20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

Ho Mu Brigade - 21 August

The average income of the villagers, including the babies was 196 yuan a person a month. The average income of an able bodied man was 500 yuan a month. There were 340,000 yuan deposited in the savings bank. 500 house holds had built new houses for themselves. Most families had sewing machines, bicycles, watches and there was a radio receiver in the village which was connected to all the houses. A married couple rarely had more than two children and a large number of women who had had their children were sterilized. All medical treatment was free. The village had its clinic and four barefoot doctors handled on an average 70 minor cases a day. (The name “barefoot” originated in the south, where these part time Doctors continued working barefoot in the rice paddy fields as well as carrying out their medical duties). More serious cases would be sent to the Commune’s main clinic and if necessary sent on to a hospital in the city.

Paddle and Ruth had been made the cadres for the afternoon as they were the farmers of the group. As Paddle was too shy Ruth made a little speech of thanks before we went on our tour of the village. She congratulated the Brigade members on their achievements, saying ‘At home we farmers always strive to make two blades of wheat grow where one used to grow. You people have made four blades of wheat grow where one used to grow! Then she gave them the farmers wish. ‘Good rains, good weather and a good harvest.’ We all felt proud of Ruth.

As we left the meeting room our hosts insisted that we take more fruit with us and we happily filled our bags.

The Brigade had 70 wells, 70 tractors, 3 workshops and a medical station. We saw one well that had been sunk during the Cultural Revolution. It was cylindrical with concrete sides. 72 feet deep and 15 feet wide. All the digging had been done by hand. The village was neatly laid out. Long buildings where

meeting room, homes, nursery and shops were all under the one roof. They were built of stone. The streets between were unpaved. We tiptoed into the nursery where eight babies were lying asleep on two raised platforms. It was a very hot day and they slept on matting with sheet thrown over them. There were three grannies in charge and seeing our delight in the children, they woke two and brought them outside for us to see them better. EVERYWHERE we found the children simply beautiful.

The village had a drapery shop and a general store, very like a store in a small Australian country town. There was even a poster on the wall advertising some sauce. We saw through a house where a widow lived with her two daughters. “There were two rooms, a woven mat on the kang for sleeping, and in this inner room two large and beautiful wooden storage chests with brass fittings, a picture of Chairman Mao on the wall and wall paper on the ceiling;” This house like all the others had its own fenced front garden about 25 feet square. There were zinnias in bloom, maize, and a plot of vegetables. There were some fowls and we were told that some people kept a pig. The Brigade people were particularly proud of their farm machinery repair shop. Previously a piece of farm machinery that needed repairs had to be sent to the city. It may be away a week. Now it was prepared on the spot and was back in use immediately.

It was a wonderful afternoon and we came to the conclusion that financially at least the people working on the Communes did better than the city workers. Where all factories and shops in the cities are State owned, the land of the Communes is held co-operatively by the people who work it.

As there was no activity planned for that evening, I missed dinner, had a bath, ate a peach and went to bed very early. I had noted in my diary that I had seen four birds in the vicinity of the Commune. What they do about insect pests I have no idea.