hour's journey away, and who had now had a score of furnaces in production.

I visited the North-western University at Lanchow which runs some 60 factories where the students get practical experience and new production techniques can be developed. The barriers between scholar and worker are being deliberately broken down. Everywhere I found an intense pride in China's young and growing industries, and a people working with an energy and dedication unseen elsewhere.

"Race of Automatons"

Of course, I could not see [unclear: ah] Relying only on my eyes, and not on Intelligence reports from Hong Kong, I saw nothing of the "mass slavery" or "the destruction of family life" which Mr Dulles sees in China today. I saw nothing of the "merciless regimentation" which, it is held, alone can explain China's remarkable progress.

What I did see clearly was that we can understand the almost feverish energy and the dedication with which the Chinese are throwing themselves into this gigantic task of economic development only if we keep in our mind a picture old China—not the China of exquisite jade carvings and golden-roofed pagodas and elegant scholarship—but the China of poverty and exploitation.

It was a country where the peasants ate grass and roots, where children with bellies swollen with hunger died by the wayside; a country where the gap between ruler and ruled was so great that 6,000 million dollars of American aid could not ensure the survival of a hated regime.

We rarely concern ourselves with the "mathematics of suffering" in pre-Liberation China—"the sum of millions hungered, of countless beings scratching the earth's surface for a pittance, of children prematurely dead, of men and women prematurely aged and minds acquiescent and fettered by superstition." 1

Yet, as was driven home to me by long hours of discussion and by the personal histories of many to whom I spoke, until we do this we have no understanding of the processes of change in China.

The motive force behind China's progress is simple; as one worker put it:

"When I was 10 I was working 14 hours on the night shift in a Shanghai cotton mill—and I am determined that my son and my grandchildren will never have to go through that."

1 Peter Townsend, "China Phoenix."