A diary visit to Wuhan and Changsha in 1966.
Alyce and Colin both left China, together with Stephen, in September 1966. Before leaving, Colin made a visit to various places, including Nanchang and Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province, Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province and Changsha, capital of Hunan. Although by himself on the visit, somebody was delegated in each place to look after him. He jotted down what he saw and took some pictures. What he saw was the beginnings of the Cultural Revolution emerging throughout China.
Edited diary entry: This place [Wuhan] is much poorer than Beijing, and the scene along the main road is squalid, worse than Beijing by far. We went over the bridge to Wuchang, which is the old section, though it has more character. There are red buses and blue trolleys here, as in Peking. The city is plastered with dazibao but there are not nearly as many as in Beijing, perhaps because there were never as many good shops here. One sees dazibao criticizing specific people. For example, we saw two against capitalists outside what I suppose was their house. One was said to have collaborated with the Japanese, and lived an idle life since
I visited a factory, which was quite interesting and seemed pretty highly mechanised though everyone seemed a bit bored and I’m glad it’s not my fate to work there. Much of the machinery is Soviet made, most Chinese. There were 13 Soviet experts here before the Sino-Soviet rift in 1960. There is quite a lot of remarkable heavy machinery. Safety precautions are quite good and workers in many shops have helmets etc. On the other hand, the whole place is very smoky and rather squalid.
Went to the Memorial Hall of the Feb 7th Strike. We were given an introduction by an 80 year old worker who had been a leader in the strike. Two people in Wuhan were particularly famous in this strike, Lin Xiangqian who was the trade union leader in Hankou and got knifed by warlords for his activities and Shi Yang, a lawyer who defended the workers, also killed. One old worker friend had spent 22 months in prison and been severely whipped. He showed us the scars on his back, enormous, horrible. The old worker’s son was drowned while doing labour on a commune. The other guide had lost a thumb in a factory accident after Liberation. The old worker had a nice beard and was a thoroughly charming old man.
Took a train ride from Wuhan to Changsha, capital of Hunan. First crossed the bridge to Wuchang. From Wuchang could see the pagoda on Hongshan, which is also where Shi Yang, the lawyer martyr is buried. Not long after leaving Wuhan, the scenery becomes very beautiful. Lovely hills around and also gorgeous little peasant villages and paddy fields round about. All very green and fertile. We got to Changsha at 9:30 and we met by the Political
Bureau of the Province, not the China Travel Service. This was supposed to be a great honour, but I couldn’t help wondering if the Changsha China Travel Service wasn’t in disgrace. On the station were selling booths and also large signs asking young capitalist lords and noises as to why they were going to Peking. The whole city was plastered with dazibao and it seems that 4 members of the Changsha Party Committee have been dismissed.
Went on the People’s Park which used to be the Zhongshan Park before all the names were changed. It is nothing special, but has its own charm, including little bridges over parks of lakes intertwining amid trees. This was the only park in Wuhan before Liberation, now there are ten. This one has been greatly expanded and there is now a zoo behind, among other things. The zoo is fairly small, but it does contain a number of interesting animals such as lions, camels etc. The cages of the lions are monstrously small, one almost too low for the lion to stand up. He looked very unhappy.
As a city Changsha is not interesting and there doesn’t seem to be much of significance here. I asked about religion. The guide said there were still open ancient temples but there had never been any Christianity here.
The streets here are very narrow and decidedly crowded. The old stores are still there in the streets. We were followed by millions of children. This area is very squalid and dirty. Behind the houses on one side is a river, which looked very charming. I asked about the fate of Christianity and was told that it had never existed, which I think is impossible to believe. My guide also said there were still a few jointly private and state-owned (gongsi heying 公司合营)shops, all small and not many of them. Naturally there are dazibao here against individuals one of whom was said to have written black poems against Mao and his thought.
One day I was taken to Mao’s birth-place, Shaoshan, like a revolutionary shrine. Mao’s house is very large. It is in typical Hunan style, not thatched, earthen floors, many rooms all small but comfortable. Beside the front room is a small pantry and beside it a kitchen. The kitchen is quite big and includes the 3 pot stove typical of parts of the South. There is also a fire place with a spit to boil the kettle and this has a sort of simple wedge with which the kettle or whatever can be lowered over the fire. The next room was the guest room. Here there is a table where Mao did revolutionary education work with many people. The next room was the parents’ bedroom where Mao was born. This has a bed with curtains at the side, the normal thing for the beds in this house. Beside the bed is a nice old hard wooded armchair. On another side of the room, a wardrobe with the typical Chinese brass knobs at front. On the wall hangs a bowl for a lamp which was lit by tong oil for light. Mao’s house shows clearly that he came from a rich peasant family, not landlords certainly, but not the downtrodden masses either.
Scenes in Rural China
The following are various scenes in rural China. They are of places Alyce and Colin visited over the period from 1964 to 1966. Foreigners resident in Beijing needed permission even to leave the capital and were usually accompanied by a Chinese colleague. It was drastically more difficult to travel than in the twenty-first century. Still, Alyce and Colin made some very interesting trips over those years and took quite a few pictures. Here is a small sample of them.
Links to other pages under the section ‘Life in China 1964-66’