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Times Past | Visit to a Commune

The extract below is from Joshua Horn's book 'Away with all pests...' An ex-patient invited Dr Horn to visit his commune, and this is a description of part of the day he spent there. The book, available in mid-November, is published by Paul Hamlyn at 35s.

Joshua Horn
Dr. Joshua Horn

An old peasant, with a week's growth of stubble on his chin, came into the cottage. 'Sit down, uncle,' said our host, 'I'm glad you've come. Tell our guest here about your pig. He'll be interested. ' He turned to me.' His name is Wang Chen and he and his pig have become famous in these parts. 'Old Wang looked embarrassed: 'Why should he be interested in that defile-mother pig? I wish I'd never set eyes on the animal!'

He raised that pig from a litter,' said our host, ' and it turned out to be an exceptionally clever animal. Some people think pigs are stupid, but they're not. This one followed Old Wang round like a dog. He could find his way home from anywhere. Last New Year's Day- Old Wang sold the pig in a market fifteen miles away, and. believe it or not, the following evening the pig turned up again, his trotters a bit sore but otherwise none the worse. And what's even more remarkable, a couple of days later Old Wang took a full day off work, went back to the market with his faithful pig, found the couple who had bought it from him and returned it to them. You see, Old Wang, if he'll forgive me for saying so, has a reputation for being rather tight-fisted and everyone was amazed that he should give up the pig so readily.'

Old Wang replied 'You see, we'd been learning about what the Chairman had to say about being un-selfish and concerned about others and all that. And we knew that the couple who had bought the pig had lived just the same kind of life that we had. Another thing was that only a few days before we'd had a meeting to criticise the former brigade leader for selling a worn-out wheat grinder, which had cost us 400 yuan six years ago, for 300 yuan. He tried to defend himself by saying that he had not sold it on his own behalf but for the brigade as a whole and that he had not sold it to an individual but to a brigade in the next county. That was true enough, but everybody said that, whichever way you looked at it, it was just capitalist swindling and if every brigade in the country were to try and swindle every other brigade, we'd certainly never get real socialism. In the end we made him refund 150 yuan to the brigade which had bought it and since I'd voted in favour of that, how could I keep the pig just because it could find its way home?'

By chance, this was the day when the new irrigation scheme, which had involved such Herculean efforts, was due to come into operation and so, after lunch, we climbed up to the cistern cut in the rock. A small crowd of Commune members had gathered for the opening ceremony. Drums and gongs had been assembled and a choir of Young Pioneers waved their scarlet flags and sang lustily. The sun beat down from the desert of white stones on the upper slopes. The old men sat on the rocks and puffed at their long brass-bowled pipes. We waited while the workmen joined up the fast section of earthenware piping. We waited while the last minutes of an epoch ticked away. We waited to see the consummation of a heroic victory.

Soon the work was finished and the oldest member of the Commune - a spruce great-grandmother of 83, who still insisted on working half-days, gave the signal to start the electric motor on the other side of the hill. Nothing happened. A tense silence gripped us. After minutes that seemed like hour, a few drops of water trickled from the pipe and disappeared into the vast empty cistern. Gradually the trickle became a torrent. Clear mountain water gushed out and echoed back faintly from the rocky depths of the cistern.

Only the children cheered. The older ones were too moved by the magnitude of their victory over the bitter, painful past. Silently they broke up into groups and walked home.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001, reprinted from SACU News November 1969

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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