In 1974 I went to a May 7 Cadre School outside Beijing, saw high school students waiting at train stations to go "up into the hills and down to the countryside" to learn from the peasants about the conditions that had produced the momentous Chinese revolution. In Nanjing I spoke to a student, in his school, about going out to the country - he had been and had put in a request to go again. On the Shanghai wharves, I saw two young female doctors driving cranes - doing their required rotation of manual labour so that they would understand the conditons of the workers they might have to treat.
All of these socialist initiatives were wound down after Mao's death. Under Deng Xiaoping, intellectuals ("cadres") were allowed to complain about such "demeaning" practices and a whole market for whinging about the Cultural Revolution opened up in the West.
The author of this piece, which I have translated from Chinese, looks back fondly on his time in a May 7 Cadre School. Mao Zedong's instructions to Lin Biao about the creation of cadre schools is attached at the end for reference.
(Above: Advance courageously along the great and glorious road of Chairman Mao's '7 May Directive' )
Li Minyi: Notes on "May 7 cadre schools".
43 years ago today, Chairman Mao issued the “May 7th Directive"; 34 years ago --- that is, from April till September of 1975, I spent a few months as a “May 7 soldier” at the May 7 Cadre School of the General Staff Communication Department at Xuchang in Henan.
As far as entering the "May 7 cadre school" is concerned, because times then were different, and people’s situations were different, then each person's experiences were naturally not the same. For example, some people thought it was the “cowshed” where “cow demons and snake spirits” were locked up, and that they were no different to labor camps and prison sentences; some others thought that it was a labor-training school, conducive to the improvement of individual ideological consciousness and have always cherished the memory of that part of their life experience. There may people who had other experiences as well, but you can say for sure that I would like to belong to the latter group.
On the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the issuing by Chairman Mao of the May 7th directive, with individuals remembering their experiences of May 7 cadre schools, and in so far as mine is a commemoration, and in so far as there are people who do not have experience or an understanding of that history, then we should not lose sight of such a beneficial resource.
In 1975 at the age of 29, I was a publicity officer in the first communications station of the General Staff of the Ministry of Communications in Beijing. In April, my work unit decided that I should go with four other people to a "May 7 cadre school." They were: deputy political commissar of the troops Wang Furang, in his fifties; Ding Wensheng, chief of security in his early 40s; the public health logistics section chief and a 30 year old assistant from the logistics department (I can’t remember the last two people’s names).
Although I don’t clearly remember the date, we took a train and got off at Xuchang in Henan province. A car sent by the cadres came to meet us and took us to our residence about 20 km outside the town. After arriving, we were quickly put into teams that had been arranged in advance by the school personnel. The head of the team was a 50 year-old cadre school cadre named Lu. He was the assistant to the head of the residential district. We and five comrades from the engineering headquarters (hereafter called EH) were put in one class and the section chief became class leader with young Assistant Wang from the EH as deputy class leader. Little Wang and I shared a room with two others from the EH. One of the latter was an acquaintance of mine, Liu Dingcai. During our time at Fudan University he was in the journalism department, and because one of my small group of classmates, Liu Guangsheng, was in his unit I knew him and remembered his name. Dingcai was younger than me by four or five years and was promoted to a cadre after graduation, and became the secretary charged with propaganda work in EH after he went to the cadre school. There was also someone called Liu Daozhu who was two or three years older than me who was a staff officer at EH. Our dormitory was on the second row of the Southern building and nearby, if you went east across Getiao Street, there was a big fish breeding pond.
The "May 7 cadre schools" was a division-level unit of the General Staff under the Ministry of Communications. Principal Liu Mingsheng, who lived a plain life and was approachable, was an old Red Army man. The cadre school was located about 20 kilometers south of Xuchang, surrounded by flat terrain. Less than a kilometer south of our dormitory was a river more than 10 meters wide flowing from east to west, although when the depth was around one meter or so, it did not flow. According to legend, it was the Yunliang River excavated by Cao Cao during the Three Kingdoms period. The deputy team leader would take us to catch fish by hand along this river. Once or twice each year, using this method, he would catch fish.
The actual procedure is to block up the two sides of the opening under the bridge, drain away the water inside, and you would be able to catch several dozen jin (one jin is equal to 0.5 kilos) of fish, mostly carp, and sticky fish. Bathing in the river I caught a small soft-shelled turtle, weighing about two to three liang (there are ten liang per jin so each liang is 50 grams). It was brought back to Beijing by Deputy Political Commissar Wang, and placed in his fish tank at home where I have seen it.
The whole "May 7 cadre school" had over 2,800 mu of land (one mu is equal to 0.165 acres). The main crops are wheat and rapeseed. After arriving at the school, we divided our time roughly equally between studying military administration and doing productive labour. Whilst at the cadre school, we also arranged to spend a week visiting the Red Flag Canal in Linxian (Lin County), and had two weeks in nearby rural areas, implementing the "three togethers", ie living, eating and working with the people. However, I just do not remember the name of that village.
Learn to farm
During our time at the "May 7 cadre school," the main types of farm work our class engaged in were: digging fish ponds, harvesting rapeseed harvesting and sun-drying the wheat, opening up wasteland to grow vegetables, construction of walls for a table-tennis room, making sun-dried bricks etc.
Because there was a relatively high degree of mechanization at the cadre school, harvesting of wheat was by machine, and there was a tractor ploughing team of around ten people. That combine harvester was an energetic fellow, reaping on one side and threshing on the other, and not long after the wheat could be transported to the site for airing and drying. We only had to cut the left-over wheat, and there was not much labor intensity involved. Building mud walls and making mud bricks were duties that only our class had to undertake. Because did it so well the first time, afterwards whenever there was this type of work, it was always done by my class. It is worth mentioning that the squad leader Lao Ding, was an expert, a genius. With a hand-held sickle, he looked like an old farmer; when he picked up the trowel, he looked like a qualified mason. He led the class in having a beautiful life, and the team cadres and the students all praised him with one voice.
All of our spare time was used up planting vegetables. Around the edges of the place where we were stationed and along the sides of several fish ponds, there was a weedy area which we dug deeply and turned into a vegetable plot. The teams and groups all competed, and after doing their best to dig out the vegetable plot, planted eggplant, hot peppers, kidney beans, pumpkin squash, and then harvested the vegetables and delivered them to the canteen, had said that registration of a certain time in the team announced the results will always be outstanding praise and encouragement.
Having said that, there is a small episode I’d like to raise. Section Chief Zhang from our class, later on divided up our group to help work in the kitchen. When he was opening up wasteland to grow vegetables, he and several companions from the canteen planted watermelon at the side of a fish pond, and they grew fairly well, and in particular, after they formed into small melons, growing quickly, a new one each day, he and his companions went there each day to enjoy some. Sooner or later some were harvested, but we had not heard of them being turned over to the canteen, and they had all been privately taken care of. However, a few of the mischievous boys in our dormitory had helped eliminate the first relatively big watermelon.
That was one night around ten or eleven o'clock, when a few in our dormitory had not fallen asleep; I do not remember exactly whose ingenious idea it was to pick a ripe watermelon and take it away, but others respond immediately. So we used the dormitory near the edges of the ponds and dressed in shorts and singlets, and quietly reached the watermelon ground, took the melon off, then holding it tightly in our arms, carried it to the table tennis room, and quickly completed our mission. To confuse the masters of melon, they then selected a large melon skin and put it back where the melon had been, camouflaging it with some melon leaves.
This method was really effective, and it wasn’t until 3 or 4 days later that we heard Old Zhao and others arguing about who ate his watermelon, causing a few of us in our dormitory to smile for quite a while! After I’d been back in Beijing, I once ran into Section Chief Zhang, and recalling the matter I asked him: "Section Chief, did you ever find out who ate that watermelon?" He said: "It wasn’t those guys from the mess squad! " It was only then that I told this upright elder brother the truth.
The officers and men are equal
If you were to ask me what was the most prominent feature of life in a "May 7 cadre school", it would be the equality between officers and men, that all were of equal standing. It should be said that this "May 7th road" had a powerful impact on the traditional hierarchy and on the consciousness of “being an officer".
On the first day of the cadre school, it was announced in the team that in order to get rid of bourgeois right, all those who had come here were “May 7th soldiers” taking the "May 7th Road", and that all were students, regardless of the level of their original positions in the army, and all were to be addressed as Old Wang or Old Li and that we were no longer to call them by their previous post and rank.
The whole team had three levels of leadership cadres, they are the Minister of the Ministry of Communications Shi Fuyin, the first deputy political commissar of the Ministry of Communications, Wang Furang and the second assistant director Wang, (I remember that he had been appointed as the head of the cadre school during this period). There were also many people who belonged to the Section Chief under the Head of Department.
The quality of these leading comrades was very high, and they could all place strict demands on themselves, could transform themselves into ordinary soldiers. They were older than us and had higher positions than us, but did not put on the airs of an officer while at the cadre school. They ate and boarded with us and shared our entertainment, and did the same farm work as us, so that they could indeed draw closer to us young people and share our intimate feelings. This kind of life makes us feel warm, free and casual, but also enabled us to learn many good ideas and many good traditions alongside the older comrades.
Take our deputy political commissar Wang Furang, in the army that’s a division-level head, and as we were usually on familiar terms, how could we not just call him Old Wang! In the cadre school it could happen that his former subordinate Section Chief Ding became his class leader and often assigned Lao Wang his tasks; young people from outside work units shouted at him, telling him to do this or that. This person, Lao Wang, was really easy-going, and he got along very well in his relationship with young people, and had lots of special stories in his head. Many times, when resting from work, they were all listening to him telling stories. Many people know that Wu Dalang (“Big” Wang) went to Japan to be king, and that to avoid the taboo on the use of the personal name of the king, the Japanese have stories about “Little” Lang, “One”Lang, “Supreme” Lang, but the first time that some of us had heard of this was from Lao Wang. My classmate Liu Dingcai later went on a work trip to Beijing from outside and made a special point of calling on Lao Wang from all those years ago.
Checking the harvest
It needs to be said that there were lots of things to point out in the cadre school’s harvest. For example, by undergoing the cadre school life, the mutual understanding of the various subordinate units was enhanced and the relations between them were neighbourly and friendly; at the cadre school we were all able to eat, sleep, build up our physique, learn to do farm work, in order to reap tens of millions of pounds of food out of the effort , sprinkled with sweat; In addition to the classroom arrangements for military and political education, we also went out of the barracks to visit and study, to broaden our field of vision, to experience and understand the hard life of the masses of peasants in Henan. This is not specifically described here, and there are only two things that left a deep impression to tell you about.
First, being involved in an emergency when on a study trip to Lin County.
According to the team's arrangements, the entire unit of one hundred people went out from the cadre school, visiting 27 commemorative monuments in Zhengzhou, Henan, and visited the Red Flag Canal in Lin County. When visiting Lin County, we ran into a rainstorm, and it is said that the area of Xuchang, Luohe, and Zhumadian in the space of 24 hours had 300 millimeters of rainfall. The rainstorm led to a flood disaster, and many farmland paths were washed away. On that day in the boarding house, we heard that several members of a certain village in the county had gone out to do farm work, but because the flood had washed out their bridge, they were caught stranded on a sandbar, and that they had already been without food and water for one day and night, and needed to be rescued. As an army made up of the sons of the people, how could we sit by and do nothing when the people faced difficulties! The leader of the cadre school political department (political work section?) Director Liu, (who afterwards moved to the Communications Command Academy in Wuhan as a teacher in the Marxist-Leninist Teaching and Research Institute where his office was alongside mine) after discussions with the team’s cadres, asked the county leaders for a combat assignment, and after authorization, formed an emergency squad of more than 20 young people who could swim, and they immediately rushed to the rescue site.
Dingcai and I were both honoured to be approved to participate in the operation. I remember that it was in the afternoon, and that we first went in a big car, but that as the distance was not far and because the asphalt had been washed away up ahead we had to get out and go off on foot. On the way to our destination, we stopped at a riverside where we could see the bridge that was destroyed, and we could also see across where the river was divided to where there were two members of the trapped. We needed to cross the first river, but although it was only 10 meters wide, the depth was unpredictable, and there was a large willow tree that had been swept into the river. The first person to jump into the water, surnamed Wang, (unfortunately I cannot remember his given name) had a rope tied at the waist and took the lead. He gave the rope a pull and a few others jumped into the water, and advanced to the bank of the second river to where the people were trapped. From the waves on the water it could be seen that the river was not deep, but the current were very turbulent and the water was also very wide, about forty to fifty meters across. In coordination with the people trapped on the other side a small stone was tied to the rope which was then thrown and the rope pulled tight. Our side of the river we tried to raise the rope high, to try and help Xiao Wang get back across the river but this was without success, and Xiao Wang swallowed a lot of water. It was very dangerous. As we were anxiously thinking of other ways, the local People's Liberation Army arrived with a rubber dinghy, which they successfully used to reach the stranded people.
The stranded people were not rescued by us, but the county highly appraised us and subsequently gave a banquet to express their gratitude to all of us. The banquet was in the main hall of the country guest house, and there was a huge variety of dishes on the table and wine glasses, as well as a variety of fruits, such a rich feast as I have never again experienced. After returning to the cadre school, Xiao Wang was awarded a merit citation Third Class for his bravery in leading the attempt to save the people.
Second, the recreational activities in which we participated during our time at the cadre school.
I would have to say that as regards cultural and sports activities, there was mainly sports. There was only one thing that could be regarded as “literary” and that was one night after there had been a forecast of rain, and the class worked more than an hour overtime to carry tens of thousands of pounds of wheat in storage bag into a warehouse before the rain came. The next day I wrote a report on it which was broadcast by the school radio station.
In quite a few sports there were those who were considered to be activists. In addition to the chess and poker competitions organized by the team, there were those who had played a lot of basketball.
The poker competition was played in ascending grades, and with my partner Liu Taozhu we progressed through several competitions in the class, district and whole unit and finally became the champions. Although the prize was only the pack of cards used in the competition, it caused us both to become targets of public criticism. After the competition, not only did many people in neighbouring dormitories want to play cards with us, but so did both Minister Shi and Director Wang of the Ministry of Communications, who lived in the row in front of us, and although I didn’t know whether they were not convinced that we were champions, or whether they were considering finding an ace to compete with us, but in any case we were invited there many times for a trial of strength.
Basketball was the most frequent activity for a few months. Besides spontaneously organized competitions within the team and between teams, there was a round robin competition organized for the whole school. Liu Dingcai and I both became enthusiasts and took part in the blue team. Our team didn’t mess around, but had standards. The team leader and captain were both 46 or 47 year-old old comrades. Every time before a game, we would have meetings to study strategy and tactics; after the match we would also sit down for serious analysis and lessons learned. So we improved with each game. During the games, individuals could stay on the court the whole time, and although I was playing guard, because the captain also played guard, he asked me to be a flexible guard and encouraged me to take the opportunity to shoot, so each game I also had a score. Hearing the commentary of the comrades in the propaganda team over loudspeakers giving recognition of our attack and defence was a a proud feeling to have. On one occasion, in a match against the tractor ploughing team, their forward and I hit our heads against each other. Above his eye was a two centimeter long gash which required 78 stitches; I had a centimeter long and half a centimeter deep gash as well. That lad was a couple of years younger than I, modest and shy, and we both laughed as we collided and later maintained a good relationship.
After the round robin had been played and a whole school team created, only me and a big man surnamed Liang from our team were selected. Unfortunately, they just announced the team, but were unable afterwards to organize training and competition with other units. Nevertheless, this incident also inspired me as when all is said and done, it affirmed my participation as an individual. The experience of playing basketball in the cadre school it can be said was the most uplifting feeling I ever had in a lifetime of playing basketball.
Attachment: Chairman Mao’s May 7 instructions of 1966
Notes On The Report Of Further Improving The Army’s Agricultural
Work By The Rear Service Department Of The Military Commission
May 7, 1966
[SOURCE: Long Live Mao Zedong Thought, a Red Guard Publication.]
Dear Comrade Lin Biao,
I have received the report from the Rear Service Department which you sent me on 6 May. I think it is an excellent plan. Is it possible to send this report to all the military districts and ask them to hold discussions of it among the cadres at the army and division levels? Their views should be reported to the Military Commission and through it to the Centre for approval. After that, suitable directives should be issued to them. Please consider this suggestion.
In the absence of a world war, our army should be a big school. Even under conditions of the third world war, it can still serve as a big school. In addition to fighting the war, it must do other work. In the eight years of the second world war, did we not do just that in the anti-Japanese base areas? In this big school, the army should learn politics, military affairs, and culture, and engage in agricultural production. It can build up its own middle- and small-size workshops to produce goods for its own use and the exchange of other goods of equal value. It can take part in mass work, factory work, and rural socialist education. After socialist education, there are always other kinds of mass work for it to do, to unite the army and people as one. The army should also participate in the revolutionary struggle against capitalist culture. In this way, it carries out military-educational, military-agricultural, military-industrial, and military-civilian work. Naturally, these kinds of work should be properly co-ordinated and a distinction should be made between major and subsidiary work. A unit can select one or two from the agricultural, industrial, and civilian combination, but not all three. In this way, the tremendous power of several million soldiers will be felt.
Likewise, workers should, in addition to their main industrial work, learn military affairs, politics, and culture, and take part in the socialist educational movement and in criticizing the capitalist class. Under adequate conditions, they should also engage in agricultural production, following the example of the Daqing Oilfield.
The communes do their main agricultural work (including forestry, fishing, animal husbandry, and subsidiary trades), but they must also learn military affairs, politics, and culture. When circumstances allow, they should collectively set up small-scale factories and take part in criticizing the capitalist class.
The students are in a similar position. Their studies are their chief work; they must also learn other things. In other words, they ought to learn industrial, agricultural, and military work in addition to class work. The school years should be shortened, education should be revolutionized, and the domination of our schools by bourgeois intellectuals should by no means be allowed to continue.
Under favourable conditions, people in commerce, service trades, and party and government offices should do likewise.
What has been said above is neither new nor original. Many people have been doing this for some time, but it has not yet become a widespread phenomenon. Our army has been working in this way for decades. Now it is on the threshold of new developments.