-by Ernie Diaz
Thrilling foreign tourists was not a high priority for China three-and-a-half decades ago. Mighty Helmsman Mao had just gone on to his great reward, leaving his country the work of winding down the Cultural Revolution he had fomented.
That work, akin to the labors of an obsessed inventor, desperate to prove his contraption isn’t just a bucket of bolts, gave us gems like China Travel. No sarcasm there, believe it or not, for the books are rare prisms with which to view the very special state of mind that made them.
Back then, China Travel and Tourism Press cadres would have choked at suggestions to include Lijiang’s Old Town, or the towers of Chikan. China was moving on from all that feudal, reactionary claptrap, moving on to socialist paradise, damn it! As the introduction to China Travel puts it:
After undertaking socialist revolution and socialist construction for more than twenty years since liberation under the wise leadership of our great leader Chairman Mao Tsetung and the Communist Party of China, and particularly undergoing the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, “everywhere orioles sing, swallows dart,” and one finds in China “new scenes replacing the old.”
Ready to pack your bags yet – or still picturing a Disney-fied Chairman Mao, strolling along singing “Zippity Doo Da” while orioles sing and swallows dart? That’s because the westerner is intrinsically lazy. For the few big-noses with a proper grasp of dialectical materialism, however, boy did China T&T have things to show you, especially in Henan:
Rallying most closely round the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Hua Kuo-feng, the masses here, as everywhere else in China, are carrying out Chairman Mao’s behests, taking class struggle as the key link, adhering to the Party’s basic line, persevering in continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat and advancing courageously to seize new victories in socialist revolution and socialist construction.
Who are we to deny the dictatorship of the proletariat – reactionaries or something? Here are highlights from the Henan edition of China Travel, no better way of understanding why Chinese 50 and 60-somethings will still fix a foreigner with a look that says something clearly isn’t right with the state of the revolution.
Whatever slogans Zhengzhou is dreaming up to promote tourism today, may heaven help, “City of February 7th” has definitely been scratched off the steno pad. Some gratitude. Back in 1923, when the Chinese Communist Party was still pro-union, they organized the workers of the Beijing-Hankou Railway and promptly called a general strike. Local warlords made an afternoon’s entertainment of them on February 7th, killing dozens and maiming scores more. Still, as our travel guide crows, “The strike dealt a heavy blow at the imperialists and feudal warlords and fully demonstrated the great power and indomitable fighting spirit of the Chinese working class.”
Now you have some context to appreciate the twin towers above, the locus of Zhengzhou’s People’s Square. While New York’s World Trade Center stood in mute testament to the power of commercialism, the clock at the top of these socialist structures chimed “The East is Red” on the hour, every hour.
Any foreigners still tempted to visit Zhengzhou in ’77, and who actually obtained a visa, may well have been treated to a factory tour including this Potemkin-ready scene. You’ve got to hand it to the revolutionary Chinese, while the working class in Pittsburgh were content to clock out after a shift and go home to watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Zhengzhou’s workers put in long study hours to make sure their thinking was as precise as a punch-press.
The working class in Zhengzhou has built up a staunch theoretical contingent. The worker-theroists conscientiously study works by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and by Chairman Mao, and the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They take an active part in political movements and have become the backbone force in grasping revolution, promoting production.
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Forget ancient mother of Chinese civilization. In ’77, the Yellow River was a reactionary body of water, having breached the people’s dykes some fifteen hundred times pre-liberation. Following the inspiration of “Chairman Mao’s great call, ‘The work on the Huanghe River must be done well,’” Henan’s fresco-worthy heroes reinforced their stretch of the river with solid stone banks, covered with turf and bolstered with trees. “No breach since liberation,” the guide would tell a stupefied visitor.
Not that the proletariat was so serious as to not dictate a little fun now and then. A visitor wanting some traditional Chinese culture could pull up a corn stalk and enjoy a revolutionary rendition of The Red Lantern, comforted by the fact that these were no prima donna actors but “Literary and art workers, going in the midst of workers, peasants and soldiers and keeping to the orientation of serving them.”
In ’77, best not to mention that Luoyang had been capital of eight dynasties over a thousand years. And don’t even mutter “Birthplace of Chinese Buddhism”; monks are such a parasitic, anti-Marxist-Leninist bunch. No, what the China International Travel Service felt most of interest to the foreigner were triumphs like Luoyang’s ball-bearing factory.
China Travel knows what you’re thinking: “How can such succulent pears be possible? Our western running-dog lackey pears are mere kumquats by comparison!” Well, you may notice the intelligent gleam in the fruit-picker’s eyes. Freed from a stifling indoor education, she has been liberated for farm work, in league with her peasant betters. But not empty-handed.
Armed with dialectical materialism, they do a good job in cultivating pear trees, thus raising the yield of pears.
Rotten pear? Must have developed internal contradictions.
Twist an ankle sightseeing in Luoyang today, and you’ll be lucky if you can find a clinic that doesn’t want to up-sell you to a boob job. In the socialist seventies, doctors came to you, shoes optional. Of course, back then the peasant patients had as much prescribing to do as the medics. [Not pictured: Heidi looking for soft rolls to feed her grandmother.]
The Longmen Grottoes were open for tourism in those days. Of course, China Travel saw to slapping the religious opiate effect out of you, and putting the rock-carving in proper context:
This Dvarapalas is a masterpiece of art created by the labouring people of the Tang Dynasty. Before liberation, it had been removed surreptitiously by imperialists and national dregs, but not yet carried away.
Even today, Anyang holds little interest for foreigners besides archeologists and other lovers of ancient ruin. And what a ruin before liberation – “Anyang was dilapidated and had only a population of 60,000. The landlords and high officials wallowed in luxury and dissipation, while the working people went cold and hungry, with many wandering in the streets.” No luxurious wallowing in ’77, though, and look at those cotton-picking Little Red Guards go! Cold and street-wandering cured, with one glorious directive.