Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 17. July 18th, 1973

Reports from China — The Little Red Book that Came True

Reports from China

The Little Red Book that Came True

A "barefoot" doctor giving a commune member treatment.

A "barefoot" doctor giving a commune member treatment.

Travelling on the plane between Canton and Shanghai one of our delegation struck up a conversation with a Scots sea captain who was employed by a state shipping corporation in Peking. This gentleman wasn't very satisfied with economic development in China. There were tremendous possibilities for increased production, he said, but the Chinese refused to use foreign skills and refused to emphasise technical expertise rather than political education. However he claimed that the Chinese people had "got over" the "madness" of the Cultural Revolution, and were now settling down to hard work.

Foreign "experts" on China have made similar comments. For instance a recent issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review commented about agricultural development in China that the peasants had forgotten idealistic and impractical political ideas and were getting down to hard work.

There is no doubt that the Chinese working class and peasantry work hard in building socialism in their country. But there is also no doubt that socialism is being built in a highly political and revolutionary way.

The Chinese people have not forgotten their long revolutionary history. In Canton we visited the National Peasant Movement Institute which Mao Tsetung directed for five months in 1926. Chairman Mao's study and bedroom, student dormitories and lecture halls have all been carefully preserved as a memorial to an important phase of the Chinese revolution when the peasants started to get organised.


The Institute was not just a memorial to the past. Its existence emphasises the importance of the peasantry in building socialism in China. Furthermore it was at this institute that Chairman Mao delivered his famous "Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society", an analysis which explained the contradictions of Chinese society and answered the question "who are our friends and who are our enemies in the revolution" Because class struggle is still continuing in China, Chairman Mao's analysis of classes in Chinese society is still very relevant do-day.

A revolutionary puppet show in Shanghai also related the past to the present. The show was about a local action of the 8th Route Army against the Japanese invaders. As my past experience of puppet shows was limited to a Punch and Judy performance at a Christmas party at Fords factory when I was about eight, I wasn't prepared for the brilliant technical standard of the show. It was like watching a movie. The scenery and use of backdrop projection was quite amazing, and the puppets moved very naturally, lighting and smoking cigarettes, for example, with great ease.

Lessons from a Puppet Show

Cartoon of a nurse reading to a boy

Politically the performance brought out several very important principles of Chinese life today, as well as popularising revolutionary struggle in the past. For example the principle of co-operation — unity is strength, was brought out very clearly. In an effort to show his keeness a young recruit tried to throw a huge page break boulder over a cliff. One by one other soldiers of the 8th Route Army joined him until eventually all of them succeeded in removing the boulder. This scene demonstrated that by uniting the people as a single force the 8th Route Army could defeat the Japanese invaders.

Another scene showed how the 8th Route Army was an inseparable part of the masses. The young recruit goes to the Headquarters of the Japanese and the Chinese puppet army, ostensibly to collect a debt from an officer in the puppet army. The Japanese commander is desperately trying to find food for his troops and the young man tells him there is plenty of food in his village. "Aren't you a member of the 8th Route Army," asks the Japanese commander and the puppet captain suspiciously. The boy laughs and mockingly replies "Can't you tell the difference between the 8th Route Army and the masses?" Somewhat perplexed the Japanese and the puppet troops follow him to his village and are annihilated by the local people and the 8th Route Army.

This scene emphasised a continuing revolutionary principle, not just an historical fact. The People's Liberation Army today is as inseparable from the masses as the 8th Route Army was during the Anti-Japanese war.

But the Chinese people do not just learn the revolutionary principles on which their society is run through indirect experience, by studying the past. They learn and practice these principles in everyday life.


The principle of self-reliance, of emphasising the capacity of people to solve their problems collectively rather than relying on orders from the top or foreign technology and aid is one of the most important principles of socialist development in the People's Republic. We saw examples of this principle being put into practice at the Hsien Chiao commune, 15 kilometres from Canton city.

The most important task of this commune of 53,000 people with over 80,000 acres of cultivated land producing fruit and vegetables is to provide food for the three million people in Canton. But that does not mean that the people of this commune simply carry out the orders of the municipal administrators and produce what they're told to produce.

Cartoon of a Chinese woman dancing while holding flowers and a lantern

The products the commune specialises in are determined by the needs of the city, the historical conditions of the area (i.e. what crops have traditionally grown well) and the local decision of the commune members. While the planning code for the local district is decided by a 'higher authority', the details of production are determined by the local commune. The planning authority in Canton provides guidelines for production rather than handing down detailed instructions.

The Recommendation of their Fellows

The principle of self-reliance at Hsien Chiao commune was practised not only in production but in education and health services. We visited a primary school which served one of the 18 production brigades of the commune. One third of the school's teachers were recruited from the production brigade on the recommendation of their fellow workers, and were trained by the Education Bureau of the local 'suburb' of Canton municipality.

This meant that an important link was maintained between the requirements of the production brigade and the children's education. Students also spent half a day a week working on the commune. We noticed a blackboard with the slogan "Education must serve proletarian politics and be combined with productive labour".

Barefoot Doctors

The medical co-operative system was being practised at Hsien Chiao. This system has been introduced since the Cultural Revolution although it has not spread yet throughout the country. Under this system medical services have been decentralised to the lowest level of organisation where 'barefoot' doctors treat simple complaints and practice traditional and modern medicine. Each production brigade had its own medical centre and the commune had its own hospital — 105 beds, 17 doctors and 73 other medical workers.

The hospital was built in 1968 and its facilities included a maternity ward, a dentistry department, an x-ray department and facilities for surgery. Before the Cultural Revolution surgical cases had been sent to Canton, but now most of the work is done in the commune hospital. One of our interpreters read out a list of recent operations which included a malignant tumour, hernia, gastronomy and a thyroid operation. While family planning is encouraged abortions are also performed at this hospital.

We were surprised to see that the commune had its own pharmaceutical workshop which manufactured drugs and herbs only for the commune hospital. It had been in existence for two years and some of the products we saw included intravenous solutions and drugs for curing diptheria and rheumatism. The medical services at Hsien Chiao were a very good example of the principle of self-reliance operating in practice.

The Masses are Creative

Many of these examples of how the principle of self-reliance operates in practice also explain how the Chinese practice the mass line — the principle of relying on the masses for creative ideas and suggestions. Educational and medical services are provided at the local level in the towns and in the country, and in factories so that the needs of the people can be better served.

The organisation of political life since the Cultural Revolution has also been aimed at providing the greatest possible opportunity for ordinary people to express their ideas and suggestions. Shanghai is divided into ten administrative districts, each of which has a Revolutionary Committee as the main organ of political power. In each district there are a number of Street Revolutionary Committees.

Photo of a Chinese woman holding a rifle above her head

While these street committees are the basic organ of political power, the area they control includes a number of neighbourhood committees. The purpose of the neighbourhood committee is to express the wishes of the local people to the Street Revolutionary Committee.

The ordinary people living in the area controlled by a Street Revolutionary Committee can influence its work in a number of ways. Firstly through their neighbourhood committees, secondly through their representatives on the street committee 1/3 of its members), and thirdly because street committee members live and work in the local area among the people and are not an isolated bureaucracy.

Child Labour?

One of the most important lessons of the Cultural Revolution for Chinese people and foreigners trying to understand Chinese society was that China is still a class society and political struggle is still continuing between those who support continued socialist development and those who want to revert to capitalist development, Emphasis on the fact that class struggle is not yet over in China can be seen in a number of areas.

At educational institutions at all levels we have seen (kindergarten, primary and secondary) children spent part of their time at school doing manual work. At the "East is Red" kindergarten in Canton, for example, children of three to seven years old spent about 40 — 50 minutes a week doing manual work so that they would learn to understand and love the working class. This sounds like child labour, but the work we saw the children doing was very simple. For example one group was putting pieces of string on guarantee labels for sewing machines. It was stressed that the work was done for educational reasons, and that it was not benefit to the production of the factory that produced the guarantee labels.

Of course the idea of combining practical learning with theoretical knowledge in education gets more sophisticated as students get older. Workers and retired workers are often brought to schools to explain to students how various processes of production work in practice, and to emphasise the role of the working class as the most revolutionary social class in Chinese society.

Popular Study of Marxism—Leninism

Because class struggle is continuing in Chinese society great emphasis is placed on the popular study of Marxist-Leninist works, so that people can combine their practical experience of building socialism with a theoretical understanding of how society operates in general. In communes, schools, factories and housing settlements people spend a few hours a week studying Marxist—Leninist works, especially the works of Chairman Mao.

When we visited a housing resettlement area in Shanghai we were taken to see a small factory where housewives were making glassware products such as filaments for light bulbs. On the way out of the factory we noticed a group of women who appeared to be sitting round enjoying a cup of tea. "What are you doing," we asked. "Studying Lenin's work State and Revolution was the rather staggering reply.

Germans, Russians and Chinese

Everywhere we have been so far in China we have seen pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin as well as the many pictures of Chairman Mao. The Chinese people, through political study classes at schools, on their jobs and in their spare time, understand the relevance of these few German and Russian Marxist leaders and theorists to their struggle to build socialism because they see their works as living guides to understanding and changing the world rather than relics of the past.

The fact that the Chinese study Marx, Engels. Lenin and Stalin as well as Mao's writings emphasises yet another important revolutionary principle of Chinese life — proletarian internationalism or the unity of the whole world.

Foreign Policy

While we have not yet had the opportunity to study Chinese foreign policy in depth, or discuss it with our Chinese friends several things over the last week have shown us that the Chinese people have not abandoned ther internationalist obligations to the people of the world who are struggling against imperialism and oppression.

At the "East is Red" Kindergarten in Canton it was really heartening for those of us who have participated in the struggle against U.S. Imperialism in New Zealand to see young children performing a song that repeated Chairman Mao's 1970 statement — "It is not the people of the world who fear U.S. Imperialism, but U.S. Imperialism that fears the people of the world." One of the main parts of political education classes at"schools, factories and coluntary study groups is study of current events and struggles that are going on in the world at present. The large number of foreign delegations visiting China that we have met and have read about in the news, and the very friendly attitude of Chinese people towards foreigners emphasises the people's tremendous awareness of their internationalist obligations.

We have been in the People's Republic now for only a week and there is a great deal we have seen that we have not yet fully understood. But one thing is clear. We are travelling through a country that is still going through a revolution, and although we are only seeing a glimpse of that revolution to see it happening with your own eyes is a tremendously exciting experience