20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

18 August 1974

The alarm was set for me to get up at 5.45 every morning. This gave me time to bath and dress without any rush and time to look out of my hotel window. All the views from my various windows seemed incredibly beautiful in the early morning and I invariably took photos. Looking out over Kwangchow one saw big buildings sometimes with pagoda-like super structures but many more trees than buildings. That first morning it had been raining and was beautifully fresh though tropically warm. I had time to walk out through the hotel garden, masses of bamboo and hidden behind the bamboo a long shelter that must have contained a thousand bikes. Not much traffic in the streets, a few trucks and a few bikes. A group decision was that we would all have European breakfast and Chinese lunch and dinner. The breakfasts were all the same all through. Toast if we were lucky, or bread, omelette or fried eggs, marmalade and coffee. The first morning in Kwangchow we had toast. It was breakfast at seven and into the bus waiting at the front door at eight. The bus was always on time, our interpreters were always on time but not once did our party manage to assemble on time. And nearly always it was the younger members of the group who kept us waiting.

This morning we drove out to the Kwangchow Silk and Textile Factory. The drive out to the factory was beautiful. All the streets in Kwangchow, all the streets and roads of China are tree lined. Many of the Kwangchow streets were planted with paperbarks, looking to me very much like our Australian paperbarks. They are planted about six feet apart, are bare for about ten feet then form an umbrella of foliage. Their closeness to each other means they provide a continuous tunnel of shade for the people walking along the streets. And as the paperbarks are green all the year around they provide the necessary shade in that very hot tropical city. I saw a new avenue being planted and the trees are put in at about three feet high, the straight trunks bound in bamboo matting and a few shoots left poking out of the top. There were many other species of trees along the streets, evergreens as far as I could see. As we drove out towards the countryside we were in a continual sea of green. ‘Nature strips’ along the road side were all planted with crops. No fences anywhere but as the houses became fewer crops were growing as far as the eye could see. The traffic consisted of thousands of bikes and many buses. The buses blew their horns continually. Disturbing at first but I became used to it. I'd go to sleep with the sounds of the horns and wake to the sound of horns. We passed roadside open markets of fruit and vegetables with customers thick around them, all in the shade of great trees. And many bicycles on the road with trailers of vegetables behind them, pedalling in to Kwangchow. We never got used to the chaos of the traffic. The cyclists apparently took no notice of the buses and trucks. There seemed to be a good natured anarchy. No one was in a great hurry and no one got bad tempered. And we saw no road accidents though the cyclists took the most hair raising risks making sharp turns right across the front of buses. As Jim said many times, ‘They have no traffic sense!'

We were welcomed at the Silk Factory by the Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee. We were shown into what we would call a Board Room. Throughout all our visits to factories these boardrooms were very alike. Three piece lounge suites, slip covered in heavy quality white cotton and piped in a colour, blue, red or purple. Tables near the chairs, cups for tea, cigarettes and matches, then girls would bring round the hot water in Thermos flasks. On the very hot days electric fans would be turning, and the atmosphere was always friendly and most welcoming. We would be introduced to several workers who held senior positions in the establishment, some would be men and some would be women. They were all always gentle and unaggressive. Our interpreters would translate sentence by sentence so we could easily take notes. At the Silk Factory we were told that there were 3,000 workers and staff, of whom over 60% were women. The Mill consisted of 6 workshops, for spinning, weaving, printing and dyeing, machine maintenance, and power generating. Much of the major equipment was designed and built by the workers themselves. They were proud to report the annual increases in production. By 1972 the Mill had doubled production since its first year of regular production.

We then were taken for a tour of the Mill but were told that we would come back to the ‘Board Room’ when we could ask questions. In the hall outside the Board Room there was a large character message, red characters on pink posters strung along a rope. I asked what it said. ‘Communist Party members should lead by being first to offer to send their children to the rural areas’.

I remember the mill as light and airy, people working rhythmically but not at pressure, many students sitting beside workers who were teaching them the processes. Narelle asked if workers were moved round from process to process to relieve the monotony. She was told ‘Yes”. There were many wall posters and I was told they were written by outstanding workers with ideas to improve the production. Walking back to the Board Room we passed a group of women doing plumbing work. They were cadres who take on the lowliest jobs.

There were many questions to ask. I quote from my diary. ‘The Silk Factory ran its own schools, kindergartens and creches. There were 470 children in the kindergarten, 50 teachers. The children went home to spend the night with their parents. Families lived in apartments near the factory, unmarried girls and men in dormitories. Most people eat in the canteen but it is optional. Women retire at 50, men at 60. Pension is 70% of wage. Retired people can stay on the mill compound or be returned to their families in another area. If an old person was without a pension he could apply to the Government for a subsidy. Equal pay for men and women. As Chairman Mao says ‘Half of heaven is held up by women’. Health service at the factory clinic is free. There is extra pay for people working in high temperatures.'