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Working in China

Orville Schell recently returned from an unusual nine week work trip to China.   The trip was arranged by an American family with close and friendly contacts with various high ranking Chinese leaders.   One of the first of its kind, the group worked on a rural farm work brigade for three weeks, in a Shanghai electrical machinery factory for two weeks, and toured China from North to South for the remaining weeks.

He reports that his trip was "incredibly exciting and interesting." He was deeply impressed with the energy and progress which the Chinese have been making on almost every front.   He mentions also certain aspects of China which were both "unsettling,"and "difficult to adjust to for a hopelessly individualistic western reprobate."

He is presently at work on a long series of magazine articles about the trip and a book to be published by Random House.
Orville prepared the definitive "Access to China"section in the WHOLE EARTH EPILOG (pp. 626 - 633).  He is co-author of Modern China (1972; Random House).  His brother Jonathan Schell has been a regular contributor
to The New Yorker on Vietnam.

Three Women

"Do you want to get married?"

"Oh, yes."    ■ ;   ,-


"Not until about 27. Now is the time we are strongest, and we want to concentrate on building socialisms"

"Why do you want to get married?"

There is a pause. Then, "Well, to have children."

"How many do you hope to have?"

"Two, as suggested by the Party."

"Do Chinese enjoy sex?"

Long pause. A married woman answers. "Yes, of course. But we do not talk about it all the time. And it is not appropriate to discuss it in front of people who are unmarried."

Master Chang and Me
Each day I work with Master Chang toying copper coils into large D.C. electric motors at the Shanghai Electric Motor Factory. We arise at six, begin the work day at 7:00, have an hour for lunch in the factory canteen at 10:45, return to work until 3:00. In the evening there are study groups, sports, evening classes or time to be alone with your family. Workers usually retire around 9:00.

The work pace in the shops is very relaxed. There is no frenzy, no complaining and little of the tension which surrounds most American workers. There is always time to stop and chat. It is not uncommon to see people standing now and again in small groups around the floor of the shop talking and smiling. Since each worker sees his piece of equipment through many stages of production (both manual and automated), there is no assembly line pressure. Master Chang works slowly and thoroughly.
Rather than work fast, most workers do extra volunteer time in the shop without pay.
Leading cadres (equivalent to our management and executives) work in the shops along side of us. When they pass by, no one stops talking, speeds up or tries to look industrious.

One thing which impresses me immensely, is the absence of the old jam and crash syndrome; work hard and kill oneself in order to get more time off for leisure at night, on week-ends or vacations. In fact, there seems to be little or no concept of leisxure in China. Workers and peasants do not make a sharp distinction between work and pleasure. Moments of relaxation and conviviality are mixed right into the flow of the average day. Work and play seem to be so well fused together, that it is hard to even elicit a recognition that there might be a distinction.

Never do I hear workers sitting around and discussing or grumbling over how much or how little they were making.
Brain Surgery
Scalpels quickly cut along the cross marked on het forehead. The patieiit is a woman worker from Hunan who has been sent to Shanghai to have a tumor removed &om the area of her pituitary gland.

The cut flesh bleeds profusely. The scalp is peeled back like a mango skin and clamped with hemostats. The blood is sucked away with vacuum hoses.

One of the neuro-surgeons takes a brace and bit-like surgical instrument, and commences to drill four holes through her skull. A two inch square piece of bone is cut out with a wire surgical saw, exposing the woman's naked brain below. The doctors move with deft precision.

As the operating team reaches into this ragged red square aperture towards the tumor pressing against her pituitary gland, a nurse brings in a dish of peeled slices of apple for the patient to eat if she becomes hungry. The American polygraph monitoring her body functions shows all normal. There are no problems of depressed functions associated with more familiar kinds of anasthesia. The patient is being relieved of pam throu^ acupuncture; through needles inserted in her feet and brow which are charged with a sUght electrical impulse.

The patient is fully conscious as the operation proceeds. She is capable of eating. As the surgery advances, the doctors speak with her, sketch her in on their progress, reassure her.

In three hours the operation is near completion. The bone is replaced, and the various levels of tissue sutured back together. Her head is bandaged. As she is wheeled out of the operating room, she waves good-bye to us, and says, "Thank yoo for coming."
In the rugged Taihang mountains in Shensi Province, almost every field has been hand cut out of flie steep mountain sides. In the past, heavy rains have been the sorrow of the Chinese peasant, washing fields and crops down into the river beds.

During the last 15 years the peasantry have begun stronger and weU crafted terraces and water works out of stone. The stone blocks are laboriously chipped by hand from quarries. One village, Shih Hng, in Hsi Yang County, has hewn some 14,000 cubic yards of rock into blocks to build underground irrigation tunnels and cisterns of over 7,000 yards. The tunnels are 12 feet high, 16 feet wide, and are some of the finest masonry since Roman times.

The villagers figure that a good mason can hew 40 blocks a day. There are approximately 27 blocks in a cubic yard.

This village of 480 households, hewed 378,000 blocks in five years for their reclamation work. Each stone block was then carried and placed by hand.
Three little boys
Question: "What do you want to be when you grow up.


"Anything the Party needs."

"I want to serve the people."

"I want to join the People's Liberation Army and get the bad guys."

Fish Commune

"Our Commune is almost all water. We used to ail be poor fishermen who lived on their boats and had to even rent the water from local despots in order to fish. It was a haid poor life. We had a local saying about fishermen who never had a house and never could take a bath. We said, They are so poor and smelly, 'that when a fisherman passed a gate, the cat would follow him for 3 li.'

"Now, we actually raise fish. Through the years we have learned to use fish culture as our main line, but also to cultivate complementary sideline enterprises. For instance, our commune raises minks, chickens, and pigs at the same time. As it turns out, chickens love to eat mink droppings, pigs love chicken shit, fish love pig shit, and then in turn, the mink love fish heads and guts. Then, in our fish breeding ponds we cultivate three separate layers of fish. The top fish eat the pig shit, the middle level fish eat the waste from the top level fish, and the bottom fish are suckers, and eat anything that comes their way. It works out quite well. Chairman Mao teaches that bad things can be made into good things."
Blind Worker
The Shanghai No. 2 Low Voltage Electrical Appliance Factory is run by 450 workers. 120 are blind, 80 are deaf mutes, 40 are crippled.

An older worker. Comrade Lou, blinks her lids over pale empty sockets, and speaks.
"I lost my sight at 15 because of an eye disease. We did not have the money to see a doctor. What could I do? I had to become a fortune teller, to deceive people to make a living. But I had no other way out. Not only did I not have enough to wear and eat, and had no place but the street upon which to sleep, but rich people looked down on me and hooligans beat me up.

"Before liberation, the hardest time for the blind was the winter. I died in the streets ... don't know how many of us blind . . . just froze to death."

Dance troupe
I ask Shih Clieng-hui to open hei mouth. She waes eie off in embarrassment.
"Wider," I say!

I get a quick look. She has no cavities.

"Do Chinese children have a lot of cavities," I ask?

"No," she says. "Maybe some of the older peasants or children in backward areas have some. But now we are all very conscious of how we take care of our teeth. There are posters everywhere telling children, and adults, how to brush them, use tooth picks and not drink things which are too hot or cold." (The Chinese have some of  the finest tooth picks in the world, made out of sturdy, slender, durable rattan [bamboo]).

"Do children like to eat candy?"

"Of course. But they can not eat it all the time."

"Do they get allowances to spend themselves?"

"Well, first they must learn how to spend money wisely. And they do not get money until they can work. Their parents will buy things for them. Otherwise, they would just go out and spend it wantonly on candy and toys. Besides, you know, candy is not cheap here in China, and the children eat almost no sugar in their food, so their mouths are not always watering for candy the way I think yours does."
Dock Worker, Liu Fu-chu
"In the old days on the docks before liberation, we used to unload a lot of coal carrying it on our backs. Sometimes a coolie (in Chinese, literally, Ku-li, "bitter work") would slip and fall off flie gang plank. Maybe he would seriously injure himself or be killed. And you know what? When someone fell, the foreman would run over and get mad!

"I had a friend who once fell. We hurried over to help him. Then the foreman
came, and saw that he was dead.

" 'Get to work,' he said! 'What does it matter if there is one less coolie? With one call we can get 100 more!'

"So, we used to say about old Shanghai, that if you were looking for 100 dogs, it would not be easy to find them. But if you were looking for 100 coolies, there was no problem."

"Funerals have changed now," says Lao Geng tilting back in his chair and rocking to and fro.

"When people die in the countryside now, it is quite simple. Yes, there is grief. But it Is not like the old days with all the sacrifices, ceremonies and big expenses that drove many peasants to ruin.

"My father passed away last year. He was just a poor peasant. He worked all his life for this landlord. But at least he had his old age after liberation. Anyway, we buried him. In the countryside we peasants still don't like to cremate the dead like in the cities. There is still a little bit of conservatism, even superstition. We aren't used to the new ideas, and just don't like seeing our relatives burned up.

"In this town we usually call a town meeting. We dress the dead in new clothes and lay them out on a pallet. After a short gathering, where friends speak a few words of praise, the body is taken to the hUls to an arranged place and buried in a small cave dug out of the earthen cliff-side. The family usually follows along carrying brightly colored paper wreathes which they leave at the burial place. But nothing expensive. We don't even use coffins. Maybe in some other places they do. But not here. In fact, after the body is placed in the cave, the wooden pallet is taken back and saved. Then the cave is sealed with stones and earth.

"In the old days we used to have family plots right out in the middle of good fields because of superstitions about geomancy. But not now. That wastes good land. Now, no one even spends much money. It is discouraged.

"Well, that's the way it is now in China."    ...    „/■■
Conversation on Marriage Problems
"Well, yes of course, we sometimes feel a contradiction between our home life and our work and politics. If you're working all the time late, and so is your wife ... well, I'm not saying that it is always easy. But if you're out late and don't come home, at least your wife doesn't worry. Why should she? What can happen? It's not like before when she might have thought you were out playing around with someone else. That doesn't happen. Well, I won't say never. But it's rare. So, people don't feel so suspicious."

It's dark in the moving bus. Lao liu, an effervescent middle aged man rattles on about mairiage, a subject most Chinese seem to avoid.

"Fights between husbands and wives? Well, there are still some. But not so many. People marry late. Men are thirty and women late twenties. They have more experience, and they are politically more advanced. If there is a disagreement... well, you know about criticism and self criticism. We try and talk about it; figure out the contradictions in the problem. If there's a big fight, OK. Everyone around will know, right? We all live so close. So, you can't keep it private. Sure, we might feel a little embarrassed. But, maybe it's better anyway. People hear and come to help. They might say, 'OK, now what's wrong? What are the problems here? Just sit down. Take it easy!'"

"It's mutual help. Very few people get divorced. You know, we have a whole different social system. There is not so much emphasis on romantic love and two people's private lives.  It's not like your country, is it?"