20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

22 August

The morning was grey and showery but the temperature still 80. After breakfast Marje, Jim, Miss Chi and I walked down to the beach. About half a mile, along a sealed road winding between thick plantations of acacia. We came out on a pebbly beach, a large rocky outcrop of an island not far off shore and between us and the island a dozen or so small fishing boats. They looked so beautifully ‘foreign’. The wind had pushed all the squared off hulls towards the north and they made a beautiful pattern, bobbing up and down on the sea. The beach was deserted except for a couple of PLA men who watched us in a friendly casual way. They were obviously on some sort of guard duty but we had been told that the beach was not out of bounds for us. There was a large PLA camp not far from our hotel but apart from their presence at the Acrobatic performance we saw little of them. Marje and I took off our shoes and paddled. We would have loved to swim but that was forbidden. There were dangerous currents not far off shore and our interpreters would not let us take the risk.

Because the morning was showery the plan to take us to a school had to be cancelled. Instead we’ went in our bus to Talien and visited the Museum of Natural Local Resources. A big solid building that had been built by the Russians as their Municipal Offices. Then it acted as Headquarters for the Japanese during their occupation. The first section was of Sea Products. Many, many local fish including shrimps. During the Cultural Revolution research had been done on shrimps and now they were farmed instead of being caught only in the sea. We saw a shark, 3.5 tons of it. The skin is used for leather, the meat is eaten and the fins are a special delicacy. ‘Cod’ liver oil was taken from the liver. We saw a swordfish that can swim at 119KM per hour. We saw a whale, nearly 19 metres long and weighing 34.8 tons. A tiger whale that eats seals. 14 seals were found in the stomach of the specimen in the museum. Seals and leopard seals come to the Pohai Sea in February and are caught by fisherman. Their fur coats are valuable and their meat is eaten. They come in such numbers that there is no chance of extinction. Kelp is now cultivated and many useful products are made from it. The port used by the fishermen is now highly mechanized.

In the Mineral Resources section we saw fossils 550,000,000 years old.

In the section of Animal History we saw fossils of pre-historic animals — crocodiles, parts of dinosaurs, footprints of dinosaurs, fossils of dinosaurs’ eggs and fossils of prehistoric birds.

There was a section on Ancient Man and we saw a skull (or a model) of the earliest known man, Peking Man. One of our party wanted to know if they still lived! There were also the stone tools used by Peking Man.

The curators of the museum were proud to show us the section illustrating the research being done into rood production. In my diary I noted 30 potatoes that grew from one plant. They are experimenting in the raising of pigs for food. A pig had been bred that grows to a weight of 120 KG in 10 months and to 500 KG in 21-2 years. They are fed on grain and fermented foods. There were specimens of sheep, fowls, geese and ducks; and a successful cross breed between a Russian and a local sheep.

There was also a section showing wild animals from all over the world.

The rain had stopped while we were in the Museum and when we came out into the courtyard there were several hundred of the local townspeople and their children who had gathered to see us and give us their informal and spontaneous greeting, wide smiles and claps. I took some photographs of this crowd and now I am home and am asked ‘Isn’t all the clothing dreary?’ I just show these photographs. Some of the men are wearing caps, the women and children bareheaded. Men, women and girls over about ten wear cotton pants. There is a choice of colour. Green (which is universal for the PLA but worn widely by civilians), navy blue, a grey-blue and khaki. Men and women wear the tailored jackets or just T shirts or cotton tailored shirts. These are striped, checked, floral and every colour of the rainbow. EXCEPT I didn’t see men in floral shirts. Nor did I see a skirt on a woman. Little girls up to the age of 10 or 12 wore cotton dresses of every conceivable colour and design. Split pants on the toddlers!

Arthur Deery had expected that it would be Autumn for most of our tour and had packed clothing suitable for weather much cooler than what we were experiencing. He had asked if somehow he could buy some cotton trousers. After the Museum visit our interpreters asked if we would all like to visit a local department store. A unanimous ‘Yes”. We realised by now that few non Chinese people visit Talien and in the shopping area we caused a sensation. As we poured into the store astonished shoppers fell back from the counters and just watched, fascinated. Arthur bought two suits, jacket and trousers in navy and grey blue. As there were no facilities for trying trousers on we managed with tape measures. (They fitted very well except the trousers need a bit of shortening and one of the girls did that for him later). I bought a green jacket. (We called them Mao jackets) for about 2 dollars and a string bag for about 20 cents. 1 needed something to carry the apples I was always buying. We had been given 40 minutes for shopping but I returned to the bus early. The footpath was packed solid with people, curious to see us and all traffic had stopped. The road was blocked with sight seers for a couple of hundred yards. Our driver saw me trying to get through the crowd on the footpath and helped me. Then he shut the bus door after me. As I waited for the rest of our group to join me I did feel peculiar, an object of great interest to so many people but they were so friendly that I was not alarmed.

The weather was much cooler in the afternoon and a visit to the Talien Glass Factory was the next on our programme. From my diary: ‘Before liberation the factory had only 2 “stoves” 200 workers and produced 200 different kinds of plain glass products. New there were 10 “stoves”, 1500 workers, 40% of whom were women and they do everything that the men do. The factory now produces 3,000 different products for export, military and domestic use. The raw material used in the manufacture of the glass was silicone stone which was mined in this province, 300 km away. Before liberation the silicone was crushed dry and the workers suffered from silicosis. They lasted at the crushing process for 2 or 3 years. Some died, others could not work again. After ‘49 Chairman Mao paid great attention to the workers’ health and from then on the silicone stone was crushed with water. Now machines did the crushing which was formerly done by men. The workers were regularly checked for silicosis. Glass products used to be blown by mouth which was harmful to the health of the workers. And as they used the same apparatus, disease was easily spread. Now a hand bulb was used to blow the glass and there was improvement in the quality and quantity of the products produced as well as in the health of the workers.

Since 1969 the factory was managed by a Revolutionary Committee of 11, three of them being women. The workers nominated people who formed the Revolutionary Committee but the final selection was made by higher levels. (On a number of occasions we were told of ‘higher levels’ and when we had the opportunity of discussion with our interpreters on the long train journey back to Peking I asked who were the people of ‘higher levels’. The answer was — The Communist Party). The Revolutionary Committee was in charge of the management of the glass factory and the welfare of the workers. Workers were apprenticed for three years in the Factory then they became Master Craftsmen. Young, middle aged and old workers, men and women were represented on the Revolutionary Committee. The factory had its own crèche and kindergarten.

We then looked over the factory. Visually it was beautiful with the fires glowing through circular holes around the stoves. Men and women worked in teams, moving rhythmically and without any feeling of haste or anxiety. Vases and ornaments in many different colours were being blown and moulded the day we were there. The department where the etching was done was most interesting. I saw tumblers being decorated with simple leaf sprays. Already we had met these products in the hotel and on the train that brought us to Talien. I watched a very skilled worker etching a design onto a heavy glass platter. He was copying a drawing of three small children playing. The drawing was clipped to a board on his left and he held the plate against a drill. He copied the drawing, moving the plate very slowly and with incredible precision, holding it against the spinning drill, which did the etching on the under surface.

We then visited the showroom where literally hundreds of samples were on display. Drinking glasses and ashtrays are produced for home consumption, but the spectacular pieces shown here are made for export. I was reminded of a display room at Murano near Venice. Brilliant examples of the art of glass making, but not my taste.

Our group was then taken to the Talien Electrical Motors Factory for a short visit. From my diary: 3,700 workers and staff. Repairs only were handled until 1955, now the design and building of motors carried out by Factory. There has been a great change in the spirit of the workers since the Cultural Revolution. Since 1969 there have been over 600 revolutionary innovations, and now over 400 special purpose products are manufactured. The daily output of motors has increased from 100 to 600 a day.

‘They work on a low wages, low cost of living. There are 8 grades of workers in the factory. A worker earning 60 yuan a month has living costs of 20 yuan a month. A spare time University is attached to the factory. The factory workers have two hours of study every week, technical students study for two years”. When we were having tea and questions in the Board Room I noticed two particularly attractive prints on the wall. As we were leaving I asked one of our interpreters where 1 could buy a copy of the prints. They were traditional. About 5 feet high, one had a branch of blossom and some finches; the other was a group of storks, some just flying off. Mara had asked me to bring her back a print and one of these would be perfect. The interpreter brought back the answer. The painting had been done by one of the factory workers during spare time classes. No prints available. 1 had been aware on previous visits to board rooms of the spectacular paintings on the wall. And I realised now that they had all been done by workers.

Dinner that night included pancakes, cucumber salad, fish in sauce. And I saw my first cat in China. It came into the dining room and was very plump and friendly. A tabby cat with a dash of Persian, I should say.

The day was sunny, mild and with a strong wind. Breakfast included toffee apples, eggs and biscuits with sesame seeds. We packed our cases and were in the bus by 8 am. The morning visit was to the Port of Talien and Jim was cadre for the day. At the entrance to the port was an enormous permanent ‘poster! A reproduction of a poem by Chairman Mao in his own calligraphy. We were taken first to the Administration Building and the view over the port from the balcony was magnificent but we were asked not to take photographs. While we had the usual tea or soft drinks we were told some facts about the port. ‘Harbour built in 1891. Greatly enlarged after liberation in ‘49. It was built entirely from local resources. There were 12 wharves, including wharves for timber, coal and crude oil. It could berth 50 ships at one time, 5,000 to 50,000 tons. The staff and workers at the Port numbered 14,000 including 2,000 women. The Port was now mainly mechanised with both mobile and stable equipment. There were many rails inside the harbour and ships came from 40 countries. (Later I photographed Greek, Polish and Chinese ships) Tusha, who was born in Poland shouted out some Polish greetings to the sailors and had a great reaction).

‘Since the Cultural Revolution the Port had filled its quota of work 27 days ahead of schedule. And the 1973 quota was double that of a pre-Cultural Revolution record. Since diplomatic relations had been established with more countries, in accordance with Chairman Mao’s line, ships from more foreign countries than ever were coming to the Port. Workers were redoubling their efforts to fulfil the State plan. Women take part in everything except the loading and unloading of cargo. They drive cranes, trucks and act as tally clerks.