Leaders of Emancipated Slaves
[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #33, Aug. 18, 1972, pp. 16-18, 23.]
SOME 2,500 metres above sea level on Taliang Mountains in Szechuan Province is a hamlet. Before liberation, in this area of southwest China, six slave-owners had life and death control over 24 households of slaves. The pillory was a common form of punishment for these slaves, and the slave-owners could sell them or kill them as they wished.
Freed from their shackles with their own hands, today’s emancipated slaves have written a new chapter in the making of history by slaves.
The one-time practice of “slash and burn” in farming has given way to the roar of tractors, and the barren hills and ridges are covered with dense woods. The per-mu yield of grain has soared from 70-80 jin to over 400 jin. Boasting a small hydroelectric station, 16 farm implement plant, brick and tile kiln and sewing centre, the village now has 67 households, each with surplus grain, bank savings and electricity for lighting. At night, the emancipated slaves go to evening schools where they study proletarian politics and learn to read and write.
This mountain village is called Walikou Brigade in Meiku County in Szechuan Province’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Chou. When they talk about changes in the village, the emancipated slaves unanimously praise their leaders Chiniu Puha, secretary, and Hailai Shihku, deputy secretary, of the brigade Party branch.
Never Forget Past Suffering
Under the leadership of the Party and Chairman Mao, democratic reform was carried out in 1956. Two former slaves, Puha and Shihku, together with others, buried the heinous slave-owning system and won their emancipation.
Following the victory in the democratic reform, in response to Chairman Mao’s call “Get organized!” they joined the emancipated slaves to form an advanced agricultural producers’ co-operative in 1958. Puha and Shihku became head and deputy head of the co-op.
One winter day shortly after this, Puha, just back from a study course at the county school for Party members, was gathering potatoes along with co-op members on the hillside, while telling them about the superiority of taking the socialist road. The members were listening with great interest when Chiwu Kepo, a hidden counter-revolutionary, shouted in Puha’s face: “Trailing behind those dirty Hans in knocking together a co-op, you’re actually forgetting our Yi people’s forefathers.”
A Party member, Puha was well aware that in a society where classes exist, men are grouped into classes. The people of Yi, Han and other nationalities are brothers. Any attempt by the class enemy to sow discord among the people of different nationalities must be smashed head-on. With this in mind, he refuted Chiwu Kepo: “You were a usurer. The more money you made, the more we had to tighten our belts. Between you and us, there is nothing in common. You’ll never succeed in pulling us back on to the dark road of the slave society. We are determined to take the road of collectivization pointed out by Chairman Mao and the Party.”
Puha’s words were cheered by the masses. When night fell, Puha remained with several co-op members to keep watch over the potatoes. Axe in hand, Chiwu Kepo sneaked up in the depth of night. Groping his way towards Puha, he savagely slashed at him. The others sleeping near by shouted in alarm and the assassin took to his heels, but Puha was wounded.
The counter-revolutionary was arrested the next day. Shihku and other co-op members called on Puha and advised him to stay indoors and let the wound heal. Restless at home, Puha went to a mass meeting and told those present: “It is not me Puha but the socialist road that the enemy hates. He may cut off my head, but never our determination to follow Chairman Mao and the Party.” Furiously condemning the crimes of this counter-revolutionary, the co-op members were firm in their decision to take the socialist road.
Led by Puha and Shihku, Walikou’s emancipated slaves surmounted one difficulty after another to consolidate the co-op while maintaining high vigilance and waging resolute struggles against the class enemy. In 1962 they again led the masses in advancing along the socialist road by foiling Liu Shao-chi’s nefarious attempt to go in for individual farming and dissolve co-ops.
Actual struggles against the enemy helped Puha and Shihku raise their consciousness of class struggle. Bearing in mind Chairman Mao’s teaching “Never forget class struggle,” they organized the masses to contrast past suffering with today’s happiness. Twenty-six harshly exploited and oppressed former slaves were invited to denounce the evil of the old society. As a result, the class consciousness of the masses was raised.
Suggested by the masses as a way of enabling the young people always to remember the bitter past, stone tablets inscribed with full accounts of massacres were put up at three places where slaves were slaughtered in cold blood by slave-owners. Emancipated slaves passing by stopped and read the inscriptions, a reminder of the blood-stained history of class struggle.
Several exhibitions were set up by the brigade to educate its members. On exhibit were lethal weapons and torture instruments used by the slave-owners, as well as worn-out sheepskins and rags which ex-slaves once wore and 12 wild plants they ate.
Build a New Liangshan
After the victory of the democratic reform, the emancipated slaves in Walikou worked hard to change their mountain village.
Criss-crossed by gullies and ravines, Walikou is made up of high and steep hills. Many places were sealed off as “holy land” by the slave-holders. After Puha and Shihku had consulted with each other one winter, they made up their minds to do away with fetishes and transform the land. They began with the marsh which had been “holy land.” A shock team of 12 sturdy young members led by Shihku set out for the marsh. Cold as it was up the mountain, Shihku did not hesitate to jump into the marsh. Others followed. Their tenacious efforts throughout the winter bore fruit. The age-old wasteland was reclaimed and crops grew well on it the following year.
By constantly summing up and popularizing the experience gained in transforming marshes, Puha and Shihku succeeded in turning the low-lying land and marshes where no crop had ever grown into 43 mu of high and stable yielding farmland.
In 1964, Shihku attended the First Session of the Third National People’s Congress where he studied the outstanding feats of the Tachai Brigade in Shansi Province. Back from the Congress, he was very excited, telling Puha: “We emancipated slaves must learn from Tachai’s poor and lower-middle peasants. We must work still harder and battle heaven and earth so as to build a socialist new countryside and change the poor and backward state of Walikou.” Doing farm work during the day, they both passed on Tachai’s experience to co-op members at night, thereby greatly encouraging the emancipated slaves to emulate Tachai. Several years of hard work brought another 351 mu of land under cultivation and an end to the village’s primitive and backward state.
Instead of growing only potatoes, oats and buckwheat, over a dozen crops, including fine strains of wheat, maize, rape and soya bean, are now sown to large tracts of land. Moreover, the brigade has popularized the use of “Walikou No. 1,” a good strain of wheat they bred themselves.
The brigade’s scientific experiment group with Shihku as its leader has been working on experimental plots for a dozen fine strains of wheat, maize and potato. Last year, the group succeeded in producing “5406” antibiotic fertilizer by a local method. Walikou has taken giant strides on the road of scientific farming.
Serious Reading and Study
When they talk, Puha and Shihku are apt to say: “The red flowers of buckwheat on Taliang Mountains are due to the sun, and today’s Walikou is due to Mao Tsetung Thought.” While diligently studying Chairman Mao’s works, they pay great attention to the political study of the co-op members. One incident gave them a profound lesson on the importance of study.
On his way to a study session at the brigade headquarters one evening in 1961, Puha asked the cripple Achia, a 50-year-old stockman, to go along with him, To his great surprise, Achia flared up and said: “In the old days I raised pigs for slave-owners. Nowadays besides doing the same job, you even ask me to study at night. I’m not going.” Achia’s wife Mama Tzuhsi also grumbled: “We won’t raise pigs any more!” Bewildered, Puha left without a word.
After the study session, he told Shihku what had happened. Both were surprised. Having been slaves for decades, the old couple had had their fill of suffering. They love the Party and Chairman Mao who brought them their liberation. They had given a good account of themselves raising pigs for the collective. Why did they suddenly want to give up the job? Shihku said: “When the flock of sheep run amuck, there must be wolves. Is it possible bad elements are instigating them from behind the scene?” They decided to be move patient in doing ideological work.
Hailai Shihku (left) and members of the Walikou
There was a heavy snowfall the following day when Shihku came to Achia’s. As he walked in, Achia asked: “What are you here for? I don’t want to listen to you any more!” Shihku replied: “It’s cold. I’m here to help you build a fire.” Taking a seat, he threw some firewood into the stove. As he talked he shifted the topic to his own bitter history: At seven he had been a shepherd for slave-owners, with nothing to wear but rags. On snowy days he had to hold a lamb in his arms to warm himself.... Shihku’s story reminded Achia of his own. Unconsciously he broke in: “My childhood was the same as yours!” Shihku went on with his story. When he related how four of his seven family members were sold by slave-holders, the old couple burst into tears.
The same evening Puha also called on Achia. Less irritated, the old couple sat around the stove with him and had a heart-to-heart talk. Puha and Achia had shared the good and bad when both were slaves of the same slave-owner for many years. “Achia,” said Puha, “I myself saw how the slave-owner broke your leg with a poker. Lame to this day, aren’t you? At least 50 or 60 times, the slave-owner didn’t give us food; sometimes you, sometimes me. But we shared our food between us. If not for the Party and Chairman Mao, we would have been tortured to death long ago....”
The old couple were weeping as Puha told the story. Before long, Puha could not continue. Finally Achia said: “Puha, I’m wrong. I must have been blind. I took the enemy as my kith and kin.” The old man revealed how a former slave-owner had incited him not to raise pigs. A struggle meeting was then held and Achia vehemently exposed the crimes of that scoundrel before the co-op members.
The incident gave Puha and Shihku much food for thought. How was it that people like Achia who love Chairman Mao and the Party and hate the slave-owners to the marrow can be taken in by the slave-owners? Their unanimous answer was: If one doesn’t read the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and Chairman Mao’s works, one knows nothing about class struggle.
Since then, Puha and Shihku have formed a 16-member study group, composed mainly of cadres. Helped by a primary school teacher of Han nationality, they learnt to read and write and studied Chairman Mao’s teachings on class struggle as well as his works such as Serve the People, In Memory of Norman Bethune and The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains. While studying in the group, they also helped the co-op members in their studies. Several years of consistent efforts notably raised Puha and Shihku’s educational and ideological levels. Puha is now reading Selected Works of Mao Tsetung from cover to cover and selected chapters from the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
With Puha and Shihku taking the lead, all members of the brigade, men and women, old and young, are taking part in political study. Following Chairman Mao’s teachings, they repudiate the counter-revolutionary revisionist fallacies of Liu Shao-chi and other political swindlers and thus enhance their class consciousness and consciousness of the struggle between the two lines.
A frequent visitor to Achia’s, Puha studies with the old couple. The two have raised nearly 400 pigs in the past few years and contributed their share to the state and the collective.
* * *
A member of the Szechuan Provincial Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Puha is concurrently deputy Party secretary of Meiku County. Shihku is a Deputy to the Third National People’s Congress. Though their posts have changed, they retain the fine qualities of the working people.
Following Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line, they are leading the emancipated slaves in building a socialist new Liangshan with redoubled efforts.