marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

A Journey to the Forbidden China

A Journey to the Forbidden China by Steven W. Mosher

Mosher was one of the first social scientists allowed into Communist China.  He spent most of his time in the Pearl River Delta, a place where he was shocked by the poverty, and where officials would shake their heads over how rich they were, and peasants from other regions would illegally sneak in for the chance at the worst jobs.  He managed to wangle a permit to travel by land farther into China.  This is his account of the road trip.

He discovered that indeed, the appalling poverty of the Delta peasants was luxurious.  He comments on one man, an official whose job was to keep the railway tracks clear and received his rice ration thrown from the train (which, of course, never stopped), and had actual flowers, jasmine, in bloom before his house -- the first flowers Mosher had seen since he left the Delta.  There were places where the people were afraid of him from never having seen a white man before, and one hamlet where the people tried to act as if he were there -- a traditional approach to handling ghosts.  He tells the legends of the Peach Blossom Valley, the pastoral and virtuous place hidden away in the mountains that doesn't realize that two dynasties have fallen and been replaced, and nowadays are attributed with still thinking there's an emperor, asking who's on the Dragon Throne and having no pictures of Mao in their village.  The place where the hotel had no vacancies because the local officials had handed them out to their friends and relations.  The poverty that lacks the money to industrialize; the places where electricity means you eat your evening meal by electric, but keep your kerosene lamp, and by hand irrigate your fields and grind your grain.

It ended when he stumbled into a restricted area -- it being forbidden, of course, to tell him that it's restricted -- and after writing out a non-confession (in English), he was sent by train back.  He discusses the statistics, such as that they now pay more to the government that they used to pay in rent to oppressive landlords, but it's mostly a fascinating view into rural China.  He concludes with an account of how China objected to him as a spy and his university expelled him from the doctorate program.
Tags: history reviews: communism, history reviews: far east, history reviews: post wwii, primary source review

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