by Don Franks
Below are some reflections on a recent short trip to China, nearly forty years since my first visit.
That two-week tour was a stunning experience, but, for several reasons, I never thought I’d ever revisit the country.
In 1976 I was, as now, a Marxist-minded person; back then, a Marxist greatly impressed by the Chinese Communist Party. From an initial gathering of just twelve comrades, the CPC had, in very tough conditions, grown into a powerful force, remaining intact after huge repression and massacre of its members. After incredible effort, the party’s goals of sweeping away feudalism and foreign imperialism were finally realised and in 1949 the CPC united the country under its leadership.
The national democratic revolution carried out by the party did not follow the model of the previous Russian revolution. Many of the CPC’s working class members had been killed in struggles against imperialists and local reactionaries. The party which took power was a largely militant peasant force led by intellectuals. That composition was to influence the party and country’s future.
Chairman Mao had died a couple of months before our 1976 trip took place. Roughly half the local population was wearing a black arm band in mourning for the dead leader.
We visited several cities, factories, kindergartens, an army base, a hospital and a couple of neighborhood communities. At each site we went to there would be a sit-down for green tea, cigarettes and a ‘brief introduction’. That meant a talk of at least one hour about the history of the workplace we were visiting, its output and its attention to the current campaign of the Communist Party. We then had a question and answer session, followed by a meal.
The people we met were friendly, happy looking and very attentive to our our well-being. They spoke with enthusiasm about their goals and projects and showed much interest in overseas revolutionary movements. We sang old union songs with our interpreters while traveling along in the bus. It was a jolly time and most inspiring to be at what seemed to be the forefront of an international revolutionary movement of the working class.
Our hosts were fond of declaiming slogans. Some were specific to the then current campaign to criticise Lin Piao and Confucius, others were more general. Such as “the road is torturous, but the future is bright!” That one appealed to me, it still does.
Back in New Zealand after the 1976 trip I subscribed to the Peking Review and closely followed Chinese developments.
As the years rolled by it seemed that the fire of CPC’s revolutionary internationalism was dying down. With diminishing keenness, I still supported China as a compromised workers’ state. Then, in June 1989, came Tien an Min and everything changed. The Chinese Army murder of democracy protesters in the square where I’d once dreamily wandered came as an horrific shock. I renounced the Chinese Communist Party forever and took no part in any sort of politics for several years.
Then, a quarter of a century later, I fell into the company of some Wellington Chinese musicians. Playing a mixture of jazz and traditional folk music, their band included a pianist who was sometimes required elsewhere. I learned a little Chinese music and substituted occasionally for the piano player. After a while the thought came to me that maybe one day I’d be playing this music in China. And so it turned out to be.
One of my Chinese friends said he’d like me to play the piano at his wedding in Wuhan; if I was up for it he’d fly me over and put me up for ten days. On returning to New Zealand I posted seven short essays on Facebook, here is the concluding entry.
Return to the Middle Kingdom, coda.
This will be my last report from the People’s Republic. In just a few days, from a very sheltered, privileged position, it’s only possible to superficially glimpse a few facets of the vast conundrum that is modern-day China. It’s difficult to make sense of the few things you do see, because so much in China is writ so Read the rest of this entry »