20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

30 August

Our outing for the morning was to the Peking Shuanun Cadre School. It had rained during the night and our one and a half hour drive was through the leafy tunnels of the country roads. As usual, crops as far as the eye could see and on the roads, many small carts — taking food into the city. Our bus turned off the road onto a dirt track that wound through a plantation of young trees. The buildings of the school were modest, like a village commune. This school had been set up during the Cultural Revolution in 1968. Since then over 6,000 cadres had spent time in the school. They had all come from this district and were leading workers in the district, technicians, secondary and primary teachers. All the cadres in the district, men and women spent six months in the school though they might apply three or ;four times before they were accepted. The authorities would have to decide when they could be adequately replaced in their jobs. After the six months in the cadre school they all returned to their original jobs.

When we visited, the tenth term at the school was in progress and there were 200 students. We were shown a men’s dormitory. Six hard beds with check covers, a large table with a plastic cloth, a neon light overhead, sun hats hanging in the wall, folding stools. Cadres with common interests were grouped together. In this dormitory we met a leading member of the revolutionary committee of the local primary school, the deputy director and two leading members of the revolutionary committee of a middle school. A study group would consist of ten members, both men and women, but with common interests.

Another group was made up of party members who worked in vegetable growing projects in the district and there was a group of cadres who worked in transport. There were study groups of cadres involved in commercial projects, industry and Neighborhood Committees.

A cadre in the school spent half his time in study and half in manual labour. In study time priority was given to Marx and criticism of bourgeois ideas. The aim was to better understand the difference between the two lines, whether one was working in a senior or junior position. As Chairman Mao taught “The aim of Communists was not to seek high position but to serve the people.”

The cadres were trained in three ways, following Mao’s way: Study Marxist ideology, including the class struggle

and the struggle between socialism and revisionism, the Two Lines.

Organize cadres to engage in physical labour like ordinary workers. Help them overcome Beaurocracy and Revisionism. Help to develop the spirit of hard struggle. Guard against the temptation to seek senior positions. Maintain the approach of the ordinary worker. They can then work either as officials or ordinary citizens.

Organize cadres to work in the countryside with the peasants. Cadres then have closer contact with the masses of the people who work in the countryside. organize them to spend some time in the communes. To live, work, and study with the peasants, to learn the spirit of hard struggle from the peasants. Organize them to visit families to make social investigations, and to visit families who suffered greatly under the old society.

The land that was now the Cadre School had originally been swamp land. It was now rich productive land. Over the last five years the cadres had built 12,000 square metres of housing. They had planted 140,000 trees, cultivated 260 mu. of land for various crops — wheat, rice, sorghum, corn and all kinds of beans. Another 100 mu had been planted with fruit trees, peaches, pears, apples and grapes. There were 16 mu of vegetables. There were pigs and poultry and a small factory for the maintenance of farm tools, It was clear that the cadres studied hard, worked hard and lived as simply as the peasants.

Before we left a couple of girls asked if we would care to visit a toilet. They showed the way through the fruit trees a short distance from the school area. It was a simple stone structure, for the women, a community arrangement of six holes in the concreted floor. And we knew that, as all over China, the waste would be treated and returned to the land.

The programme for the afternoon was an hour’s free time after lunch then we were to be taken shopping to the department stores, art shops and antique shops of Peking. (Always we had an hours free time after lunch when we could rest, write letters or explore the city in which we were staying). That day I was resting when Mr. Piao knocked on the bedroom door. “An invitation for Betty to visit the Academy of Science that afternoon at 4 if she would care to come. The director has some messages for her son. ‘ Betty cared very much to go and happily dropped the idea of shopping. Mr. Piao would meet me in the foyer at 3.30 and he would take me. I was too excited to go back to sleep.

Three years earlier Andrew had completed his Ph.D thesis at the University of London. His examiners had been very reluctant to grant the Doctorate as all his references were political. They gave warm praise for the work but wanted him to include some mathematical references in his bibliography. Andrew refused, ‘I am a Marxist and the Paper is written on that basis.’ He was given his doctorate and later asked me if I could arrange for one of the four copies to be sent to China where it may be of greater interest. At the time the Australian Government was not recognizing China and even after the Labor Government came to power and the existence of China was finally recognized I still found it difficult to arrange a safe passage for the thesis. It was finally organized by my friend Esta Handfield who during the course of taking a summer school in Mandarin in Canberra met some of the people in the Chinese Embassy. A Counsellor offered to send it in the diplomatic bag to Peking. Nothing could be safer and I was delighted. And then 1 learnt that my application to go on the China Tour had been successful. I was going myself. Esta suggested that a copy of my itinerary should go with the thesis. ‘They may like to talk to you.”

After travelling in China my hopes of being asked to meet the people at the Academy of Science evaporated. The place was so vast, they were all so occupied with urgent and vital matters concerned with the reconstruction of their country, how could I possibly expect to be contacted and invited. So when it finally did happen I was immensely excited.

Mr. Piao and I travelled across Peking in a mini bus, all to ourselves. We were met on the steps of the Academy by two women scientists, sweet and gentle like all the Chinese women we met regardless of the work they did. We were taken upstairs to meet Mr. Lin, the Director of Geophysics Department. Smiles, introductions, hand shakes and tea. And there on Mr. Lin’s desk was Andrew’s thesis. He congratulated my son on his work. Was he doing any more research? They would very much like to see any further work of his. In this department they had been doing work along the same lines as Andrew. This was wonderful. Andrew working by himself in London and these people working in Peking, all breaking new ground at the same time. Using Dialectical Materialism as a philosophy for mathematical research. Mr. Lin gave me three or four small books to send to Andrew. They were even on the same subjects Andrew had been working on. Earthquakes and Extremes of Gusty Wind. My first question was ‘Is there some sort of dictionary that Andrew could have that would help him understand this work’ ‘Not Necessary’ said Mr. Lin. ‘The symbols for mathematics are international, they are in Latin. And at the end of each book there is a short summary in English. He will be able to understand it.’ We talked on for a little while about my trip. Then more handshakes and smiles and we were in the bus on our way back to the hotel. There was still time to do some shopping and Mr. Piao thought we could catch up with the rest of the group;

We took the short bus trip into the shopping area, Mr. Piao leaving me at the china department of a big department store while he scouted around. I had seen the very blue and white cups and saucers that I had so wanted to take back with me. The pattern that has transparent ‘rice spots’ in it. I managed very well to make my purchase by myself, and it was superbly wrapped for the flight home. Mr. Piao came back, no sign of the group but we could make one more call. It was to a book shop where foreign language books were sold. I bought several books and a number of delightful posters. The posters were 10 and 5 cents each. Chinese cents.

We then took the bus back to the hotel. It was now peak period and the bus was packed. We stood for a while then a seat was left vacant. The other people beckoned me into it. As I sat down I said ‘Share Share’ which means Thank you. This caused quite a flutter. I could see them saying to each other ‘She speaks Chinese” Then Mr. Piao told them that that was all the Chinese I could speak. I laughed with them. I didn’t need to know Chinese to realise what was being said.

When I got back to the hotel and saw what the other members of the group had bought I knew I would have to do some more shopping, in the fine art and antique street. But no one had seen anything like my cups and saucers and posters, they were ‘exclusive’.

That night was our visit to the Peking Opera at the Peoples Theatre. It was a hot night and we had the pleasant surprise of going into an air conditioned theatre. Our hotel was not air conditioned and the Peoples Theatre was. We felt the priorities were right.

The Chinese people do not dress up for their evening entertainment and most of our party came dressed casually too. we wore slacks or jeans with a fresh shirt. Two tows near the front had been reserved for us and in the row in front of us was the Lebanese group. The opera we were to see was a new one called ‘ Fighting on the Plains’ . It was of particular interest to me as I had seen the traditional Peking Opera when the company toured Australia in the fifties. I remember thinking at the time that it was the most Foreign Thing I had ever seen. A magnificent spectacle but I could not understand one word, naturally enough, or one movement, as they were all stylised. Even reading the story in advance in the programme was little help.

For this contemporary opera we were supplied with earphones and one of our interpreters was to give us instant translation. But for me it did not work out. Sitting in the seat in front of me was an interpreter translating into French for the Lebanese group.

So I was listening to the opera in three languages, Chinese, French and English. So put my earphones aside and enjoyed the opera as a spectacle and was able to follow the story reasonably well from the action.

The scenery was realistic and very good. The time was during the occupation by the Japanese forces. The hero was an officer from a small unit of the Eighth Route Army. This unit was co-ordinating with other units in the mountains which were fighting against a Japanese mopping up campaign. It was guerilla warfare, The story was full of action and fast moving and various incidents illustrated vital factors that had helped in the defeat of the Japanese invaders.

When the hero was in difficult situations he used various disguises to fool the enemy. The close co-operation between the soldiers and the villagers was demonstrated. There was excitement when the hero was almost recognized by the enemy, and after fooling the Japanese commander with a false work pass he escaped by jumping on a passing train. For the people in the audience who had lived through the liberation wars the opera would recall both the hardships and successes. For the young people who had grown up since liberation it was yet another story of the bitter past and the sacrifices made by the soldiers and peasants during the fight for independence.

There was little resemblance to the old Peking Opera. But there were incidents when the hero was fighting single handed against a number of enemy, either with the sword or whip, which recalled the traditional acrobatics and stylized fighting of the old opera.

The theatre was packed with Chinese people who responded audibly to the tensions of the story and roared with laughter when the enemy was fooled. Altogether, it was a great night.