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John Simkin

Communism in China

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John Simkin, aged 42, history teacher in Brighton, Sussex.

In 1987 I visited both Cuba and China. In Cuba they even seemed to have achieved a certain degree of equality. The people took pride in the quality of education and health-care that was available to its citizens. Although I was disturbed by the harsh way the government treated its dissidents (political and sexual).

China appeared to me less successful than Cuba in removing inequalities. In fact, our guides constantly boasted about how the state was using the prospect of wealth to motivate its citizens. We were actually shown around the house of one successful businessman. He had all the latest modern domestic appliances in the house and we were told that this was his reward for showing initiative and entrepreneurial spirit.

I was also not very impressed by the new factories that were being run by the army. The workers were nearly all young women who had been shipped in from the rural areas. I was told that they were very happy to be earning such good wages. The wages were so high that they were able to send considerable amounts of money to their families living in the countryside. The guide did not appreciate my questions about free trade unions in China. According to the guide, the people of China did not need such things. After all, China had a communist government that could be trusted to look after the welfare of its citizens.

Freedom of information was the main thing denied to the Chinese people. I flew from London to Beijing in a Chinese aircraft. On the journey I began reading Edgar Snow’s The Long Revolution. Although the book was sympathetic to the communist revolution a member of the cabin crew tried to confiscate the book when I left it on my seat when I visited the toilet. I was so angry I stormed into the cabin area and took the book back. To my surprise I did not have my bags searched for the offending book when I arrived in Beijing.

While in China I became very friendly with a man who was deputy editor of a magazine. Although very nervous about the consequences he began telling me about his own views on the communist government. He was still a committed socialist but denied that the Chinese system had anything to do with creating an egalitarian society. He argued China had a two class system: Communist Party officials and the rest of the Chinese population. Although a dissident, he did not believe another revolution was possible. He claimed that the people of China did not have the right kind of collective personality to fight for a more democratic system. He believed that as long as the government could provide the basic needs of its people, the one party system would survive in China.

My new friend had won a place to study politics and economics at the LSE in London. However, the authorities were unwilling to let him take his place on the course. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He replied that he would love to get the opportunity to read certain books that had been published in the west on politics and economics that were unavailable in China. I said that I would willingly send these books to him but surely there not a danger that the authorities would open the parcel I sent him. He agreed but said he was willing to take that chance.

As soon as I got back to China I purchased the books on his list and sent them to him. I never received a reply. I have often wondered if my actions cost my friend what little liberty he had when I spoke to him during the summer of 1987.

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