20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

28 August

In Shenyang and it is a fine day. At least ten of the thirteen women in our group were intensely interested in the equality of women in our society. On nearly all of our outings, when it came time for questions, we would be asking about the situation of women in that establishment. Our interpreters became aware of this particular interest of ours and asked if we would like to meet some women who were prominent in their various occupations in Shenyang. An enthusiastic “Yes”. We were asked to pass in written questions four days before this meeting so that the women who were to meet us would have a chance to prepare the answers. The meeting was held in one of the reception rooms at the hotel. The men of our group were welcome to come but were asked not to join in the discussions. Two of the young men in the group came as observers.

Eight women met us and their occupations covered a wide range. Though they did not answer any of our questions directly, in telling us the brief story of their own experiences the answers came out.

There was a representative from the Municipal Women’s Federation of Shenyang. This Federation was made up of representatives of mass organizations of workers and peasants under the leadership of the Communist Party. “There are 90 women elected to the Federation and their task is to study Marxism, Leninism and Mao Thought. The organization is to encourage women to take an active part in the struggle, to take the initiative in building a socialist country and to train women cadres. It educates women to support world internationalism and it especially studies the problems of women.”

The next speaker was a leading member of the Revolutionary Committee of the Financial and Trade Department of Shenyang. The Committee was made up of 26 people including 8 young women and one young man. Some were graduates and some were from the country. “The work is hardest for the young people in the group. They have to learn from the old workers and study Mao’s Thought. All Revolutionary Committees have to have some women representatives BUT because of 2,000 years of feudalism and oppression of women by husbands up — there are some organizations of women only. At first men said two women did not equal one man and the women had to prove them wrong. men said “If women had to build houses they would collapse. If they steered a ship it would turn over”. So women took apart their stoves and put them together again and so learnt the skill.

“There is still a long way to go. Men are sometimes not willing to help in the home. In Shenyang most women have jobs. Only old, sick and disabled women do not work. old ladies organize themselves. There is one group in a commune of 60 to 80 year old women. They help educate the children and study among themselves. ‘As long as we have breath we study Chairman Mao and make revolution’, these old women say.”

The next speaker was particularly attractive and with a delicious sense of humour. “I come from the country-side. I work in a pig farm with ten other girls. When I finished my education I expected to be an engineer or an official, but I was sent to the country for re-education. It was in 1968 and I was sent to a pig farm. I was very unhappy and uncomfortable for some time. I was angry at being sent to a pig yard which I thought was too small for me to develop my talents. I was not very strong and the water and the fodder were too heavy for me to carry. Because I was so unused to the work, one day I poured the food over the pigs heads and all over my clothes. I was angry to find myself here after so many years of study.” .This girl was enjoying telling her story immensely and the humour of her situation lost nothing in the translating. “I decided to withdraw from the pig farm. Then the Director told me of the bitter past, how they raised pigs only for the ruling class and ate only wild vegetables. They slept with the pigs in winter to keep warm. He said ‘you young people should help in the new society.’ The peasants would give us demonstrations and one day in the winter an old peasant wrapped a piglet in his fur coat And put it in his bed to keep it warm.This action taught me a great deal. I made up my mind to work in this pig farm all my life and my other comrades agreed to do so also. In 1969 we set up a new pig yard with the help of the peasants. In the process we made up our minds not to ask for any money from the state but to rely on our own efforts.

We built kilns and made 450,000 bricks, then 158 pig stys We use fermented fodders to save corn and at first we were looked on with suspicion by the old folks. ‘It is nonsense. We prepared 800,000 kilos of fodder saving 400,000 Kilos of grain.

“We can deliver pigs and castrate them. Last year a pig was severely injured. With the help of the peasants we operated. There were 130 stitches. This year that pig gave birth to 13 piglets.

“Educated youth can change the subjective world as well as the objective world. They have brought great changes to the countryside. The area I work in was very poor. There was only the sound of frogs. Now there is the sound of pigs.

“I have married and expect to live permanently in the country.”

To a question “Do the girls at the pig farm slaughter the pigs?” the answer was “The pigs are taken to the city for slaughtering. It is done with electricity and women do that work too.”

The next speaker was introduced as one of the most famous surgeons in Shenyang.

“I was a child labourer. When I was eight years old my father died and I was an orphan. There were nine of us in the family, the youngest being four years old. It was very hard to support the family. There was much unemployment and starvation. Five died and only four sisters survived. We were sent to an orphanage and stayed there until we were emancipated by Chairman Mao The Communist Party sent me to the university and I became a member of the Party. My three sisters studied in the university. We enjoy political and economical equality with men. I teach social work in the hospital and I do surgery. Men come to me for help with some operations. I owe all this to Chairman Mao and the Party. In the past few years I have been in the country for re-education and I have been doing medical research. The state has established favorable conditions for the class struggle and medical research.

“Our babies are cared for in the nursery at the hospital and we breast feed them. I have three children and my husband is also a doctor who works in the hospital. As a surgeon I often have to work late but my husband manages. My husband and I rotate in going into the country.

“Family planning helps women to take part in labour and also protects the children. After the campaign to criticize Confucious people are now happy to have only two children. It no longer matters whether they are boys or girls. Family planning is on a voluntary basis. Pills, contraceptive devices and operations are all free of charge. All medical units throughout the country have family planning units. The health of the mothers is of great concern. They are given pre-natal examinations and if the foetus is not in the correct position the mother goes to hospital for treatment.

“Mobile medical teams go to the country to help with difficult cases. 10% of our doctors are in mobile medical teams. Abortions are performed in commune hospitals, not in the brigade clinics. Abortion is given on demand, is free of charge. Women workers do not have leave before confinement but they do not do night shift work after six months. They are put on to light duties. After the birth of the baby the mother has 56 days leave on full pay.”

A primary school teacher was our next speaker. “I live with my children in the city. Before liberation in 1949 schools were dominated by professors. After the Cultural Revolution students and teachers rebelled. The students used to be divorced from the rest of society. They could not distinguish between rice and wheat. After the Cultural Revolution students work one to two months each year in the countryside or factories. Some schools run small factories and farms.”

During question time we asked about the status of single women in society. The women discussed it among themselves and then told us that none of them knew of any women of marriageable age who were not married. In the old society women could not survive outside marriage. In the new society families were happy because of equality. The doctor said she did not know of any divorces in her neighborhood. There were no statistics as to the proportion of men and women among bare-foot doctors but generally there were more women than men doctors.

My feeling about the position of women in China is that they were given political and economic equality after liberation in 1949. But it is by their own efforts that they have proved they are equal to men. And the battle is still being fought in some kitchens. Other factors have helped. They are a non acquisitive society so women do not spend their lives looking after objects. Their houses.-” are small so the cleaning of them is minimal. Women often are not obliged to do much cooking. Their children receive a midday meal in school and they and their husband can eat at the canteens in factories. In the one commune that I saw, people eat in their own homes and it would be in these situations that a women would have to ‘fight for her equality.'

Chinese women must be the most liberated in the world today and they are the most gentle and unaggressive women I have ever met. As are the Chinese men, gentle, unaggressive and courteous.

After lunch we visited a kindergarten of 400 children. They were the children of the workers in the Ministry of Finance,

and were between the ages of three and seven. We were greeted first in a large quadrangle. The children stood in a great circle, clapped and sang. The teachers were all women, young to middle aged and they stood in the background, very proud of the children and delighted at our enthusiasm. Several items were performed in the middle of the circle, these children in costume and highly made up. As usual, we were all enchanted.

We were taken through some of the buildings and saw rooms where cots were lined up for the childrens’ rest times. We were given two more little concerts of mime and song, the music as in the previous kindergarten we had seen, being supplied by organ. Quite obviously to us the children in China are treasured. They are beautiful, bright, precocious and friendly.

We returned to the hotel for supper and were aboard the train for Peking by 8 pm. It was a warm night but not as hot as the night we had left Peking.