Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 19. 2nd August 1973
[I dreamt I saw Chairman Mao last night cont.]
they were trying to bring in machinery to serve the people by making jobs easier for the workers concerned. The image painted by some people that you have vast masses of people each with a little shovel doing something is just not true.
Ted: Yes, they're constantly aware that there's much to do. After I'd been there sometime I started thinking that China is at about a nineteenth century level of development with their burgeoning heavy industry. The conditions in the factories are fairly primitive by our standards and a lot of the country's wide agricultural base is quite labour intensive in many cases. But in 20 years the Chinese have come from about the sixth century A.D. up to about the nineteenth century; it's a huge leap.
David Cuthbert: One example of labour intensity is planting paddy rice from the seedlings and transplanting them out into the paddies. Up to now this has been done by hand and it's a long, complicated, backbreaking job, but in the Shanghai industrial exhibition we saw the development of machines to make that job very much easier and very much faster. So they are applying skill to try and develop these machines to increase production and to remove this backbreaking work from the people. They're putting a lot of resources into developing a method which can make a job like planting paddy rice easier and more productive.
Roger: Do you think that Chinese society is ever likely to become as automated and as technologically advanced as western society, and if so what will happen to labour relations and people's leisure time?
Ted: That's so far in the future that it's probably not worth talking c(bout at the moment. There's still vast tracts of China that are undeveloped so there's work to be done for hundreds of years. The Chinese have a hell of a long way to go yet before they catch up technologically.
The idea of a politically conscious population with the full resources and technology of a western society at their disposal is awe inspiring. What they couldn't do would be very little. They've only just started and they're constantly emphasising that they're in the stage of socialist reconstruction. They recognise that they haven't got anywhere near a Communist society yet.
Roger: What sort of evidence is there of continuing class struggle?
Peter Franks: I think the cultural revolution and what happened there gives the best example of the continuation of the class struggle. Although you don't actually see class struggle going on, what you see are the manifestations of it like the emphasis on political study or bureaucrats working at least one day a week either on the factory floor or in the communes. The reason this is done is to make sure that the cadres and the bureaucrats don't loose touch with the people. The actual class struggle was particularly sharp during the Cultural Revolution right throughout Chinese society and evidence is coming to light all the time about what exactly what went on.
David Cuthbert: Continuing class struggle can be explained in terms of the legal system. There are still people who steal bicycles for instance and in terms of building a socialist society that is an anti-social attitude. It's a class attitude of flogging someone else's productive work and people who do that are dealt with through the legal system in two fashions. People who commit anti-social acts are re-educated through physical labour and through constant political study. The Chinese fully admit that anti-working class elements do exist and this was illustrated by the fact that they flogged bicycles, chopped down power poles and things like that.
One interesting thing we did find out is that the ratio of policemen to the rest of the population is 1 to 4000 whereas in NZ the ratio is down to 1 to 800. What's happening is that the community is doing its own police work. Many cases never get to court because they're resolved by people sitting round in a Neighbourhood Committee discussing problems and resolving them that way.
Peter Wilson: So Chinese society keeps the creative potential of individuals who commit anti social acts by keeping them within society. In our society however increasing numbers of people are banished to places like Mt Crawford and Mt Eden, and all their potential is lost.
Peter Franks: One very great advance the Chinese have made over the Soviets in developing a socialist society is their treatment of anti-social elements or class enemies. In the 1920s and 1930s Russia was in an intense state of seige from the capitalist world, and I'm quite sure that most of the people tried by Stalin in the 1930s had made very serious political mistakes, and deserved to be tried. But whereas the Soviet attitude was to shoot anti-social elements, the Chinese attitude is to show people where they've gone wrong and to re-educate them.
Roger: How are discipline problems handled within the family and within the school?
Peter Franks: The family I talked to in the housing settlement in Shanghai was a family of four: the husband and wife both worked and they had two kids, one was 18 and the other was 13. We asked this worker about discipline within his family and he gave us a typical example. Occasionally a new line of shoes might come into the shops and the kids would say "we want some new shoes dad', and he said that because the kids had been brought up since liberation and hadn't experienced the old society they often had to discuss things in great detail to point out to their kids that Chinese society was in the stage of building socialism and it wasn't a Utopian society where you had everything for nothing. The parents had to constantly point out to their children the differences between the old society that they had lived under and the new society where the children got their own experience of life. In schools for example, the use of corporal punishment isn't allowed and if teachers do use corporal punishment they are very severely criticised both by the school kids and by other staff members.
Cheryl: I asked one teacher whether she had any discipline problems and she said no, children really felt they were learning so that they could better serve the people. Because children really want to learn so they can serve the people, teachers have no discipline problems as such.
Ted: That attitude was apparent throughout society. At Peking University we went into the English class and talked to a group of students. I asked one student what he was going to do when he graduated. He didn't know but said "just so long as I serve the people I don't care what I do." Now that sounds a hell of a fatuous here but when he said it that was exactly what he meant.
David Cuthbert: I was talking to a member of the People's Liberation Army and I asked "when you've finished your course what are you going to do," and he replied "well I don't know. I'm looking for an opportunity to serve the people, but the people will be able to tell me where I'm best able to do this." He said "I will have gained certain skills and people will suggest where I will be best able to use these skills."
Anne: We were talking to a group of women and there was a young woman present who was a shop assistant. All her life she had wanted to be a factory worker because she thought that being a worker was the place she could best serve the people. But after graduating from secondary school she was assigned to work in a shop and she wasn't at all happy with this. She didn't understand that you could serve the people wherever you are working and that every job was necessary, and she was very unhappy. Some of the older workers found out and they came and talked to her. She said that because she was born under the Red flag, she didn't understand class struggle because she had never been through it. After the older workers had talked to her she understood this and understood that every job was important and that she was serving the people whether she worked in a shop or worked in a factory or on a commune. So she became quite happy in her job and spent more and more time in political study, and she started to understand the nature of society and class struggle more as she went on. This example brings out what we were talking about before about discipline in the family.
The parents teach the kids what they have been through because the kids have never been through class struggle themselves. The parents have to remind the kids all the time what class struggle is and what happened before liberation compared to what is happening now under the Red flag.
Cheryl: This is also a reciprocal process. A lot of the older people want to learn to read and write with the school kids, so there is a reciprocal relationship of the parents learning from the children, and the children learning from the parents at the same time.
Ted: One thing that struck me about the shop assistant was that after she realised that it was possible to serve the people by working in the shop she tried to think how she could do her work better. She learnt how to cut cloth so that when customers came in who didn't know how to cut cloth to make clothes she would show them how and do everything but sew it up for them.
Peter Wilson: Well, relating this revolutionary principle to a local controversy, perhaps we shouldn't be pushing for no assessment in our education system but for different assessment.
Cheryl: When we visited a school on the commune in Kwang-chow we talked about assessment. The teachers said there were two forms of assessment of a child's work. One was an oral examination of the things they had learnt, and the second was applying for example their mathematical knowledge in practice. To test the children's ability at this the teachers would take them to a construction site and the children would apply their knowledge of geometry to solving the problems the workers were facing.
David Cuthbert: Another example we were given was that children would have to work out how many bricks it would take to build a house. The teachers got their students to use the geometrical principles they'd learnt to finding out how many bricks would be needed, how big the roof would be and how many materials would be needed. This was an example of the constant emphasis on putting theory into practice at all levels of the education system.
David Cunningham: I think that was a very dangerous mistake Peter Wilson made when he said that we shouldn't be pushing in NZ for no assessment but for different types of assessment. You make the same mistake that many members of the delegation made, that is taking something from Chinese society and transplanting it to NZ without considering the different social systems.
Peter Wilson: What I meant is that its not a revolutionary demand to say we want no assessment in this society.
Anne: Well it could be in NZ society, it couldn't be in a socialist society.
Peter Wilson: What I mean is that its important in formulating our demands to keep talking about the type of assessment we have and whom it serves, rather than counter posing to that the argument that we should have no assessment.
Ted: Going right back to the first question 'do you know any more about revolution?' I probably don't, but the feeling I got as we got near the end of our trip was that I didn't feel all that sorry to leave because I realised that there was a hell of a lot of work to be done back in NZ.
Roger: How do you think you will apply what you have learnt in China to NZ?
Ted: Well a lot of the attitudes I found will be useful, probably in a personal way. We can learn from their incredible humility and this applies a hell of a lot to Wellington particularly because other members of the group pointed out how introverted we were. In any political debate we never really tried to win people over, we more or less bludgeoned them into accepting what we were saying. But the Chinese have an attitude of endless self- denial and ceaseless work for the revolution.
Peter Franks: Also the Chinese attitude to criticism. When we went through the National Peasants Institute in Canton the girl who showed us round had a very good knowledge of the history of the Institute and its relationship to the history of the Chinese revolution. At one stage she answered questions and after she had answered a couple she delivered a pretty withering self-criticism of what she said. She said that she hadn't done thorough enough research and that it was obvious she couldn't answer our questions. We just sat there and Cuthbert mumbled "you've done very well", but that sounded totally out of place because she was making a serious self-criticism of her work and coming from our society we just couldn't respond at all. The Chinese take criticism and self-criticism very seriously, and that's one thing people in the progressive movement here can learn a great deal from.
Cheryl: Their attitude to criticism is a constant revaluation of what they're doing and for what purpose.
Ted: They don't regard anyone a: an idiot. When we visited factories, universities and communes, at the end of the discussion our hosts would say "well, we're sure you've spotted a lot of mistakes and we'd like you to tell us about them." And it was all very sincere, it wasn't just a rote message that came over.