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Building Oil Industry Through Self-Reliance

— A visit to the new oil pipeline as well as Taching and Takang Oilfields (II)

by Our Correspondents Hsiang Jung and Yu Hai

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #2, January 10, 1975, pp. 13-16.]

The first part of this article appeared in our last issue. This is the second and concluding part. —Ed.

To lay a long-distance oil pipeline, the first thing is to get enough pipes—nearly 200,000 tons of large calibre steel pipes.

Making Pipes Through Diligence and Frugality

Originally there was only one pipe-making factory in northwest China producing these kinds of pipes, and that could not meet the project’s needs. It was decided to build pipe-making plants along the pipeline’s projected route.

In August 1970, six northeast cities received the state order to produce the steel pipes. Action was taken immediately and designing began in September. In less than four months, machines had been manufactured, installed and put into trial-operation. Another two months saw up-to-standard pipes being turned out.

We visited one factory—the oil pipe plant in Ssuping, Kirin Province. It stood on the old site of a timber mill and still had logs piles outside the gate. Tsung Pei-heng, chairman of the factory’s revolutionary committee, came to meet us. A middle-aged cadre, he was a one-time bench worker.

He told us: When the news of building a pipe-making factory reached Ssuping, the workers here were really excited and one after another applied for participation in the job. A “mass battle” began and the city authority organized 500 people from over 40 different factories to work in it.

They built the factory through sheer diligence and frugality. Workshops first had to be built quickly, and installing the machines followed. The small new factory suddenly became busy day and night. To seize the time, the cooks delivered food to the work-site. A few winks alongside the machines were all a sleepy worker had. Some didn’t even go home for several days.

All 90 pieces of equipment were made in more than 100 factories in different parts of the province in response to emergency orders, The biggest parts weighed some seven or eight tons and there were no hoists ready. Workers used shoulder poles and ropes to install them. When they were put into trial-operation, new problems came up. Things were solved by relying on revolutionary enthusiasm and collective wisdom of the workers and selfless support from other factories. None of the workers or cadres minded the tough going. All they had in mind was: “Produce pipes to contribute to oil transportation,” and finally they produced up-to-standard steel pipes.

In going around the factory, we saw no imported equipment. There were some machines that looked rough and ready, cast from old rolled steel. The workshops were just some ordinary big rooms and the office of the chairman of the revolutionary committee was in a small one-storey building of what had been the timber mill.

None of this really mattered. Old China had left us only a “poor and blank” basis. We have been building our country almost from scratch and from small to large through self-reliance and arduous struggle.

The ground was broken on September 25, 1970 for the Ssuping Steel Pipe Plant which was completed and put into production on December 25 the same year. In the three and a half years between 1971 and the first half of 1974, it had produced 340-kilometre-long large calibre steel pipe, all of desired quality. Not content with what they had already attained, the workers were making further efforts to raise their production and technical levels.

People Are the Most Precious

We saw an article on one of the newspapers published at the pipe-laying work-site, “This Is No Mirage.” It told of a veteran herdsman who took his flock to an old haunt early one morning. When he got there a building was standing where there had been nothing. Was he seeing things? He had passed by the evening before when he collected the sheep and there was only a vast stretch of grassland.

This was no mirage. A construction team had hurried there and had promptly got down to work. Limited in number, its workers asked support from nearby rural people’s communes. Nearly a hundred commune members immediately showed up. Because of the cold, they had to have hot water to mix the mortar. Every household was mobilized to heat water and carry it to the worksite. From children over eight to old people over 60, all came to help. From dusk till dawn they spent nine hours to finish all the work, from laying the foundation to covering the roof.

Laying the whole pipeline also was helped by the masses along the route. A deep trench running through a long stretch of farmland had to be dug. The work had to start after the autumn harvest and be completed before the freezing season set in so as not to interfere with farmwork.

Time was pressing. How to accomplish, the task? The people’s government told the peasants along the route the significance of the pipeline to industrial development. Many applied to work on the job and applicants in many counties and communes were more than ten times the number needed. Villagers put a big red flower on the chest of each young peasant who had been accepted to take part, like people sending young men to join the people’s army during the period of the revolutionary wars.

Tens of thousands of peasants, workers and P.L.A. men together took less than half a month to finish digging over 1,000 kilometres of the trench.

The backbone force in laying the pipeline is a vigorous professional contingent which shouldered all the technical tasks. We visited the No. 2 engineering subheadquarters. Recruited from more than 20 provinces, workers and staff had travelled many places building the oil industry. As the lines in the popular Song of Oil Workers go: “I’m finding oil for the motherland. Where there is oil, my home is there.”

We were told by workers: They often worked in ice or snow during winter. Sometimes they had to lie on the ice while welding pipes and their cotton-padded clothes stuck to the ice when they had finished welding. Sandstorms were frequent when spring came. If sand was blown into their rice bowls, they said: “The blue sky is my tent and the earth my bed. Sand and rice are not bad.”

It is these ordinary yet great workers, peasants and P.L.A. men who use their own hands to paint the freshest and the most beautiful pictures on China’s vast land and who are writing a new chapter in the history of the rapid progress of socialist China.

Chairman Mao has said: “Of all things in the world, people are the most precious. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, as long as there are people, every kind of miracle can be performed.” (The Bankruptcy of the Idealist Conception of History.) We build our country through self-reliance. Whom should we rely on to do this? It is the millions, the masses. Without the mass line, there can be no self-reliance.

Oil Refining

Not only has China’s crude oil output increased by a big margin, but the oil refining industry also has made big strides. We went to Fushun, a coal centre in the northeast, to see one of the three refineries there—the No. 2 Oil Refinery.

An old oil refinery from pre-liberation days, it has completely changed. First built in 1941 during the Japanese occupation, it was a rather small refinery which started extracting oil from shale in 1945. Production stopped soon afterwards. Liberation in 1949 restored production and it was gradually expanded. Starting from 1962, it was transformed into one mainly refining crude since it then had 13 sets of big processing equipment that had been made by self-reliance. Today, it is a big, modern petrochemical plant producing various high-quality fuels and petrochemical products.

Annual processing capacity of the few imperialist-run broken-down refineries before liberation was only 100,000 tons. Following the opening up of oil resources after liberation, the oil-refining industry has developed at a high speed. Relying on her own efforts, China completed her first big, modern refinery—the Taching Refinery—in 1962. In its wake came a number of modern refineries, with China designed, made and installed equipment. The first big, modern petrochemical complex in the country—the Peking General Petro-Chemical Plant capable of producing over 300 kinds of fuel oil and petrochemical products—was completed in 1969. The processing capacity of the new refineries constructed in the 1960s was eight times that of the 1950s.

The imperialists always claim that the people of the developing countries can’t do anything for themselves. Driven out in 1949, they said we Chinese could not even maintain the few small ill-equipped petroleum plants they were forced to leave behind. When we began to develop on the weak basis we had, they scoffed at our backward techniques.

However, things always happen contrary to the wishes of the imperialists. With their own crude oil, China’s oil workers now not only can produce large quantities of ordinary fuels and lubricants, but also aviation fuel and lubricants for use under extremely high or low temperatures, and special petroleum products for advanced science and techniques and for the national defence industry. China is self-sufficient in petroleum products in both variety and quantity, and exports a small portion of them.

Accelerating Rate of Advance

Since the opening up of the Taching Oilfield in the early 1960s, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which started in 1966 has further promoted the growth of China’s oil industry. The Shengli and Takang Oilfields were opened during the Cultural Revolution.

We went to the Takang Oilfield which is in the coastal area of north China.

Started in spring 1964, Takang was explored and built through China’s own efforts. The oilfield is rich in oil and gas resources and its crude oil is of high industrial and economic value. The average annual increase of crude oil output at Takang was 60.9 per cent between 1967 and 1973. (See “Newly Built Takang Oilfield,” Peking Review, No. 21, 1974.)

The nationwide movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius that began in early 1974, is a new motive force in Takang’s big advance. The southern zone of the oilfield was just opened in May and June last year. Only two months were spent to get the new wells there to produce much high-quality crude oil—a high speed “mass battle.” The daily output created by the two months’ work in this zone is equivalent to one-tenth of the oilfield’s daily capacity acquired in the previous ten years.

We interviewed some builders here. They said: The opening of the new oil zone is a rich result of the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius.

The campaign has strengthened the workers’ and staff’s determination to speed up oilfield construction and evoked their spirit of innovation. For example, a hoisting method was traditionally used in building metal oil tanks with a large storage capacity, which required many machines and high labour intensity. Efficiency was low too. In opening the new oil zone, they used the new pneumatic floating method recently learnt from other places. When the new technology was suggested, many workers welcomed it while a few people, thinking it unreliable, preferred the old one. The latter were afraid that because time was pressing, production would be hampered if the test failed.

They did not argue over the actual work of whether to adopt the new technology or to use the old method. They first criticized Lin Piao and Confucius’ crime in plotting restoration and retrogression. Reactionaries like Lin Piao and Confucius tried to turn back the wheel of history, while revolutionary people must accelerate the advance of history. Being bold in innovations and swiftly building a new oil zone are concrete actions in criticizing Lin Piao and Confucius. When their thinking is unified as mentioned above, they merged their efforts. At first installation went smoothly. Difficulties appeared later. Some conservative-minded people carped and criticized. But most people were not daunted. They studied Chairman Mao’s On Practice and opposed sticking to the old way without change. They criticized the theory of “genius” and put their faith in overcoming difficulties through collective wisdom. Successful, the new floating method raised efficiency four-fold. The workers said: “We oppose being conservative and stand for innovation. This is a powerful rebuff to Lin Piao and Confucius’ line of restoration and retrogression.” There were many similar examples like this in opening up the new oil zone.

Stories of how the movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius has brought on revolution in designing have also spread in Takang. To transport Takang’s natural gas to a synthetic ammonia factory under construction, a long-distance pipe had to be laid. The oilfield’s designing institute was given the task last February. The movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius was in full swing at that time. The big-character posters on the grounds criticized Lin Piao and Confucius’ idealist apriorism, coupling it with the influence of the revisionist line, such as being divorced from reality and clinging to the old rules in designing. The institute leadership put up big-character posters, welcoming and supporting the masses’ opinions.

A “three-in-one” surveying and designing group of workers, technicians and engineers and leading cadres was organized. It was determined to overcome past designing shortcomings and to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius by deeds.

Instead of designing in their offices or working after just a quick look at the spot, the designers travelled 1,700 kilometres on foot or by vehicle to make a detailed on-the-spot survey of the ten proposed plans. Having repeatedly consulted with the peasants along the proposed route, they finally selected a comparatively desirable one for the pipeline which economized on both rolled steel and took up less farmland. Chang Hsiao-yueh, the technician responsible for the designing, told us: “The design is quite suitable. This is not because of someone’s head being particularly brilliant as Lin Piao advocated, but it came from large amount of investigation and study and listening fully to the opinions of the peasants along the route. Lin Piao and Confucius advocated ‘born with knowledge,’ but we maintain that real knowledge comes from practice. They propagated the theory of ‘genius,’ while we uphold the truth that the masses are the real heroes.”

We visited some Takang drilling teams and oil extraction teams and were impressed by their energetic spirit. Their average age is only 21.

The No. 2 team of the No. 1 oil producing section has 230 members, over one-third of them are young women. Deputy team leader Chen Ming-chen is 21. In the past, oil extraction workers were mainly responsible for paraffin removal in the oil wells, sweeping floors, measuring oil and gas. And geologists were responsible for the underground oil strata. The movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius promoted further the workers’ enthusiasm. On their own initiative, they suggested that they also look after the underground oil strata. Since last year the team has kept a close watch on 37 wells—recording data once every five minutes, extracting oil samples and measuring the gas every half an hour. They thus obtained 15,900 data and got to know the “temper” of every well. By measures designed to improve the situation, they conquered wells whose output was unsteady and restored production in those close to extinction. As a result, the team’s average daily output in September 1974 increased 36.3 per cent as compared with the corresponding period the year before, without any new wells being put into operation.

When we went to see the team, young people just off shift were rehearsing theatrical pieces for New Year’s Day they had written or composed themselves. One of their rhymed, fast talk ballads said: “The movement to criticize Lin Piao and Confucius has raised our enthusiasm. We are determined to overcome every difficulty in production. Our oil extracting task will be fulfilled ahead of schedule and this will be our present to the Party on New Year’s Day.”

All Takang is seething with activity. So are those places we went to in our travels of more than 1,000 kilometres—from Chinhuangtao, the terminal of the newly built pipeline, to the famous Taching Oilfield; from the pipe-making plant in Ssuping to the oil refinery in Fushun. Everywhere we were impressed with the soaring enthusiasm and high aspiration. Under the guidance of Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line, China’s oil industry is sure to develop at a faster speed along the road of independence and self-reliance.

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