A friend told me about a book that sounds just fascinating. It’s called A Comrade Lost and Found. It’s about a Canadian woman who was one of the first two Westerners invited to study in China, back in the 70s, when they began to open the country a bit more. A classmate came to her asking for help to escape to the US, and this young woman and her American friend turned the young woman in. Years later, the author returns to China to find out what happened to the classmate she betrayed.
Well, I have not yet been able to find that book. (It’s in the limbo between hardback and paperback when things vanish from stores.) But the librarian gave me Red China Blues, a biography by the same woman written in the mid 90s.
The book is utterly fascinating! I knew a little about Soviet Russia but absolutely nothing about Communist China. Boy! The sheer stupidity of the huge mass movements that did things like take unprepared teenagers and just dump them in the country to farm, with no training or explanation, was horrifying. Each page, each chapter brings new glimpses of horror…and this is just from the point of view of someone who was favorable to the system at the time!
But what is most amazing is that China, as described in the 70s, is unrecognizable as the China I visited. I am very curious to read the Comrade book and see modern China through the eyes of this interesting narrator.
But one thing in particular that leapt out at me was how little work any of the workers seemed to get done (hours were wasted regularly on political meetings at the places the narrator visited.) I was reminded of a gentleman I once met from Vietnam. When he expressed hatred of Communism, I asked why. I remember thinking, in my naivte, "Oh, he won’t know what Communism really is, he just hates the bad guys hurting his people."
I was so wrong.
He understood exactly what was wrong with it, and one of his main complaints was: nobody worked hard. Since you got paid the same whether you worked hard or not, People didn’t. And if you wanted to work hard, you got penalized, because the lazy guy got paid exactly the same as you.
This book shows that a very similar thing was going on in China.