GREAT BRITAIN: The Curtain of Ignorance

  • (5 of 9)

    The No. I Tour. The Communists showed off new factories, rattled off health statistics (they have abolished plague, cut the infant death rate from 20% to 4%, they claimed). They invited criticism, were respectfully eager to learn. The delegates asked to see a jail. Inspecting it, they noted, without apparent alarm, that two-thirds of the several thousand inmates were political prisoners, marveled at how hard they worked. "We do not even scold them," said the prison director. Correspondents discovered why: nearly all were under sentence of death, were allowed two years' grace to see whether a prisoner "truly and sincerely would see the error of his ways."

    The unionists were disturbed to find that union leaders are not workers but party functionaries. Working conditions are poor, they agreed, but Harry Earnshaw happily reported that improvements "are being slowly made, not—as might be thought—by ruthless sweating, but by active and willing cooperation among the workers in the exercise of what is called 'social conscience,' and by methods which are not inconsistent with our union traditions, and which are selflessly designed to increase production."

    A sample of such "social-conscience" methods was provided inadvertently when the delegation flew up to Manchuria to visit new steel mills provided by the Russians. At an old coal mine, which had been confiscated from the British (the fact was not mentioned), a foreman had been tried a few days before by a people's court convened on the spot, and summarily shot for inefficiency and sabotage. This, at least, seemed to distress some of the visitors.

    But their distress quickly faded before what they regarded as an extraordinary note: "No flies." Said Franklin: "The most remarkable development in the world in the past 50 years." The British delegates, who, like all Socialists, love tidy planning, learned that cards are posted in each house, on which the resident must note the number of flies, rats and cockroaches killed. "The householder's rent is raised if insects are found on the premises," explained Franklin. He added, with the expansive generalization that characterized the delegates' utterances: "I don't think the peasants are very interested in political matters. Their desires are more material, for it is food and security they value, and it is for this reason they praise and accept the leadership of the Communist Party." Wrote one correspondent, sourly: "It was impossible to say what the people thought, because nobody was allowed near them."

    Happy Hospitality. But the delegation, in the happy swirl of rice wine, tinkling gongs, friendly smiles and endless toasts, seemed not to notice. Premier Chou En-lai himself welcomed them at the Peking Pavilion of Purple Light, launching a round of banqueting, toast-drinking and speechmaking that lasted for 19 days. In Peking's sweltering heat, the Laborites downed innumerable toasts, consumed huge quantities of shark fins, lotus root and roasted duck skin, amid a continuous flutter of fans. At banquets, Chou linked arms with

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
    6. 6
    7. 7
    8. 8
    9. 9