20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

2 September

The challenge now was to arrange the calligraphy without the help of any of the interpreters. On the shopping day John had found a shop which had specialized in artists materials. It was decided that that shop would probably know of a calligrapher. Next morning instead of going with the rest of the group to visit the orthopaedic hospital, Marje, John and Sue, who had done six months study of Mandarin earlier in the year, took a taxi and went to the antique street, Liulichang.

Marje told us later what had happened. They had found the shop and with Sue’s few words of Mandarin they had communicated what they needed. The people in the shop didn’t shut up shop, they all just walked out and took our three along the street to another shop where there was an old man who did calligraphy. Yes, he would do it. There was a long discussion about the wording. The calligrapher did not like ‘tourist group’ as it made an unattractive character. Finally Delegation was substituted. Then they were told it would take a fortnight. They explained that it would have to be finished today as it was to be presented that night. Yes, he would do it that day and it could be picked up at 5 o'clock. The whole transaction was a triumph for Sue’s Mandarin and John and Marje’s mime.

As they had the taxi waiting they decided to detour on the way back to the hotel to see St. Michaels Church which Han Suyin had described in her autobiography. The church was in the same street as the new Peking Hotel so they were able to communicate this destination to the taxi driver. He took them to the Peking Hotel. Then there was great consternation because they did not want to be left at the hotel. Finally, one of the staff of the hotel came and interpreted and they were taken to St. Michaels. All that could be seen of the church were the two grey spires. Buildings entirely filled the area around it. And as a crocodile of children filed out of one of the buildings they assumed that the complex was now a school.

They found out later that the old church too is part of the school. But the stature of St. Michael that used to stand in front of it was no longer there.

John undertook to go back to the calligrapher and pick up the scroll. It was ready and cost just over three yuan which would be about one of our dollars. As he had been to Liulichang several times now he decided he could find his own way back to the hotel. He would steer by the sun. It did not occur to him until he had gone quite some way that the sun was in the south when one was in China and it was a very long walk back.

The rest of the group spent the morning at the Peking Chu Shui Tan Hospital. This visit was of tremendous interest to us all and a highlight of the trip for the four doctors in the group. The hospital has been made famous outside China by the book ‘Away with all pests’ written by the British surgeon, Dr. Horn who worked there during the sixties. We knew that it led the world in the field of micro surgery, (the re-attachment of severed limbs) and in the treatment of burns. We were met by half a dozen doctors, men and women and served tea in their board room. Here we were given facts about the hospital.

From my diary: “It is a general hospital specialising in orthopaedics, one of the many hospitals set up in Peking after Liberation. It opened in 1956. There are 510 beds and the hospital treats 2,500 out patients and between 200 and 300 emergencies a day. The out patients are people living in the district including workers and students. It is in charge of the health of 20,000 people.

“The emergencies are accident and burn cases. There are no restrictions to emergency cases, and the hospital acts as headquarters to three street hospitals as well as taking very difficult orthopaedic cases from other hospitals.

“There is a medical staff of 290 nurses and 210 doctors most of whom have graduated since Liberation. 260 members of the medical staff work in the orthopaedic section.

“The hospital is a centre for teaching and scientific research. Apart from the training of doctors and nurses it provides short term courses, from six to twelve months, for medical workers in factories, etc.

“The hospital has four aims. Serve the workers and peasants. The prevention of disease. To combine traditional medicine with Western medicine, and To combine hygeine with mass education.

“All medical workers stay in the country for a year at a time with a mobile medical team. Apart from medical work they learn from the spirit of the workers and peasants. The medical teams also train barefoot doctors in the countryside. They help the local medical workers to raise their skills and techniques.

“The barefoot doctors help in the prevention and cure of recurring diseases, give injections and handle minor surgical cases.

“The hospital has a special department for the supervision of Street Committee Clinics in the area. These had wards of from three to six beds and medical staff from the hospital visited every day.”

In answer to a question from one of our doctors as to how long a patient would have to wait for surgery, we were told that if it was an uncritical case such as hernia the patient would wait from two to four weeks before being admitted.

We were then given white caps and gowns to wear, divided into groups and taken for a tour of some of the wards. The first thing I, noticed was the size of the wards, from three to six beds, and the most attractive pyjamas that the patients were wearing. We were shown men’s wards and the patients pyjamas were of fine pale blue cotton with frogged buttons. As we moved around, having various operations explained to us, the patient was always included in the discussion and treated as a person, not just a case.

We met a young man who had had a tumour removed from his knee and the movement of the limb had been restored by an artificial knee of stainless steel Another young man had lost all movement of both hips as a result of rheumatoid arthritis. One hip had already been operated on and he had been given an artificial hip joint, plastic cup and steel “leg”. That hip was now working and he was waiting for the second operation.

A man of 62 had had a badly broken leg. The femur and both bones in the lower leg had been broken. The treatment for this accident was different from traditional Western method. First the wound was treated and sutured. Then the leg was put in traction for six weeks to get the bones into a good position. Then the bones were set and lightly splinted.

We met another patient whose arm had been three quarters severed above the elbow. We were shown photographs of how it had looked when he had been admitted. The operation had been successful and he could move all his fingers. Another patient had had a finger and thumb severed. To rebuild his hand a partly severed finger had replaced the thumb. The hand was now usable again. A patient whose arm had been badly broken was having a skin graft from the skin on his stomach.

The doctors of our group and a few other members watched a twenty minute film of an operation on a severed arm. Gisela, our dental mechanic was shown the department of dental mechanics while Kay, our midwife was taken to the maternity ward. Gisela returned with the news that “They are behind us in dental mechanics. Their teeth are so good they don’t need them!” No baby was being born during Kay’s inspection but she was pleased with what she had seen. we then assembled in the board room for more questions.

From my diary: “10% of orthopaedic operations use acupuncture for anaesthetic.

“The first replant of a severed limb in China took place in Shanghai in 1963. The second was at this hospital in 1964.

A lapse of from five to six hours between accident and operation was considered the maximum although there had been a successful operation after a lapse of 33 hours.

“The application of the traditional Chinese method of using small wooden splints in the treatment of broken bones shortened the duration of hospitalisation. This was better for the joints involved.

“In 1973 a two year old child had been admitted with 96% of her body burned. 94% was third degree burn. The child had recovered.

‘.'Acupuncture could be used for a Caesarean birth but only if it were not an emergency. It took twenty minutes before the operation could begin.

“Fathers were outside labour ward during the birth of their child.

We asked about the birth rate over China. The doctor in charge of the midwifery section, a woman, answered. We do not have the figures for the whole country, just those for this hospital. In the previous year there had been 200 babies delivered each month. This year there has been 120 plus 300 abortions, each month"'

Were the doctors who had trained under the old regime still working in the hospital? ‘Yes. There were some doctors who had trained in Britain who were still practising. They had a contribution to make and they were respected.'

This question time had been particularly interesting for us because one of the doctors who was answering our questions could speak fluent English. One of our doctors asked him ‘Why is the progress in medicine so much speedier in China than in the West?'

This was discussed at some length by the Chinese doctors present. Finally the answer came. “Doctors are motivated ideologically. This is because of the teaching of Chairman Mao and of their contact with the workers and peasants. Under Chairman Mao’s Revolutionary Health line doctors are sett to the country. After the Cultural Revolution they understand more clearly the relationship between their work and national reconstruction.'

After lunch, by special request from Paddle, we visited a building site. It was a block of flats. Paddle had done many things during his working life, brick laying being one of them. We split up at the site, the men going with Paddle to watch him lay a few bricks, and the women to see the inside of the newly completed flat. It was small. A centre passage with two rooms on the right with good windows overlooking the street and central heating equipment. On the left, a lavatory for the sole use of the occupying family and then a good sized kitchen. We asked, why no bathroom? It was explained that it was customary in China to have a separate bathing block to serve all the occupants of the flats and the people liked it that way.

Then we visited Middle School No. 2 which is attached to the Peking University. We were taken first to a common room where we were welcomed by a group of teachers and some of the senior students. While we sipped tea a teacher told us some facts about the school. (Middle schools are the equivalent of our high schools.)

From my diary: “There were 1900 students and 150 teachers and staff. Students stayed at middle school for five years. 30 subjects were taught including History, Geography, Politics, Foreign languages, Chinese language, Physics, Chemistry, Agriculture, Health science, Music, Drawing, Physical education.

“Education should combine learning with physical labour to prepare the students for the class struggle. Marxism and Leninism were taught and History included World history as well as Chinese history, The struggle between legalism and Confucianism was studied. It was important that the students combined theory with practise. Workers were invited to the school to teach students. it was a link with production teams in factories. Students went to a shoe factory and a glass factory to learn from the workers. Students were organized with the teachers to make social investigations.

“Attached to the school was a bucket factory. The metal came from a factory and the students produced 200,000 buckets a year. The main object was to educate the students through manufacturing. In that way they learnt of the spirit of the class struggle. Manual work. The quality of the buckets was guaranteed.

‘Students were from 12 to 17 or 18 years old. During the year they had 34 weeks of academic study, 8 weeks in a factory, the army or in the country side and 8 weeks vacation taken in summer and winter. There were six classes during the day, 4 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon. After that there were recreational activities.

‘After graduation they joined the workers and peasants. Physically weak students were assigned to jobs that suited their health. The rest went to work in the country.-

‘Students were represented on the Revolutionary Committee of the School. They may or may not be Red Guards which is a separate organization.'

We then walked around the school starting with the bucket factory. There were 30 permanent workers who taught the students and worked along side them. 50 students worked in the factory at one time. They worked half a day for six weeks in every year while they were at school. They turned out 7 to 800 buckets a day.

We then visited a Political Science class. Boys and girls could sit anywhere they chose and mostly they sat with a member of the opposite sex. The lecturer was a student who was a Red Guard and a member of the Revolutionary Committee. It was not unusual for a student to lecture the class. He had been helped in the preparation by the teacher in Political Science. The class we watched was on Chairman Mao’s strategy in the Long March. They were studying the campaign in the North East.

We then moved to a maths class where the subject was the relation of horizontal lines to vertical lines ‘They are only so in relation to each other’ which was part of a study of Dialectics.

We then returned to the Common Room for further question. These were some of the answers to our questions: ‘Parents share with teachers the responsibility of the education of the children. Parents come to the school two or three times every term to discuss any problems with the teachers. And teachers visit the parents at home to report on behaviour and any problems.

‘They had abandoned the old method of testing a student by examination. An exam was an attack by the teachers against the students. Satisfactory assessment of a students progress was one of the things that was Widely discussed during the Cultural Revolution. All schools and universities had shut for two years while these discussions had been taking place. They still felt that a mature solution to assessment had not yet been found. But they had made some progress.

There were four new guide lines:

Students were helped to analyse and solve problems.

Questions were given beforehand so that students could refer to books and have discussions with each other.

If a student had a problem he took it to a teacher who would help him solve it. Then the student would write a report on it.

In maths, students would go to the machine shop where they would be asked sixty questions. There were no answers for these questions in books. They would have to be solved with the workers.

‘Every student contributed 5 yuan a term which would cover tuition, miscellaneous expenses, buy extra books, ink and paper.

‘There was no cleaning staff in the school or in any learning institution in China. Teachers and students were rostered to do the cleaning.

‘The Revolutionary Committee that ran the school was made up of students, old and young students and cadres. They were not chosen by secret ballot but by negotiation. The Red Guards participate actively in all political movements. They were actively involved in the movement of criticism of Lin Pao and Confucious. Of the 1900 students in the school, 1200 were Red Guards. There were slightly more girls than boys in the Red Guards.’ When we asked why this was so the two girls who had been answering this question laughed and said they didn’t know. But they were trying to get more boys to join.

We were then given a charming concert by the students. Our chairs were pushed to one end of the Common Room and the other acted as the stage. A girl acted as compere in the style of the comperes of the acrobatic troupes. There were seven items. A choir sang, there was an accordian solo by a boy, two boys played on single stringed ‘violins’, a girl played ‘Welcome to our friends from all over the world’ on an accordian and a girl played a violin solo. A girl soloist sang with an orchestra that included five violins, an accordian, two Chinese stringed instruments, two base drums and percussion instruments. The girl’s voice was so pure and so true that for the second time in China I found myself in tears. The little concert concluded with a ballet performance by six girls. We were quite overwhelmed by the joy of the young performers and the incredible quality of their items. Our hosts then asked Marje if the group would sing something for the students. She sent a hasty note to warn Rose and we sang Waltzing Matilda From the sublime to the ridiculous. Jim joined Rose in leading us and we followed as best we could. The interpreters who had heard us before were ready and they led the laughter quickly followed by the young Chinese performers. It was quite a riot and I think will be remembered in that Middle School for a long, long time.

That night was our banquet at The Peking Duck. Our excitement was sky high as we drove along the Avenue of Peace in our two buses. Great red and gold banners were stretched across the avenue to welcome the President of Togoland and his wife who were in Peking on a state visit. People were strolling in the streets, on the way home or like us, going out to done. All the big buildings were decorated with red flags and we felt they must be fluttering there for us.

Across Tien An Min, around a few corners, up a very narrow street and we were at our restaurant. It was very small. We were taken up stairs to a private room. Half a dozen big round tables, white cloths, silver and glass, and a place card for each of us. I had Young Mr. Wong and a member of the Peking Branch of the China Travel Service at my table with three other group members. Marje sat between the Director of the Travel Service her old friend Mr. Chao who had been the interpreter on her previous trip to China. This was a wonderful gesture and she was ad. delighted as she was surprised. Jim was in the place of honour, on the left of the Director. Every table had at least two of our Chinese friends to act as hosts. Though we had not seen our interpreters drink any alcohol before, they enjoyed it that night.

The menu was in Chinese characters but Miss Chi translated it for me later. There were nine courses:

1. The five cold dishes (Cold meat).

2. Consomme of Four Treasurers (Clear soup).

3. Fried Duck Liver.

4. Chicken.

5. Stir-fried Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots.

6. Roast Duck.

7. Duck Bone Soup.

8. Apricot and Beancake.

9. Fruits (Rose hips and strips of almond jelly in syrup).

Everything was absolute perfection and the duck was the star turn. It was carved in the kitchen and brought in piled high on platters. With it came plates of small pancakes, spring onions and bowls of plum jam. Our host demonstrated how Peking Duck should be eaten. No chop sticks, one uses ones fingers. Holding a pancake in one hand you place a spring onion on it, take a piece of duck, dip it into the plum jam, fold it into the pancake and eat it. The duck was succulent with a soft golden brown skin. The combination was superb. While we were eating our duck, (three times our platter was replaced with another, hot from the kitchen) the vice chairman stood up, and gave a short speech of greeting. Marje responded for us, brought out the scroll and presented it. The astonishment and pleasure it produced was quite up to our expectations. At first it was assumed that one of our party had done the calligraphy but it was so very good, who could do it? Marje then told of our little plot and the fun they had had tracking down the calligrapher.

The delectable sweet followed then we were asked if we would like to meet the chef and the kitchen staff. We were taken down stairs to the kitchen. After introductions the chef asked if we would like to know how the Peking Duck was cooked. From my diary ‘The duck is force fed for 60 days after hatching. After the duck is brought to the restaurant, water of 60 degrees Centigrade is poured over it to help in the removal of the feathers. It is then blown up with air to relax the fat. The body is then slit under one wing and the insides removed through that opening. The tail is plugged and the duck is hung over a rod, its head being still on. A bowl is placed under it and it is basted with molasses and water. The duck is then filled with boiling water, and placed in the oven hanging by the neck over another rod. The oven is open with an arched front. The fire is of date or pearwood, woods that do not smoke. The temperature in the oven is 200 degrees and a duck takes 35 minutes to cook in summer and 40 minutes in winter. About 20 ducks are cooked in the oven at one time.'