First Published: Guardian, May 19, 1971.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“If the revolution requires me to pull a dung-cart, then I pull a dung-cart. If it requires me to drive around in a car, I drive around in a car.” That was how Tsang Wu Liang, ex-deputy head of the municipal council of East Peking summed up one of the lessons instilled by the cultural revolution.
A few weeks earlier he and other students at the East Peking municipality May 7th cadres’ school actually had been pulling dung carts and sprinkling human manure on the fields after cleaning out the school latrines. And not so long before that he had been driving around in a car as an important Peking bureaucrat. Cheerful, bronzed, very fit for someone in his late fifties, Tsang Wu Liang was quite philosophic and provided a fascinating example of the cultural revolution and the “struggle between two lines.”
“I had been a poor peasant and faithfully served the Revolution,” Tsang Wu Liang said. “But after Liberation they made me a bureaucrat. I completely lost contact with the people. I thought it was quite normal to drive back and forth to my office, give orders and sign papers, never even thinking about the people affected by my orders and papers. In the old days in the army I thought it quite normal to work alongside peasants, sprinkling manure and so on.
“But under Liu Shao Chi I became poisoned by the idea that high officials should not demean themselves with manual labor. Here at the cadres’ school we put into effect Chairman Mao’s line that ’cadres of the party and state are not overlords sitting on the backs of the people.’ Om job is to serve the people at all times, in all ways. Now I am very happy to have my feet in the soil again and to have close contact with the people.”
Tsang Wu Liang was one of 1500 cadres at this school taking a sort of “refresher course” in revolution. The school was really a farm to which they had added a makeshift factory with an annual production of 200,000 four-gallon metal buckets. Most of study time was spent in the fields or factory. Hundreds of such schools have been set up all over China. Their name refers to May 7, 1966, when Chairman Mao issued a directive on education designed to get state and party cadres off what he considered was the wrong track laid down by Liu Shao Chi. Hundreds of thousands of cadres, 50,000 in Peking alone, became redundant when overstaffing, mainly duplication of state and party posts, was eliminated during the Cultural Revolution. About three-quarters of those that lost their jobs are now in May 7 cadres schools, some of them with their families.
This drastic reduction of government cadres and the no less drastic re-education through spartan living, hard work, productive labor and study of Mao Tse-tung’s thoughts is one of the ways by which China is striking a death blow against the crystallization of a self-perpetuating, privileged governing class, stigmatised as a key element in revisionism. Probably more than anything else, this was the aim of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.”
About two-thirds of the original 1512 students had graduated after periods ranging up to a little over two years and been posted to administrative jobs at different levels all over the country, “welcomed because of their grease and toil-stained hands,” as the chairman of the school’s revolutionary committee expressed it. Some 600 others had gone off to study at general educational organizations of the East Peking municipality. There is a constant turnover of students as there is no time limit on the study courses, which are primarily intended to “remold a person’s outlook,” as director Wang explained it.
The May 7 cadres’ schools represent a key element in Mao’s daring experiment in the cultural revolution to transform man himself, and thus to transform human society. Can man be transformed into a completely selfless being, suppressing his individual desires and aspirations, or at least identify them with the interests of the collective?
When I asked for examples of the “struggle between two lines,” which refers to the Mao Tse-tung -Liu Shao Chi confrontation, or how Liu Shao Chi had taken the “capitalist road” the replies spoke of “profit motives instead of service to the people,” an “accent on money, not people and bonuses for star workers instead of using advanced workers to raise the general level” in industry; an “accent on the private plot instead of collective, production” on the farms; and “studying for high marks, fame and good jobs instead of serving the people” in education.
Mao has placed all his cards on his conviction that man can be remolded and even in one generation can be brought to renounce individual material incentives in favor of society as a whole. To convey his ideas, Mao has fused Marxist dialectics with classical Chinese Confucian concepts of austerity, probity, social responsibility and patriotism. While creative art forms have been put into cold storage for a time, philosophy has come down to the street, factory and farm. From kindergarten on, Chinese are grappling with Maoist philosophical concepts, encouraged to test them in their day-to-day activities, to measure everything they do against Chairman Mao’s thoughts. The process is providing the nation with a monolithic, unified moral-political code and guide to action – a formidable weapon.
At least to visitors, virtually every problem in China today is explained as involving the “struggle between two lines” and it seems that Chinese at all levels are encouraged to view problems in the same way. Liu Shao Chi, one is informed, wanted highly centralized industries run on Soviet lines with “specialists in command.” Mao wanted, and has achieved, millions of small backyard factories, developing parallel with modern ones with the “masses in command” in both cases. “Self- reliance” has become the keynote of all economic planning. The “armchair specialist,” perhaps a hangover of the disorder after Soviet specialists were abruptly withdrawn, has become an object of ridicule, a favorite target of cartoonists, always portrayed as a “mystifier” who thwarted the creative initiative of the masses.
The backyard factories are as Maoist as people’s war. They represent a maximum dispersal of industry, which absorbs the considerable skills of Chinese artisans in a directed and organized way. They must also be seen as exemplifying the nationwide slogan: “Be Prepared Against War! Be Prepared Against Natural Disasters! Do Everything For The People!” launched after Liu was ousted.
The street factories and those attached to every commune, university and school could maintain production of essential goods and services no matter what happened. The stocking of grain from the household to production brigade and commune and at the county, provincial and national levels, must be seen in the same context. Likewise the fact that Peking and other major cities have been to a certain extent duplicated underground, with broad thoroughfares traversing them in all directions. (Apparently one can traverse every major city without ever coming to the surface, according to embassy personnel from friendly countries who have been taken on tours.)
Much of the unified motive force for what is now termed the “continuing revolution” is coming from the graduates of the May 7 cadres schools who have been remolded “closer to Chairman Mao’s desires.” If the new outlook remains and the graduates carry it out in their new administrative work, then a crippling blow will have been dealt to the bureaucracy that has always plagued China, even after the revolution.
As I left the East Peking municipality May 7 cadres’ school after a full day experiencing the cheerful, relaxed atmosphere among the students I felt that Mao’s daring experiment in remolding man’s outlook is succeeding.