Letters from China

Letter Number 1
On Harvest Moon, U-2, Peace

Sept. 17, 1962

Dear friends,

You will be glad to know that a good crop is being reaped on the North China Plain, which means that GRAIN is now in fair supply in all areas of China. Honan and Shantung were the last bad spots; now these have come across. Their June crop--winter wheat--was poor for drought continued into the fourth spring. Summer rains gave good autumn crops of maize, sorghum, millet, sweet potatoes. Szechuan, normal bread-basket for other provinces, also had drought in spring but a good second crop. South of the Yangtze the early rice came in long ago, and was good except in scattered flood areas. Four autumn hurricanes have already hit the late rice on the coast, bringing mixed curses and blessings. Wanda, the biggest, damaged 80,000 acres near Swatow, but brought needed rain widely to Kwangtung Province. It also hit Hongkong; the Kwangtung Branch of the Chinese People's Relief has already sent 75 tons of rice to the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Hongkong as a gift for "Wands victims".

I first got the good news from Honan from Shirley Wood. You may know her mother, Doris Dawson of Los Altos, Calif. Shirley married a Chinese engineer years ago and now lives in Kaifeng with her husband and six children. She teaches English in a Normal College, right in the heart of the drought area. She came to Peking for her August vacation and spent a week with me. She said the worst time there was early spring of 1961, and the past spring was not good either, but they had hopes because of summer rains. Then she went back to Kaifeng and her Sept. 1 letter told me the hoped for change had come.

"Honan is having a tremendous harvest. Grain prices in the rural market (where peasants sell produce from "private plots") are rapidly dropping even before the sweet potatoes come in. Meat and eggs are so plentiful that there is no need of a ration ticket. Usually eggs taper off at this season, but this year their prices still drop. Supplies are more plentiful than in Pekin and crops are even better looking".... Epstein got similar news from Shantung. Two of Rewi Alley's former students came on a visit from northern Manchuria where they had drought a year ago and said that this year's crop is "positively bumper".

Around Peking the reaping has been in full swing. My secretary Chao Feng-feng asked for a week's leave to "do physical labor" on the farm. She came back looking a bit browner--she was already brown from swimming at Peitaiho--and told good news from the commune next to our Peace Committee's farm. They have eight brigades and every brigade reported "tens of thousands of pounds above the plan". If you give it in tons it doesn't sound much. But after all, you eat it in pounds and not in tons. It was certainly success.

With this good news from the northern area, the tension relaxes day by day. Damage remains that will take a couple of years to tidy up; many draught animals were eaten for want of fodder and to save the people. But the first important victory is won.

It is clearly a collective victory, not merely a bit of better weather. Everyone grew food. The place Feng-feng worked is a farm on wasteland reclaimed in 1958 by the Peace Committee and other organizations; they raised vegetables, fruit and pigs to improve their diningroom. The Peace Committee even grows corn, soy, vegetables and raises over 50 hens and many rabbits, right in the down-town yard. Our housekeeper--who keeps house for a house with four families, got 200 eggs from one of her two hens, but the other hen was unproductive and went into the pot for the Moon Festival. Personal chickens have been quite a feature; you feed them garbage and a bit of grain from your "ration".

Dividends from the "Big Leap" still come in. The fruit trees planted by Peking citizens in 1958-59 -- they claim 28 MILLION new trees--came across this year with more fruit than Peking ever had in its centuries of history. Big luscious peaches, juicy and sweet, pears of many kinds, apples in quantity, some as big and red as prize Wenatchees, grapes from big red Malagas to the long thin lady-slipper. Three fruit markets in one block, all crammed with fruit for the Moon Festival.

The hard years have also promoted vegetables; all cities now get more fresh vegetables from their suburbs than they ever had before. I saw 35 kinds in a big Shanghai market, all at low price. Our Peking cook provides egg-plant in a dozen ways, cauliflower, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and lately corn on the cob. My white bread from the "foreign store" tastes of the virgin-soil Canadian wheat, but the steamed rolls made in our kitchen use the regular Peking flour, which has a lot of maize and sorghum in it, wheat being short. The taste is not at all bad.

The Peace Committee threw a party for its foreign residents and staff--about 50 people--on the night of the Moon Festival Sept. 13. We took a dining-room at a famous restaurant on Peihai Lake in the old imperial palace, run by cooks who inherited the recipes of the Empress Dowager's favorite dishes.... My favorite was pieces of white meat of chicken cooked with walnuts; I took four helpings and cut out six courses later on. (Don't gasp; Chinese helpings are small.) Everyone stuffed himself as we do at Thanksgiving; Harvest-Moon is the same kind of festival. Several small children got up to sing and dance between tables, probably to shake down the food. One was an 11-year-old very black girl from the Cameroons. Her father was murdered as a fighter for independence; her mother goes on with the fight and left the little girl in Peking for an education. She was very shy at first, but now is uproarious, adding a real African flair much admired by her more restrained Chinese playmates. Afterwards we strolled by the lake, with the Harvest Moon shining on the waters.

The shooting down of the U-2 came into our talk, along with legends of the Moon Goddess and tales of how the Yuan Dynasty was overthrown by hiding daggers in moon-cakes. You saw in the Western press that a U-2, originally sold by the U.S.A. to Chiang Kai-shek, flew over East China and was brought down Sept. 9 by the Chinese air-force. Washington comment seemed confined to explaining that the U.S.A. has no responsibility for Chiang. You probably missed some news we got here. A former air-force officer of Chiang's, Wu Pao-chih, himself shot down in August 1961 while spying over China in a U.S.-made RF-101, revealed that all such spying is directly under U.S. officers' orders; that the U-2s have a special enclosure where Chiang's ordinary officers are not admitted, and that U.S. officers give the pilot his directions, and insert and take out the films, and the photos belong to the U.S. 13th Air Task Force and not to Chiang. This doesn't surprise anyone here!

From here Kennedy seems to be stepping up tension and looking for a war, either by expanding the war he runs in Viet Nam already, burning and bombing large areas of unhappy villages, or via Chiang's wish for a last fling before he dies--he is said to be very ill. All spring and summer Chiang spent millions of U.S. dollars mobilizing and transporting large forces to the coastal islands and the Pescadores, mobilizing transport, holding joint maneuvers with U.S. troops up to and including landing operations, and conferring with a lot of top U.S. brass. Peking finally mobilized on a large scale, especially on the beaches, but made it conspicuously defensive by not having any sea-transport around. Alsop broke the story by attacking "Peking's aggression"; then Peking cut loose with charges that the U.S. was backing Chiang in an invasion. This forced several governments to take positions, including MacMillan, Kennedy, Khrushchov. Kennedy's assertion that the U.S. Fleet would prevent "aggression by either side", calmed things for a time. But when the U.S. keeps hundreds of war bases in a crescent around China, pointing missiles at China's cities, boasts of controlling the China Seas, moves troops in and out of Thailand, massacres widely in Viet Nam, and openly removes troops from Laos but still keeps dropping commandos via the CIA into the Laos hills, ... nobody here thinks Kennedy promotes peace.

We have more hopes from that recent Tokyo A and H Bomb Conference, which Peking cheers as the "most successful peace conference of 1962", a year which had a lot of peace conferences of many kinds. The highlight of the Tokyo Conference to me, as an American, was that there was a big American delegation with a lot of new "peace-mongers" and for the first time they were willing to name and oppose "U.S. IMPERIALISM" as the chief danger of nuclear war. This change in American attitude, even if only among a few people, opens the way to what has long been hoped for: a big international drive for "Peace Zone in the Pacific"...an ocean now poisoned with nuclear tests and actual wars.... China has long proposed this; we hope that some Americans will begin demanding it now!