20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

21 August

The night had been extremely hot but I had slept well without even a sheet over me. The view from the window at 5.45 was exquisite and had to be photographed. A beautiful and unusual breakfast; fresh teacake with butter and caramelized apple fritters. From my diary. “Talien a less grand city, but with trees everywhere. Houses are built in terraces and the front door opens straight onto the street. In the suburbs there are many large houses set in gardens. A hangover from Russian colonial days? Washing hanging on clotheslines strung between the trees in the street. Padded clothes and eiderdowns are being brought out to be aired before the winter. Cassias or Acacias everywhere. I am not sure of the name of this tree but Miss Chi tells me that they are Australian trees. Our hotel is about a half hours drive from the town through very hilly country, heavily planted with these acacias. Many air raid entrances are visible, the shelters being dug into the hillsides. The gardens on the outskirts of the town are full of flowers, many sunflowers. Even the spaces between the trees along the roadsides are cultivated. Horses, donkeys and cows pull the little carts loaded with produce. The three animals are used in every conceivable combination. They carry little bags under their tails to catch the precious manure.'

Our visit for the morning was to the Talien Engineering College. This peninsular was liberated in 1948 and the college was built in April 149. We saw the library first. Originally it was a building of three stories but has how been converted to seven floors by building in mezzanine floors. The library has books in all languages. The engineers in our party were surprised to see how up to date the library collection was. I noticed that

many small publications appeared to be reproduced from typewritten ‘art’ and asked if they had a typewriter in the department. ‘Yes’. And very quickly a large typewriter was produced and a girl operated it for us. There were three separate trays of characters, each character raised on a small square of metal less than a quarter of an inch across. One tray held the most used characters, the two other trays held the rest. One of our party made a quick estimate of the number of characters in a tray. It was about 2,500. Paper was inserted as in our typewriters, and the girl operator typed out a message. I think it translated — ‘Welcome to our Australian friends. Workers of the world unite’. The operator held a small lever which she moved in all directions and two small ‘fingers’ would pick up each character which was then impressed on the typewriter ribbon. Then the character was returned automatically to its place on the tray. The process was not as quick as with the Western typewriters but considering the number of characters to choose from it was dazzling enough.

There were three workshops in the College and we then visited Workshop No. 1 — for lathes and assembly lines. All students spend four weeks in each Work Shop. We saw portable Radar. It was about 12” x 12” x 15”. It was designed in the College and about 10 units are built and assembled each year.

We were shown a computer room which was used for research by both staff and students. As a demonstration for us the computer drew a square on paper, then drew a perfect circle around it, just tipping the corners of the square. As this was the first computer 1 had ever seen this little performance was quite over my head. All components for the computers come from the Province of Liaoning and are assembled at the College.

On a stair case on the way to the Board Room we passed a large panel of calligraphy. An interpreter translated: “The Aim of Education. Our Policy must enable everyone to receive an education, to develop morally, intellectually, and physically and become a worker with Social Consciousness and Culture. Mao Tse Tung”.

The Board Room was virtually the same as the one in the Silk Factory and tea, soft drinks and cigarettes were set out for us. A member of the Revolutionary Committee introduced other Committee members and then gave us some facts and figures relating to the College.

There were 3,000 full time students. 1,000 teachers and 1,000 skilled workers who worked with the staff. There were approximately as many girl students as boys. (There was a girl student in the Ship Building Department who had helped build an oil tanker). There had been great changes in the running of the College since the Cultural Revolution. Acceptance of a student was no longer by examination but by the recommendation from his or her commune or factory. First priority went to students of high political consciousness plus an ability to solve problems.

Workers in the College workshops would get problems for applicants and then assess their ability to solve these problems.

Courses were for three years and included Dynamics, Chemical Engineering, Ship Building, Wireless, Water Conservation. Four workshops run by the College were Mechanical (lathes), Dye, Wireless and Chemical Machinery. As well as full time courses there were 2,000 short courses available to workers, peasants and soldiers. These short term course depended on the prevailing needs of the country. For example, there were three courses in galvanising which was needed at the present time. Applicants for all these courses were approved by leading workers in the College workshops.

Every Department had a Revolutionary Group made up of students, teachers, cadres and workers of the district. These Groups arranged the teaching programmes.

The average age of students was 21 but in two departments, Mechanical and Water Conservation the short term courses were made up mainly of middle aged students of rich experience.

There was no cleaning staff in the College or is there any in any educational institution in China. Staff and students alike are rostered to do the cleaning. Marje told us later that on her previous visit to China, when they were looking over the University of Wuchan they had seen the Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee (equivalent to our Vice Chancellors) cleaning the toilets.

The College grounds covered an area of 1,000,000 sq. metres which included a farm and beautiful playing fields and parklands which we saw. Students lived in dormitories in the College grounds. Some of the workers lived in houses in the grounds but most lived in the city of Talien.

Back to the hotel for lunch and a short rest, then into our bus again for a visit to the Ho Mu Brigade of the Ying Chenzu Commune. Our bus dropped us on the side of a barren, dry and stony hill. It was a very hot day but huge umbrellas had been brought in the bus and these were gratefully received by most of us. We were met by a member of the Brigade. Revolutionary Committee and he led the way along a narrow path to their newest project. It was a water reservoir, square concrete sides and about 50 yards square. Water was pumped up here by electricity from the wells at the bottom of the hill and used for the irrigation of the orchards. The view was magnificent. To the right the sea, below us, rows and rows of newly constructed walled terraces planted with young fruit trees, then acres and acres of fully grown trees laden with apples. We walked down a track to the village. A woman commune worker, aware of our hungry looks at the fruit quickly picked armfuls of apples and handed them around. Superb! Down in the village, small and neatly laid out, we were taken to the Brigade meeting room. From my diary: Down the centre of the room a long table to seat our 24 members, interpreters and the Brigade leaders. It looked a Harvest Festival. Pyramids of apples’, peaches and pears,’ five platters of each. A plate for each of us, a knife and dishes of warm towels to wipe our hands. By now all members of the group were fruit hungry and we ate greedily’. We were then told some of the history of the area. Before liberation 360 people had worked as farmhands for the landlords of the district. There had been 200 beggars and 36 people had died of hunger or been beaten to death. The grain yield, pre liberation was 70 KG per mu. In 1965 it had risen to 250 KG per mu. In 1973, after the Cultural Revolution it was 554 KG per mu. We realised by now that the importance of the Cultural Revolution to the development of China could not be over emphasised. There were 3,800 people in the Ho Mu Brigade, 11 Brigades in the Commune. The Brigade we were visiting farmed 4100 mu of land. They had 2100 mu under grain, 1,400 mu under vegetables and 600 under fruit trees.

One Brigade was devoted to farm machinery, 10 to farm production.