20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

24 August

A fine morning, and for the first time since our arrival in China I could write ‘mild to cool’. The morning visit to the Anshan Steel and Iron Complex. From my diary: “There are 7 workshops, the complex is 7 KM across and a railway which goes around the complex linking the workshops is 800 KM long. The area is 16.2 sq. KM and the workers live in the city of Anshan. The steel is rolled into pieces 15 metres long and the thickness varies from 1.5 cm to 19 cm thick. The hot waste water from the complex is piped to the city to provide central heating. Trees planted EVERYWHERE along roads within the Complex. 1800 workers in largest rolling mill — 10% women.

“The director of the Stainless Steel Mill Trade Union was a woman. The Stainless Steel Workshop produced sheets varying from 57 to 159 mm thick. This Mill established in 1952 and was in full production in 1953. The output that year was 61,000 tons; in 1973 it was 160,000 tons. That was after the Cultural Revolution. Before the Cultural Revolution the workforce was made up of local workers and peasants and graduates from the Technical School. After the Cultural Revolution, students worked in the country for two years after leaving school. Some would then come back and enrol at the mill/and these young people now made up a majority of the workforce. Other workers were de-mobilized soldiers. They would have been volunteers who would come to the mill after a few years service in the army. There were short term technical classes for new workers. There were classes to study politics and the class struggle. These young workers had been born into the new society. Old peasants and veteran workers would tell them of their bitter past. New workers were assigned to masters and worked as apprentices for 3 to 6 months to master their work. Each week they attended two classes in politics Confucianism, Revisionism, Legalism, Progress and Revolution, and the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. There were 45 study groups formed from among the workers of the Stainless Steel Mill. Groups were formed according to the location of their homes, or if they were working in the same group. Study groups were formed in the dormitories of young workers. There were lectures every Wednesday when cadres were invited to make political reports.

“The Anshan Iron and Steel Works had its own Spare Time University. Also classes in Mill-Drafting on two days. Attendance voluntary”.

Our group was particularly interested in the formation of the Revolutionary Committees. The Manager of the Stainless Steel Mill, Mr. Shu gave us a quick rundown.

“The Revolutionary Committee in this mill has 17 members. There are two PLA members, two cadres, the secretary of Communist Party Branch within the Mill, the headmaster of the Mill School, eleven workers, two of which are ordinary workers. The workers’ representatives are nominated by the workers and then voted in by the workers but their position on the committee has to be approved by ‘higher organs."’ This we assumed now was the Communist Party of China.

One of the group had sent in a question on our arrival at the mill. We had been asked to have questions prepared where possible. The question was ‘How did you get rid of the reactionary elements in the management during the Cultural Revolution?’ Mr. Shu had a delightful sense of humour and he had had time to think about the question. He said ‘I used to be the manager of the mill. 1 was a revisionist. I was criticised in the big character posters which was painful for me. But I was re-educated and am now a cadre and I carry out Chairman Mao’s line. I was elected to the Committee and again find myself in the position of manager’. All this was said modestly and with a twinkle, a joke we all could share. He was now on very good terms with the workers.

Another question was ‘What is actually meant by Confucianism?’. The word Confucius literally meant trumpeting. He would play at funerals. He lived 2,400 years ago when the Chinese people were moving from a slave to a feudal form of society. Confucius promoted slavery. All through history Chinese leaders, including Chiang Kai Shek has respected Confucius. He had become the symbol of tradition and reaction.

The afternoon outing was to the Tang Kang Tze Hot Springs Sanatorium. It was situated in a beautiful ‘park’ some miles out of Anshan. Our bus travelled through tree-lined country roads with crops stretching as far as the eye could see.

The springs had been discovered during the T'ang Dynasty between 600 and 800 AD. In the park like grounds we passed some ancient but charming Chinese pavilions. We were met by the Director who gave us a few facts about the Sanatorium while we sipped our tea and soft drinks. The medical personnel numbered 180, there were 120 workers and 1,200 beds for patients. Workers and peasants were treated for arthritis, rheumatism, skin diseases, muscular trouble and they were rehabilitated after industrial accidents.

We broke up into small parties of four or five people with an Interpreter and a member of the Sanatorium medical staff. We were promised a Hot Bath after our tour of inspection. In the main building we saw exercise rooms and were told of the various therapies — water, mud and electrolysis. We saw two large bathrooms that had been specially decorated for the puppet Emperor and Empress during the Japanese occupation. The Emperor’s bath was large and circular and a mosaic mural on the wall depicted three traditional war ships. The Empress’ bathroom was of the same design and her mosaic was one of ducks and drakes on a pond. We saw the baths where we would later take our bath. A bathroom with a dressing room cubicle off it. The baths were at least six feet long and about two feet six wide and were lined with white tiles. Everything was sparkling clean and inviting. Wards were separate from the main building and we were told that the patients would be pleased to talk to us and tell us of their treatment. I spoke to a girl of about twenty who was being visited by her mother. She had suffered such severe rheumatism that one arm had become almost paralysed. But the treatment had been successful and she would be returning home in two weeks time. She had a room to herself as 1 think all patients did. We returned to the main building, were given towels and were told that we could bathe for ten minutes, then meet/in the reception room again. The water was already drawn for us and was hot and soft.

It was suggested that we might like to wash out hair. This I didn’t do because of the need to set it, but quite a few others did. We assembled again, had more tea, and waited for Sue to appear. She didn’t, so as it was getting late the farewell speeches and votes of thanks were made. And we still waited for Sue. Finally we were told we must get into the bus and Miss Chi went to see what had happened to Sue. She had been bathing for an hour. When Sue got into the bus, a bit flustered, I said ‘What happened, Sue?’, She said, ‘Oh, I was just thinking’.

We were back at our hotel in time for dinner at 7. When we left the hotel an hour later a huge crowd of locals had collected at the hotel entrance to clap us goodbye. The people who had greeted us with silent astonishment were now all smiles and friendliness. At the railway station an even larger crowd of people were waiting to clap us. They must have gone to some trouble to find out our timetable and then give us such a farewell. An extra carriage was connected to the train for us for our one hour journey to Shenyang. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to ask Mr. Piao and Mr. Zo all the questions that had been mounting up. Ten people collected in my compartment, sitting on the upper and lower bunks and questions started. They were all of a political nature, the relationship between the USSR and China over their border disputes, more details on the formation of the Revolutionary Committee and so on. Sometimes our two interpreters would confer in Chinese before a specific answer was given. By now we knew our interpreters well enough to have complete faith in their honesty with us. Their answers were as straight forward as they could make them.

Arriving at our hotel in Shenyang (it was the ‘Shenyang Mansions') we were taken straight up to the reception room on the 7th floor to be welcomed by the Shenyang Branch of the China Travel Service.