20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

23 August

“Quotas are set by the Transport Ministry and work teams make out plans for every five days. Plans are made one month ahead. Ships wait for from 8 to 10 days in anchorage and there are from 40 to 50 foreign ships waiting at a time. But a foreign ship has never been forced to wait over the contract time”.

“All equipment is under constant safety check, and there are 700 people in the maintenance team. We were impressed with the cleanliness of the Port but the comrades feel there is need for improvement. The laying of new cables for mechanization was causing some of the mess.

“Retired workers formed a team to eradicate rats and pigeons at the Port.'(Pigeons eat grain). They used traps and poison and being familiar with the Port were well fitted to do the job. These men lived on pensions and their work was voluntary.

“There were some light injuries among the workers. Very few workers were permanently disabled. An average was one or two in 10,000 a year. The Port had its own free hospital with 200 beds. There was a medical staff of 300 and every work team has its own station”.

The Port of Talien is about the same size as Sydney, Shanghai’s is ten times bigger.'

Jim made our farewell speech, promising the support of the Australian wharfies to their Chinese comrades. Then we took some comradely pictures of Jim embracing some Chinese wharfies. It was a glorious sparkling morning and Jim’s excitement at being among his own added to the pleasure of the visit.

Jim with Talien Waterside Workers - 23 August

We went straight from the Port to our train. A five hour journey to Anshan. I had been particularly interested in the story of the rat catching team and over lunch, said ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if retired people in our own community could be involved in life in this way’. Narelle, who was sitting at our table, said ‘You could never get Australian workers to do a job like that for nothing’. I couldn’t believe her and finally said “I'll go and ask Jim”. I joined Jim’s table and this was the short clear, discussion that followed.

B. "Jim, supposing we had a plague of rats in the Sydney wharves do you think retired wharfies would make up a team and help to get rid of them?”

J. "We never have any rats in Sydney”.

B. "But suppose some got off the ships by the ropes and got away?”

J. "They couldn’t. We always put tin plates around the ropes so the rates can’t come down them”.

B. "But Jim, suppose there was some unforeseen disaster and rats swam ashore?”

J. "That would be the boss’s trouble, not ours. Look Betty, you can’t introduce socialism in bits and pieces. It is all or nothing”.

We were met at the Anshan Station by the President of the Anshan Branch of the China Travel Service and driven straight to the hotel, the beautiful Liaoning Mansions Hotel. This arrival was quite different from our arrival at Talien. There were no smiles or claps, just blank astonishment at the sight of our European faces. At the hotel were taken first to the reception room where we were formally welcomed by the local Travel Service people and we were then given a brief run down on the history of the city by the President. Anshan had been twenty years a colony of Japan and the mines had been plundered. This period had been followed by 3 years under the rule of Chiang Kai Sheck. They were liberated in 1948. The experts said that the mines had been so damaged that the area was useful only for growing sorghum. It would take twenty years to repair the mines. But the workers got going and the mines were in full production in 2 years. Our programme included a visit to the steel rolling mills, a visit to see a technician mend a high tension wire without the current being turned off, and for that night a film in our hotel. I knew I was too tired to cope with everything and decided I'd miss the steel rolling mills, rest in my room and see the film at night. For the first and only time on the trip I had a room to myself and it was positively luxurious. I was so delighted with everything that I listed the luxuries in my diary. “Sitting room with a bedroom alcove off it, bathroom, a large writing desk in the alcove with ink, pen, paper, envelopes, beautiful Chinese carpets, (actually we had superb Chinese carpets on polished floors in all the hotels we visited), the three piece lounge suite, so universally loved by the Chinese, with its immaculate white slip covers, an electric fan, transistor radio, and on the coffee table, cigarettes and matches, tea caddy, tea pot and cups and saucers, thermos of hot water, slippers, and a luxury I had met only once before in my travels and that in a Chateau in the Loire Valley, a white towelling bathrobe. The bed had an innerspring mattress covered with a blue and white check sheet, a top sheet of patterned towelling and an eiderdown in spotless white cover”.

In fact, most of these items appeared in all our hotel rooms. I guess it was the radio and towelling bathrobe that turned my head. I slept for four hours, bathed and joined the group for dinner only to find that I had missed one of the most delightful outings of the tour. What I had thought to be the steel rolling mills had turned out to be the high tension wire demonstration. They had been driven out to beautiful green hilly country. A young woman technician had, on some cunning contraption, “bicycled” herself from the ground to the top of a pylon, and there had demonstrated this locally invented method of mending the high tension wires without, the power being disconnected. Not only was the demonstration fascinating, but I was told that 1 had missed the most beautiful sunset in the most glorious country.

I thought the name of the film was ‘Carnal Sin’ which would have been THE most unlikely film for our hosts to have shown us. It was ‘Carnival Scene’ a colour documentary of a huge Table Tennis Championship held in China in 1973. There were teams from the Third World, Africa, the Philippines and all of South America. The Chinese teams won. It took place in an enormous indoor stadium with elaborate entertainment of acrobatics, ballet and opera between the matches. A happy and colourful film, but not an adequate compensation for having missed the ‘fascinating demonstration’.