WOMEN AND SEX IN CHINA by Flora Chan
Chinese women have long been subjugated to the authority of men throughout history. Traditionally under the bondage of Confucian ideology women were deprived of the right to participate in political, social and economic activities. At home, it was men who played the dominating role. Women had to bear all the burden of the housework relegated to a position of subservience. Marriages were arbitrarily arranged by parents and women were bought and sold as commodities.
Although women have been hailed as being capable of "holding up half the sky" in present day China, the fact is much of the past repression remains. Despite limited changes, the women in China have never achieved real equality and emancipation in any real sense. An anatomy of the position of Chinese women in its political, economic and social dimension will have to eliminate the kind of discrimination that still exists and find a revolutionary approach to the question. We will have to find what this means and how it will be achieved.
Women in politics
It is clearly stipulated in the constitution of China that women "have the right to elect and to be treated on equal terms with men." However it is obvious that overall an overwhelming majority of the decision makers in the political echelons are men. In 1973, for example women only made up 20% of the delegates to the 10th National Party's Congress and made up only 12 members of the Party Central Committee. These figures are indicative of the cumulative inferiority of women when compared to the arenas where real political power is concentrated. This may partly be due to the fact that in general, the educated standards of women is lower than that of men (in Peking University, for example, 70% are male students). However, in general this only reinforces the traditional Chinese value that "women should not interfere in politics." However it has even been suggested that the fall Of Chiang ching may, to a certain extent, be due to the fact that as a woman, she is seen to be too politically ambitious and is therefore analogous to the notorious ancient woman empress – Wu Chok-tien and Empress Dowager, (a powerful and charismatic woman who unofficially but effectively controlled the Manchu Qing Dynasty in China for 47 years, from 1861 to her death in 1908. TN)
This is not to say, however, with Chiang Chin in the place of Hua Kua-feng or Deng Xiao-ping, or with more women active in the ruling echelon, the women in China would become more liberated. Rulers and bureaucrats, be they men or women are just as oppressed. Women's liberation does not, and should not; mean the creation of more women dictators or women bosses as we have already too many male ones already – but the abolition of all dictators and bosses. Indeed, as long as the hierarchical political set-up exists, there will never be any genuine liberation of women. This is exactly the case in China.
In China, where there is dictatorship of the Party, power is overwhelmingly concentrated in a handful of bureaucrats who rule in the name of the people but in fact are concerned with first and foremost their entrenched authority and privileges, managing an authoritarian, repressive regime, where democracy is virtually non-existent, and any form of election merely a sham. The so-called delegates "the 21 elected" by the people are but appointees by the Party and are in no way representative of the peoples' interests, be they men or women.
As for the masses, women and men alike are equally (!) deprived of the basic political rights such as freedom of speech, of association, or press etc. In this sense in China both men and women have never really been able to achieve political emancipation and are still very much subjected to the enslavement by the State.
Economic Independence or Exploitation
There has always been a tendency for the Chinese regime to identify women's liberation as the liberation of women in the narrow confines of their homes and their participation in productive work. It is the deliberate policy of the Chinese government to encourage women to contribute themselves to the economic reconstruction of the country as the essential step to liberation. Indeed as a contrast to the past, there have been an increasingly large proportion of women in the work force. After 1949 so much so that this statistic has always been cited by the Chinese official press as evidence to show how "liberated" Chinese women are. While one must admit that economic reform is a necessity and very important part of women's struggle towards liberation, it is obvious that economics is not the sole concern. More importantly, one must carefully examine the nature of economic participation by women to ask if it really leads to them becoming autonomous individual human beings capable of running their own lives. In China, it is true to say that the participation of women in production has nothing to do at all with attaining economic liberation but simply means more efficient economic exploitation of women by the State.
In China, the seizure of power by the Chinese Communist Party has never led to the development of a really socialist society free from exploitation and oppression. In place of the individual capitalists of the past, there emerges anew bureaucratic class who seized control of the country's economic resources and means of production in the name of the people and are able to amass great fortunes for themselves. The people, women and men alike, deprived of the rights to participate in the running of the farm or factory to which they belong. All economic plans are formulated and handed down from above and the people are not allowed to utter a word of criticism. They have to work for long hours and are rewarded with only a small portion of what they have produced, the rest being expropriated by the State. Under such circumstances, both men and women are just as exploited but perhaps with the women, more so.
In certain parts of China, for instance, women still do not have equal pay for casual work. One big character poster put up by women recently has disclosed the fact that in Shunai Province, women are not paid the same as men because of their alleged physical inferiority. In some places where equal work for equal pay is put into practise, women however still earn less than men as they very often have to cut short their working hours (and hence women lose less work points) in order to prepare dinner or to look after their children. As expected, at home it is almost always still the women who have to bear the responsibility of child rearing and doing the housework. Hence, like their counterparts in the capitalist societies. Chinese women are suffering from double exploitation – both at home and at work and are in no sense economically free.
Love, Marriage, and Sex
On the question of love, marriage and sex, Chinese women are even further away from really being liberated.
The Marriage Law promulgated in 1950 has abolished all feudal aspects of marriage and in its place advocates free love, though in reality however, love and marriage is far from free.
Firstly in order to get married, the couple not only have to consult their parents but more importantly, they have to seek the consent of the leading party cadre in their working unit. Very often, the party cadre can refuse them permission for reasons of age. Although the legal age for marriage to be 18 for women and 20 for men, in practise late marriage is encouraged and even endorsed as part of the policy to control population growth as well as to ensure more concentration on economic production by young people. So it is the rule rather than the exception that men and women have to reach the age of 27 and 25 respectively before they are allowed to get married.
Sometimes the party can also refuse to grant permission for marriage on the ground of class difference. For example, there is a story of a girl who came from a capitalist family. She was introduced to an "old worker" of the Shao Hwan Iron and Steel works. Shao was unmarried. He was then promoted to the publicity section of the Revolutionary Committee of his factory. The two agreed to marry. The old worker knew she was from a 'bad' family but accepted her for fear that he could not find a better girl. The girl congratulated herself for having found a safe "red" protector. They decided on the date of the wedding and notified friends and relatives. But they were happy too soon. The party official at the granary got wind of this and wrote to the Iron and Steel works, informing them of the girl's origin. This committee then asked the old worker to reconsider and that was the end of the marriage.
Secondly, marriage is now less and less determined by love but has become more and more a matter of political or economic concern. Love is no longer the most important criteria in choosing the right person to marry. More often people marry for the sake of political and economic convenience. As the above example has shown, many choose to marry with someone "red" enough to seek political asylum. Some may do so to enhance his or her political asset. For example, there's another case of an attractive girl from a clerical family. She went into the factory high school and became acquainted with a young man who was the son of an Indonesian Chinese, and hence one of the "friendly capitalists". The two were in love for two years. Then the girl joined the Communist Youth League and became an office holder. Before she joined the League the boy was only slightly below in status and love made up the balance. But now she had become an official and her standing rose, and love evaporated. They separated before long and this pretty and proud girl married herself to a colonel in the Peoples' Liberation Army who was old enough to be her father. She was not a 'proletarian' and this marriage was not recommendable in the strictest sense of the term, but it helped that she was fortunately a member of the Communist League. Comrades at the factory admired her for her clever abilities in capturing such a husband. She thought so too, only she had no love for this comrade colonel.
While people may marry for political reasons, they also divorce for political reasons. On the 14th of February 1979, for example a Maoist newspaper in Hong Kong reported a case of "reunion after 17 years of divorce." It told of a medical specialist Chang Ji-chang who had graduated in the United States and returned to China. He'd got married in 1941 with Chan Pi-tei whom he had known in the States. In 1957 Chang was classified as a 'rightist' and in order to protect their children, the couple divorced despite the fact that they had been married for nearly 20 years. It was not until last year when Chang was rehabilitated that they reunited. Such examples are ample. The famous Chinese writer Hai Mao had been struggled against thrice and hence divorced thrice; but since he had been rehabilitated thrice, he re-married thrice. The last time he was thrown down during the Cultural Revolution, he could take it no longer and committed suicide.
Apart from politics, economics also plays a very important role in people's marriage.
After the fall of The Gang of Four a number of reports have been released exposing the rampant practise of buying and selling in marriage. Because of the scarcity of women compared with the number of men, parents are able to impose harsh levies on men who want to marry their daughters. The most popular demands are the "3 Turnabouts and 1 Portable" – the 3 Turnabouts referring to watches, sewing machines, and bicycle and the 1 Portable referring to either the camera or the radio. In addition, they also demand that there be a big wardrobe, a suite of furniture including tables and chairs. Such demands may appear to be mediocre in the eyes of westerners but to the people of China they often mean several years savings! In this way marriage is commercialised and Chinese women once again rendered as commodities to be bought and sold on the market.
Casually speaking, the Chinese people, men and women are still very much a sexually frustrated lot. In order to facilitate the smooth functioning of society, the Chinese rulers have resorted to transforming the inner soul of the people through creating in them an "authoritarian character" (For more detailed discussion on the Personality Model and Authoritarian Character of the Chinese People, please refer to the article Mass Psychology in China published in Three Essays on the New Mandarins edited by Lee Yu See) one that is susceptible to accepting authoritarian rule thereby becoming docile instruments of the State. On the other hand, sexual repression is, as suggested by Wilhelm Reich, one of the key elements in the creation of such an authoritarian character. This explains why the Chinese Communist regime has adopted such a conservative and puritanical approach to the question of sex in China.
In China, sex, instead of being considered as a basic human need is more often seen as filthy and highly mystical, the indulgence in which will lead to the erosion of one's revolutionary spirit and the collapse of body and mind. Young people are therefore taught that sex is unnecessary and destructive so they are encouraged to suppress their sexual desire and to direct their energy onto more productive courses. Even masturbation, not to say having sex with the opposite sex is considered as highly undesirable. In a manuscript on masturbation published in 1975, for example, it has this to say about the "disturbing" consequences of masturbation: 1/ excessive cerebral stimulation: 2/ insomnia 3/ general collapse of the organisation, and 4/ erosion of the revolutionary spirit. For relief the pamphlet made the following recommendations: 1/ acupuncture 2/ gymnastics 3/ physical exercise and most importantly 4/ to study hard the words of Marx, Lenin and Mao!
Thus commented Wu Wen and Yu Shuet
"The inhibition China has shown towards sex is as abnormal as the licentiousness of the West. The policies and advocate of a dictatorship has strangled the need for emotional interaction between the sexes. For the whole generation, sex has become fearful full of guilty feelings...the sexual awakening that comes with maturity usually gives the young people a feeling of guilt. Those with strong self-discipline usually because mentally disturbed, and in behaviour, become stupefied; those who are of a nervous disposition become slaves leading guilty lives."
Such kind of sexual repression, as expected weighs down much more heavily on women than men. Pre-marital sex is deemed to be anti social and immoral, virginity is still considered to be of paramount importance for a girl, so much so if a girl is found to be pregnant before marriage, she will be bitterly scorned and severely criticised. If she is fortunate enough, she may be allowed to get married; otherwise she will be forced to undergo abortion or even in some cases, commits suicide in shame. For example in Canton a girl fell in love with someone another production unit and had sexual relations with him. Then she found herself pregnant, the couple agreed to get married. When they applied for permission, however, the party cadre rejected their demand on the ground that the girl was too young (though she had definitely surpassed the legal marriage age of 18). Then she was forced to have an abortion. The girl helpless and powerless as a shrew could only comply with tears in her eyes. After the abortion she was drastically changed. Before, she was an active, party-going girl and a stern advocate of Mao Tse-Tung thought, but now she became very silent and distressed. And everywhere she went she was being labelleled as a shameless, wanton whore. Fortunately her lover had not forsaken her and he became her only source of comfort and support. A year later the girl got pregnant again and this time regardless of the party's attitude invited some relatives and friends home and announced their marriage. When the party cadre heard about this, he got very angry and came to her house to create. It was only when some sympathetic neighbour intervened bringing along mobs and brushes threatening to fight, that this cadre fled.
Given China's well developed system of birth control, one may expect a girl to ask for contraceptive pills beforehand or to have an abortion on her own account in case of pregnancy. Indeed, abortion is absolutely legal, cheap, safe and easily accessible in China. Nevertheless, if a girl asking for abortion is discovered to be married, the operation will be done all the same but afterwards, the unit to which the girl belongs will be notified and the girl will have to go through the same humiliation, sanction and interrogation. The same applies to those who ask for contraceptive pills. As a result, instead of getting pills from the doctors usually most girls would prefer buying them in the black market from married women who have left over pills. They have then to pay much higher prices, but there are no other alternatives.
Although it is believed that since the Cultural Revolution, pre-marital sex has been on the rise, unmarried couples apart from having to overcome the moral sanction, have yet to confront some very practical problems: that of finding a place where they can have sex. For those who are very keen to marry but refused permission cohabitation is out of the question. This is because in order to rent a house, they must produce enough evidence to prove that they are married. Going to hotels / pensions is not the answer either because to do so, a certificate of marriage is strictly required. So under such circumstances those unmarried young men and women can only borrow their friend's house occasionally, or they can singly go to a forest or countryside venue to satisfy their needs.
In order to keeping with the official line, it is then obvious that many of the young who dare to break the official norms, they have to run the risk of negative social criticism and have to bear tremendous social pressure.
For many of the married couples, however they have not been able to lead a normal sexual life either. Very often husbands and wives are assigned to work in different districts for a long period of time. It is estimated that the number of husbands and wives separated for over ten year's amount to eight million. This figure has not taken into account those who are separated for a relatively shorter time such as diplomats and cadres who have been sent to the countryside to reform their thoughts. For all these separated couples, they are only given 12 days a year to live together. 12 days (at the most) of sexual life in a year is certainly far from enough for these mature couples. So for most of the year, they have to live out lives of sexual frustration and it is not surprising that men look to extra marital sex for release.
One consequence of sexual repression is the rise of prostitution, pornographies and the rise in sexual literature.....
In China prostitution is illegal so most prostitutes are operating on a clandestine basis. Prostitutes are mostly found near coal mines, wharves and in big cities. With marriage transformed into a commodity, the ordinary workers who cannot afford to buy themselves a wife have to turn to prostitutes as an alternative. As for those who practise prostitution many do so for economic reasons. Many are the educated female young who have returned illegally to the cities. Unable to find work, they can only engage in prostitution to earn their livelihoods. Recently there are also been accounts of Chinese women sleeping with foreigners for money. On one occasion 12 Chinese women were detained outside a dance in the Nationalities Palace while soliciting dates with foreigners.
One of the most famous sex novels circulating underground in China is The Heart of a Girl, a story of a girl's sexual experience with two men. Its content strictly speaking, is nothing when compared with the type of pornographies published in the West yet, it has been able to arouse intense public interest in China. There are only 30 pages in mimeographed form yet the selling price soared to 150 yuan, more than an average worker's monthly salary! Those who are making copies of the book have very little sleep and food in order to complete the copying – not to miss a single word of it!
Many of the sex novels are written by ex-Red Guards and are very thought provoking as well as of high artistic value. Apart from sex, these novels contain a lot of criticism against the Maoist authoritarian regime and implicitly embody a form of political consciousness.
3/ Sex Crime
There have been an increased number of sex crimes over the last few years. Rape, a crime punishable by death has been important. Many are committed by sexually frustrated young men but it is believed that more have been committed by Party cadres holding positions of power. Educated female youths sent to the countryside are often raped by local Party cadres. In most cases for fear of retaliation, the victims chose to keep quiet so that the criminal is immune from prosecution. Hence in China where political power is what counts, women are victimised in just the same way as in feudal China.
More recently with the liberalisation of control on the importation of foreign movies, there has been a revived interest in the buying and selling of half-naked female film stars. In my interpretation this is yet another manifestation of the public's distorted conception of sex.
If we believe that women's liberation is the returning of women to autonomous, independent human beings free from exploitation or repression, politically, economically, socially then it is obvious that the women in China have never fully attained liberation. Indeed, so long as China remains authoritarian, exploitative and repressive ruled by a firmly entrenched, bureaucratic class, women as well as men will never really be free.
Women's liberation, by definition, is part and parcel of the liberation of all mankind and it is towards this goal that the women's movement should move ahead. It is true so far, there has not occurred any organised revolutionary women's movement in China, yet it is too early to point out that their not be any. On the other hand, on the 3rd of January 1979, one big character poster but up on the Democracy Wall in Peking has spoken out fearlessly against the repressive sexual policy of the regime and called for the abolition of the institution of marriage and the realisation of sex with liberation. These ideas are progressive ones. Although the big character poster has been immediately torn down, the ideas expressed in the poster signify the beginning of awareness in the young people of China of the need to search for a change in society not only in its political and economic aspect but the sexual one too. This will necessarily lead to the formulation of a revolutionary alternative that will bring an end to the entire political-economic set-up of present day China.
- End -
THE REBELLION OF EDUCATED YOUTH IN CHINA by Lee Yu See
1. An Eyewitness Report
A number of processions, rallies and demonstrations occurred in Shanghai in February this year. They were organised by educated youth who had been forcefully sent down to the countryside over the past ten years to work in the fields and who had returned to Shanghai from different parts of China for the Chinese New Year. The youths organised themselves spontaneously and their activities lasted for many consecutive days. They gathered in front of the Municipal Revolutionary Committee Offices and cut off the electricity for the trams; stopped the trains and the traffic; attacked government buildings and party officials.
The following is an eyewitness report of one of the marches, which took place on the 1st of February 1979.
It was a sunny day in Shanghai and the snow on the roofs and the roadside was beginning to melt. As always, the Nanking Road was full of people and many were also at the Peoples' Square reading the Big Character Posters. Still there was an atmosphere of expectation – something more exciting was going to happen. The walls of the buildings by the Peoples' Square were pasted with numerous Big Character Posters - with new ones on top of the old ones. The Big Character Posters were composed of many themes – the longer and more serious ones were discussions on "democracy and the rule of law" "human rights", "the social foundations of bureaucratism" etc. aside from the Big Character Posters, pasted on the walls were pages of several duplicated stencilled magazines like The Voice of the People, The Spring Sparrow. Reading the pages of these magazines required strenuous efforts but most people were reading very patiently page-by-page.
When it was about eleven o'clock in the morning, a few banners can be seen erected by the walls of Tibet Road. Then on the walls were pasted signs from the provinces e.g. Yunan, Fwangtung, Heilungkaing etc. under which different groups were to assemble. People began to gather around in small groups discussing the questions concerning educated youth who had been sent to work in the countryside. Most were youths and about one thousand had gathered. Then a young man could be seen climbing up a small house onto its flat roof, announcing the beginning of the rally. He used a paper folded cone for magnifying his voice. Then he continued to make a speech explaining the purpose of the rally, talking about educated youths being sent to the countryside when they were very young and now they had grown older, wanting to fight for their rights and return to work in the cities and living together with their families. He announced that the educated youths in other provinces had also mobilised to make similar demands. He then read aloud An Open Letter to the Compatriots of Shanghai, asking for support from the people of Shanghai. He then asked the participants to be aware of any interference from bad elements. The number of people in the gathering had by now reached about 2000.
Then the march began. Those organising the rally raised banners and there were some stewards wearing armbands. The people watching were asked to join the march. At the beginning, some were rather hesitant but a few young women took the lead and as the march proceeded almost all gradually joined. The procession crossed the square and reached the other end. Moving along Canton Road, passing by the municipal library, the procession turned into Nanking Road. The demonstration caused the already crowded Nanking Road to become almost totally blocked. The people of Shanghai had experienced much political turmoil and were not exactly shocked. Many stopped by the roadside, watching the passing procession though as many started to follow. From the marchers came continuous shouts of "return our youth; return our human rights; return our rights of residence", "implement the Central Committee policy of rectifying every wrong". The road was full of marchers and the trams were only now and then able to move a short distance. Impatient passengers on the tram were yearning to get out. The march finally arrived at the Shanghai Municipal Revolutionary Committee Building. By now, the demonstration had grown to 5000 people.
The entrance to the Municipal Revolutionary Committee Building became the centre of the gathering crowd. A few organisers were leading through shouting slogans as they also sang aloud The International. The masses included adolescents in their teens as well as people in their forties and fifties, workers or intellectuals. Most though were youths and female participants were as enthusiastic as the men.
The doors of the Municipal Committee were firmly locked and the two Peoples' Liberation Army Guards who were standing alert outside the doors, quickly sunk in a sea of people, like a pair of statues. Behind the windows of the first floor were obviously a number of party cadres silently watching the activities of the masses. Glaring into the windows of the ground floor from the outside, one could see several cadres sitting together reading the newspapers. They seemed to be low-level party cadres waiting for instructions from above.
The masses swelled in all directions and the crowds must have reached seven to eight thousand. As people were trying to move to the centre, for a little while people were pushing one against another until the organisers asked the participants to sit down allowing almost one thousand to listen to the plea. As slogans were shouted and songs were sung, people began to demand that Peng Chung, a leading cadre of the Municipal Committee, received the masses. Waiting for Peng Chung became the immediate aim of the masses. Once someone appeared at the balcony of the first floor and the whole crowd became thrilled and excited, thinking that Peng had appeared. Nevertheless, it turned out to be just an ordinary cadre who disappeared quickly and the people were greatly disappointed. By about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, news spread that Peng had sneaked out from the side door and into a small car by the side of the building. Almost immediately, people swarmed around the little car. Only after much explanation and persuasion by the driver would the people allow the car to proceed. But still a small group of people maintained a vigil outside the side door.
At about 3.30 pm, at one side of the Nanking Road appeared a procession of four to five hundred people, raising banners and shouting slogans and marching to the Municipal Revolutionary Committee Building. The procession was made up of the graduates of 1968 –9 from the middle special training schools. Nominally, there were some workers from Shanghai factories but they also had been graduates who had been sent to the countryside and had yet to be transferred back to their original units. Their demands were also very similar to the larger group and so on arriving at the municipal building, the group simply merged with the rest who were already there.
At about 4pm, again the Nanking Road was blocked. A group of six or seven hundred rehabilitated uniformed soldiers marched in unison towards the Municipal Building. On the way they raised their demands for proper work arrangements by the authorities. They attracted a lot of attention and on arriving at the Municipal Building they joined the sit-in.
The winter sun set early at 6 pm and as the streetlights began to light up; the sit-in came to an end but only after much sloganeering and singing. Then the people marched away back through the way they'd come. Throughout the whole day, no one from the Municipal Revolutionary Committee had received or talked to any representatives of the demonstrators.
2. Another Report
In the state-owned farms in Yunan, many educated youths from Shanghai, numbering fifty thousand, protested through strikes setting up their own institutions in confrontation with the party cadres in December 1978. They demanded labour insurance and improvements in their living conditions, and the sacking of certain officials and the release of those persecuted among other things.
3. The Origins of the Problems of Educated Youth
Mao Tse-tung initiated the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1966. It was a power struggle between the two factions in existence within the ruling bureaucratic capitalist class and also an attempt to mould the Chinese people and their thoughts in accordance with the cast of Mao. Mao sought to use the masses to help him regain control of power. The masses responded to the call for rebellion enthusiastically. The young people formed themselves into bands of Red Guards and attacked the party structure and government bureaucracy controlled by Mao's opponents. Nevertheless the masses and Red Guards had risen to take hold of their destiny. By 1968, Mao had by and large succeeded in regaining control and he had to suppress the revolutionary masses and the Red Guard movement. With the aid of the military, Mao crushed any form of militant resistance and he sent workers' propaganda teams supported by the military to take control of all the universities and high schools in the country. Mao then announced the famous directive, "that it is necessary for the educated youth to go to the countryside so that they would be re-educated by the poor and middle peasants." The propaganda machine propagated endlessly that such a policy was to send the young educated to the countryside to help the development of agriculture and at the same time the peasants would educate them. By transforming their worldview they would then be trained to become the successors of the revolution. In reality, Mao found this to be the best way to scatter the young revolutionaries and the more revolutionary they were, the further he sent them away from the cities and the capital. Moreover through this move – which has been happening for the past ten years at least – China was also able to discard any surplus labour that arose as a result of high school students graduating and seeing they couldn't be absorbed into the urban work force they were dumped in the countryside.
And so as a result of one of Mao Tse-tung's directive, within a few months, thousands of educated youth were sent to the countryside. Subsequently, until last year, all high school graduates would be unable to enter university directly on graduation. All would have to go to the countryside. Over the ten year period upto 1978, it has been estimated conservatively that at least seventeen million young people have been forcibly sent to the countryside, condemning them and their families as well as the peasants in the country to long periods of agony, pain, and extreme dissatisfaction.
4. The Agonies of Youth, their Families and the Peasants
Life in the countryside for several million peasants in China is with the exception of a few richer regions, exceedingly harsh. (For a discussion of the life of the Chinese peasants and agriculture in China, see a forthcoming article by the present writer.) Most peasants work 15 to 16 hours a day, living on insufficient food, clothing and daily necessities. Under such general conditions in the Chinese countryside, those educated youth sent to state farms (however this only represents a minority) are considered relatively better off as they are state employees and paid a fixed wage of about 30 yuans a month, which can purchase little more than about 100 packets of middle quality cigarettes in China. Nevertheless, life in these state farms is often militarised with a hierarchical organisation modelled after the army. Members on the farm have to carry out studies of Mao Tse-tung thought everyday and are very much isolated from the rest of society ... one is allowed to visit one's family for half a month every two years. Food is not always adequate – working for 11 hours a day with two meals of rice mixed sometime only with salt.
Those not sent to the state farms would be sent in groups of three, five or ten to twenty to settle with the rural commune's production teams. During the first year, for each rusticated youth, the state gives 200 yuans for the purpose of constructing his dwelling, the purchase of farming tools and the rest (about 90 yuans) covering the person's living expenses for the whole year. After the first year, the youth would be allocated a return in accordance with the work points that he has earned as a member of the production team. In the Chinese countryside where little mechanisation has developed, the law of diminishing returns is operative and the peasants find that the rusticated youth are "sharing their food, their land and their fields" in such a way that they have become worse off.
On the one hand, the inexperienced youth know little about farming, and are generally awarded fewer work points than the ordinary peasants who on the other hand, partly because of their hostility towards the intruders, and partly believing that the rusticated youth are single and able to obtain support from family members in the cities, also insist that the rusticated youth be awarded less work points. As a result, the rusticated youth obtains a reward just slightly more than half of that of a peasant. The same applies for food. Therefore despite a whole year's hard work, many a rusticated youth is unable to earn his own means of subsidence and he / she is dependent on the parents in the cities to send a monthly remittance for his / her support. And in this way, many families, involving many millions of people are affected: finding their rusticated children a real financial burden.
Furthermore, not used to the living conditions in the countryside, and owing to the lack of medical facilities, many suffer from ill health and diseases. They seldom are allowed to voice opinions about affairs of the production teams. They are not allowed to join the medical co-operatives nor the militia. They are sometimes demanded to work without pay on holidays. The female youth are sometimes taken advantage of sexually or raped by the party cadres who are the bosses in the countryside. Sometimes the rusticated youth resent their discrimination overtly and this generates further hostilities between the peasants and them. Fights occur between the two groups and the rusticated youths are often beaten up.
5. The Consequences
In order to prevent their children from being sent to the countryside, parents try to send their children for special training in music, playing the violin, piano or painting. Nevertheless, only parents of certain importance in the party or government can afford to do so.
The sons and daughters of the party and government officials, particularly those belonging to the higher echelons, are able to avoid being sent to the countryside. Some are assured good jobs in the cities. Some are put into the army and some just move around in the countryside a little and then get into the universities.
Many parents simply spend a lot of their time "going through the back door" – seeking help from powerful relatives or bribing the party cadres or government officials one way or the other so that their sons and daughters would not have to go to the countryside.
Parents would pay for the expenses of the party cadres, which means in the case of daughters that they would not be maltreated. Even some minor officials are able to make the lives of their sons and daughters in the countryside better by allotting extra resources where there are shortages in the communes, for agricultural machinery or electrical appliances etc.
In the case where the youth refuse to be sent to the countryside and the family is extremely reluctant, the office responsible for the rustification of youth would seek to enforce it by running "Study Mao Tse-tung thought sessions" meaning the particular youth or family members would have to attend regularly for thought education. Also, the wages of the parents might be stopped until the youth agrees to go. At the beginning, every high school graduate had to go to the countryside but subsequently, a slightly more lenient policy was implemented – one child in the family is allowed to stay with the parents to take care of them if they are old and if it is necessary. But then too, the fate of many is sealed even if they are very small children or may still be in primary school because if a child's brother or sister is staying in the cities, then he / she must go to the countryside. Many a student felt that it was useless to study showing no interest in any form of learning at school.
Also many parents are prepared to spend money on the various levels of party cadres in the countryside (the production teams, production brigades, the commune and the county) and those in the cities (the police / security office, the street office, the regional security office etc) or those in charge of medical services, allocation of jobs etc. in order to secure the necessary permits for their children to return to the cities. In order to get back to the cities, very often several hundred or more than a thousand yuans had to be spent. For the average worker who is paid only 30 to 60 yuans a month, the figure is a colossal one. Nevertheless the prevalence of such practises amounts to whole nation of corrupt officialdom.
In the end, even those - the youth and the family who cannot pay - would return to the cities illegally. Without permission to stay or work, these returned educated youth simply idle around. Still many parents find this less costly and cumbersome than sending money or foodstuffs or daily essentials to the villages regularly. It has been estimated that in 1972, there existed seven hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, and more than four hundred thousand rusticated youth throughout various cities in China.
Obviously the numbers have grown tremendously over the years. With so many people idle, deprived of the means of making a living and officially stigmatised as a non-person with no rights whatsoever (including the right of residence) it is not surprising that in many cities, the problem of crime has become increasingly serious. Prostitution is found in growing cases (practised by the 'returned' female rusticated youth) in Canton, Nanking Shanghai and other big cities. Suicide too has occurred in large numbers – often collective suicides in two, threes or more.
6. Fleeing to Hong Kong. A Special Case
While more one hundred thousand rusticated youth had returned to Canton in 1972, many were still in the countryside and many had returned to the smaller cities in the Kwangtung Province. Kwangtung is the Chinese province neighbouring Hong Kong and Macau, the former being a British colony and the latter a Portuguese one. Born within the homelessness among the educated youth in the Kwangtung Province is the practise of their mass exodus to Hong Kong and Macau. A massive number was involved affecting practically every part and every family within the province. And this mass exodus has continued up to the present day.
The escapees left through the coastal counties of the province. Those in the other counties use the coastal counties as stepping-stones. By 1973, it was estimated that 80% of the educated youth in the counties of Pao An, Tung Koon and Wei Yang had attempted to flee to Hong Kong or Macau. In a good number of the communes in these counties, virtually every educated youth had left. In the end, not just the rusticated youth were leaving. The young workers, students and teachers in Canton, as well as a sizable number of peasants also joined the exodus.
According to the statistics of the Hong Kong government, from 1968 to November 1974, the Hong Kong police arrested more then 28,000 illegal immigrants from China. And the Hong Kong government estimated that out of four illegal immigrants from China, only one was arrested, then the total number of illegal immigrants from China during that period amounted to 112,000. A Chinese prison official estimated in Tung Koon County that only one out of 50 caught by the Chinese authorities succeeded in making the escape.
The mass exodus has not stopped
According to the figures released by the Hong Kong government in January this year, the number of illegal immigrants from China caught was 1800, in February it was 2500, and in March, it increased to 6400. In April, the figure reached an all time high – 8300. Again assuming the Hong Kong government estimate that one in four is caught, then within the first four months of 1979, about 80,000 people had illegally entered Hong Kong from China.
In the summer months, one would expect more arrivals in Hong Kong.
Why have they left? Most of them are young people brought up after 1949 and should not have any illusions about the old capitalist system in Hong Kong. Yet, under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party which they have experienced so thoroughly, and finally rejecting it totally, they are prepared to risk getting shot, bitten by chasing hounds and devoured by sharks in search for an alternative.
7. Educated Youth and Revolutionary Action
For many of the educated youth from Kwangtung Province, Hong Kong represents a new start. In search of an alternative, on arrival in Hong Kong, they go off in different directions. Some have been totally integrated in the capitalist way of life – setting moneymaking and pleasure seeking as their main goals. Most try to do it legally against great odds. Some have tried to do it illegally – with a militaristic upbringing and much experience in 'military' actions during the Cultural Revolution, a few gangs have pulled off sensational robberies and are threatening local gangs in the control of the drug, prostitution and other protection rackets in Hong Kong. Some turn over to support the Kuomintang. Some seek to go to the United States with their refugee status. Many are still of course concerned with the fate and development of China. A notable group is Huang He; this group together with other individuals like Wu Man and Yu Shuet have written much and contributed much to the understanding of the realities of China. They have also helped the libertarian movement in Hong Kong to articulate a libertarian analysis and they desire and work for changes in China – some are reformist and some are revolutionary. Many are being exposed to new things and new ideas that they had not met or come across during their years in China. These people are still developing so confronting them with revolutionary and libertarian ideas is important and essential.
The same may be said about the millions of discontented educated youths in China. They must be recognised as an important source of opposition to the present regime. Collectively they represent a powder keg, the explosion of which could turn China upside down. Perhaps, we are already witnessing the igniting of the fuse? While it can be hoped that through their own struggles, the educated youths shall arrive at libertarian solutions to their own problems and those of Chinese society, it is nevertheless essential for revolutionaries overseas to understand what is going on and to intervene whenever and wherever it is appropriate and possible.