Book review: In the People's Republic
In the People's Republic:
An American's First Hand View of Living and Working in China
by Orville Schell
The author's trip was arranged in the 1970s by the Hinton's, an Amerikan family. The group was composed of men and womyn between the ages of 18 and 60. As I read 'In the Peoples Republic' I came to see each subchapter as a beautiful blueprint of Maoism in practice It was very informative on how people can transform all their daily habits to better the people as a whole. For instance, Mao's China seemed what some today would call "green" friendly, Schell explains how hotels in the city that obviously generate much trash, separated the trash for organic garbage, which was sent to pig farms and used for slop. This was done nationwide. Even human waste was collected in what they called "honey trucks" and taken to special ponds where thy would turn to fertilizer. This recycling and notion of wasting nothing is an advancement that even 30+ years later has not reached the U$ on a nationwide level. The Chinese people's ability to use all material was remarkable, wasting nothing was common practice.
On the passing of Chiang Kai Shek Schell notes that hardly a mention was given in the People's Daily publication, and there was no rejoycing or anger shown in the streets or otherwise and that the people hated what he stood for, but not him as a person. This shows the difference under socialism and the behavior the people developed even to disliked enemies, unlike here in Amerika as we witnessed the gleefullness and cheer in the U$ media when Saddam Hussein was executed. It is clear that under capitalism humyns mean shit.
Shell included Mao's essay "the twenty manifestations of bureaucracy" in its entirety. This document showed Mao's passionate disagreement with different bureaucracy. It was real good to see Mao fervently denouncing ever becoming disconnected from the people. During the Cultural Revolution many plays and dance troupes even addressed this issue with one of the performers wearing oversized glasses, dressed in a suit with much face makeup appearing very pale from staying in an office and carrying a briefcase. This performer played the arrogant bureaucracy.
What I enjoyed about 'In the Peoples Republic' was it gave a brief description of all levels of society in a Maoist country. Even the artists and performers only created artforms that had a correct line and benefited the people, and what was amazing is even the best performers or dancers were never singled out and praised. This is a deep contrast to what is seen here in Amerika where it is totally opposite and performers or dancers and especially actors and actresses are praised for their individuality. Individualism is not only praised here but expected.
This book spoke a lot of Mao's emphasis on including the peasants in all spheres of society, Schell described how dance troupes would take their andmade props and travel by foot to mountainous areas off the beaten path where they would perform their politically charged dance performances and songs to peasants and when Shell asked one of the performers "where do you live on such trips?" the performer stated "we live with the peasants" and he went on to describe how they have the "three togethers": eat together, live together and work together.
A scenario was posed that would be incomprehensible here in the U.$. While touring Schell's guide in China gathered some workers off the street, a factory worker and other store workers, and conducted a political discussion and the workers explained how politics apply to their jobs. Schell wrote how in the U.$. during a foreign tour if one would gather a Kentucky Fried Chicken worker, a Safeway worker, etc and the same discussion was held, how different that discussion would be. I believe this is because in this country it would not be beneficial to U.$. interests for the masses to take up politics because should the people become aware of how things work, capitalism would suffer, so the average person is kept in the dark about politics. I thought this was a good scenario that showed the big contradiction in socialist versus capitalist societies, and the average person living in these societies.
Having experienced the imperialist prisons and its most suppressive states, i.e. control units/security housing units, I was particularly interested in the subchapter on prisons. There was a short description of the prisons in Mao's China that I enjoyed, I saw the real difference in treatment in a socialist prison and in a Maoist prison specifically. Here in imperialist Amerika most prisons will often pass out Christian bibles, prison officials will leave a vast amount of bibles and other religious literature in the dayroom where it is all conveniently accessible to prisoners. Prison officials often send religious pastors cell to cell asking if prisoners would like to discuss/learn about religion. I often tell these pastors I would rather discuss communism and this usually sparks a long debate between me and the pastor, ending with the pastor walking off angry because I point out religion's long history of atrocity and oppression.
According to Schell, when he and his group visited a prison in China, all cells had Marx, Lenin and Maist books in each cell. They also worked and partook in criticism/self-criticism, there were not reports of prison riots, suicide or guards abusing prisoners, unlike here inthe U.$. where there are many of suicides and guards are always caught abusing prisoners. Here even rape is a common occurance, depression is high with guards feeling a sense of hopelessness as well as prisoners. In contrast, in Mao's Chian prison guards felt it a great honor to work as prison guards as it was seen as a great contribution in rebuilding these people and socialist reconstruction as a whole.
This book was good and gave a good study of Maoism in practice. I would liked it to be more in depth on things or to show more on China's economics or its military, nonetheless it was a good look into everyday life in a Maoist society.
MIM(Prisons) adds: The author is a Harvard graduate who travelled with a group of other U.$. citizens to China in the last few months of Mao's life. They worked in a factory for a few weeks, worked in a field for a few weeks, and toured many facilities such as clinics and schools. In the People's Republic is written exclusively through the subjective filter of a typical Amerikkkan with a bourgeois perspective. The main take-home lesson of this book seems to be "Socialism works for the Chinese because they are so odd and different from Amerikans. Socialism is against so many cultural values we have as Amerikans, and it is bad for us for these reasons."
It gives a favorable view of China in this period, but summarizes it as the Chinese are "just different" from Amerikans. The author writes off much of the Chinese hospitality as awkward and boring, and has a near obsession with connecting with the Chinese on an individual level, and telling anecdotes with a sense of irony. While having an apparent ignorance of Mao Tse-Tung Thought, the author does not hesitate to interpret the Chinese's body language and conversation through an Amerikan cultural lens.
If you already have an understanding of Maoism and Chinese society under socialism, it can be interesting to read about such an important project from a bourgeois perspective. While the author's subjective interpretation of events is "off", ey at least doesn't lie about how successful the Chinese were in raising the living standards of even the most destitute people in the country in incredible ways. There is much first-hand favorable reflection on the cultural revolution as well.
There is one point that we disagree with in this review, and apparently also with the author of In the People's Republic. Both Schell and the author of the review seem to think that Amerikan's are not given information about politics because it is in the interests of Amerikan capitalism to keep them in the dark. The reviewer wrote: "I believe this is because in this country it would not be beneficial to U.$. interests for the masses to take up politics because should the people become aware of how things work, capitalism would suffer, so the average person is kept in the dark about politics."