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Friday, Sept. 15, 1972
A China Notebook
By WILBUR G. LANDRY
CANTON, Sept. 15, 1972 (UPI) -- Dawn comes up like thunder over South China with a band of vivid orange along the horizon, slowly revealing the twisted, wooded hills and the flooded paddies of rice.
Promptly at 6 a. m. on the Peking-Canton express, the loudspeakers began to blare, "The East is Red." And it is.
Trains in China have two classes, but they are not called that. Instead there are the "soft seats" and the "hard seats." For the 450-mile all night trip between Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, and Canton, a "soft seat" berth costs 47 yuan ($18.80). There are four berths in a compartment and a couple or even a person can buy all four for privacy.
The "hard seat" berths in other cars are in groups of six, three deep facing each other with no compartments. They are hard, with bamboo mats as covering. The middle berths each cost 24.40 yuan ($9.75). The lower ones cost slightly more, the upper ones slightly less.
The "soft seat" cars are a reminder of a golden, vanished age of railroads in the United States. The compartments are comfortable, the cars are very clean, the service is courteous and prompt. The roadbeds are about as comfortable as roadbeds can be.
There is little air-conditioning in China. The only time UPI reporters benefited from it in 19 days was at the guest house in Canton and, leaving China, on the train from Canton to the border.
Good service and honesty remain in the hotels, however big, high-ceilinged and old-fashioned they may be. Inevitably the other day, a UPI executive's wife was interrupted in the course of farewells with officials in one town to receive the torn pantyhose she had discarded at the hotel a few minutes earlier.
The Chinese are very strict about protocol. Since the Cultural Revolution, there are few directors in Chinese enterprises. Instead, there are "leading members," and the term is puzzling at first. There is the leading member of the enterprise, and there are the leading members of each department.
The leading member comes before all others and the order of precedence is strictly observed.
It applied to us, too. Our leading member - UPI President Roderick W. Beaton - rode in a big, black, Red Flag limousine that always headed the cavalcade. The rest of us came behind, in order of priority and in smaller Shanghai cars.
There are few cars in China and the cavalcade of U. S. visitors sails along the roads, honking out of its path bicycles, ox carts, mule carts, donkey carts and man carts. On the Changsha-Canton train the other night, the train chief walked ahead, scattering the Chinese hard seat passengers out of the way of the foreign guests.
One could not help but wonder if there was resentment.
The split between China and Russia has not dampened the Chinese respect for Lenin and Stalin. Their portraits share places of honor in Peking's great Tienanmen Square and on committee room walls in factories and communes throughout the country. They are usually together on one wall. The portrait of Chairman Mao Tse-tung hangs by itself opposite.
One interesting note is that in cities both Chinese and foreigners need a license to go swimming. It is really a health certificate. Pool time is set aside for the foreigners when the Chinese are not there.
A hundred thousand foreigners used to live in Shanghai. Today, there are only a handful among the 10 million people in the metropolitan area. Crowds waited outside our hotel to see the foreigners come and go. When we stopped, they gathered, and as our cars passed they stared and sometimes clapped.
The same thing happened elsewhere in China. At the famous, 150-year-old Peking Duck restaurant in the capital, policemen held back the crowds at a movie premier in the West.
The Little Red Book of Chairman Mao's sayings that was the symbol of loyalty during the Cultural Revolution is still stacked in neat piles in every imaginable language wherever a foreigner might pick it up in China.
It no longer seems to be waved about, however. This is probably part of what some Chinese party members describe as a slow de-emphasis of the Mao cult that reached its height during the Cultural Revolution. The editions on display now are the new editions without the foreword by former Defense Minister Lin Pao, who Mao said was killed in a plane crash last September after unsuccessfully trying to take over.
Lin was the man who promoted the little Red Book at that time as a symbol of outward loyalty to Mao in his struggle against former Chief of State Liu Shao-chi. Now that both Liu and Lin are out, there is a quiet de-emphasis.
Postscript: Leaving China is as big a shock as entering it. The sense of order and discipline disappears. The passengers on the train in British Hong Kong chatter and shout. Outside the window there is a jumble of shacks and automobiles. Then a birdlike Chinese girl wearing make-up and a micro miniskirt comes along the aisle. You are back in the Suzie Wong Orient, and it is a different place.
(Twenty-two years service abroad as a UPI correspondent and news executive preceded Wilbur G. Landry's appointment as foreign editor in 1970. Beginning in 1948, he worked in London, Paris, Cairo, Johannesburg; San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Buenos Aires. A native of Kansas City, Kan., he was educated at the University of Kansas City and Columbia University in New York, where he joined UPI in 1944.)
Copyright 2007 by United Press International.