Making ends meet in the “pot luck” sandwich

“It’s better to run a people’s commune.”

Some sources show that these words were said by Chairman Mao Zedong in 1958. “People’s Commune is a good name, including workers, farmers, merchants, scholars and soldiers, managing production, managing life and managing power.” The leader’s words were a golden rule, and so the whole country set off the “people’s commune climax”.

Mao Zedong once said this about the invention of the word “leap forward”: “Since the slogan ‘leap forward’ was raised, the anti-adventurous theorists have kept their mouths shut. The ‘adventurous’ can be opposed (adventurous is a synonym for right-leaning opportunism), and of course, they can say it with conviction. What about the leap forward? That’s different, it’s not good to oppose. To oppose that will immediately throw themselves into a very dishonorable position up. This article was published when some of us were in Moscow, hosted by domestic comrades, whose credit is not under Yu. If a doctoral title is to be awarded, I suggest that the number one doctor be given to the scientist (or scientists) who invented this great slogan (i.e.: ‘Leap Forward’).”

Afterwards, it was not known that Chairman Mao Zedong awarded the doctoral title of “Leap Forward” to the scientist or scientists. According to the logic of his speech, the inventor of the term “people’s commune”, whose credit is not “under Yu”, should be given the title of doctor. So, to whom should this “doctoral title” be given? One thing is for sure: Mao Zedong was the only one who tried his best to implement the People’s Commune Movement in the Republic.

I was born in the 1950s in the countryside and have lived in the “paradise of the people’s commune” for as long as I can remember. After graduating from junior high school and high school, I returned to my hometown and worked as a farmer repairing the earth for several years, and also as a production team recorder for two years, so I was an authentic commune member and had a deep experience of the “big pot of rice” life.

I will not talk about the “Great Leap Forward”, the “Three Years of Difficulties”, the “Anti-Rightist Trend”, or the “Three Years of Difficulties”. “The “Four Clean-up Campaigns” were not mentioned for the time being. By the 1970s, the lowest unit of the “three levels of ownership” of the people’s communes was the production team. The property owned collectively was land, woods, livestock, warehouses, breeding rooms, carts, farm machinery, etc. Dozens of families, except for the families of the commune’s members, had a lot of land. In addition to the homestead, a few houses, clothes and daily necessities, the only means of production for several dozen families were shovels, hoes and other farming tools. There are a few points of self-reserved land, land ownership is collective, the members only have the right to operate. Moreover, the above restricts that the land must be planted with food and vegetables, while planting other cash crops is “capitalist tail” and is subject to criticism.

Throughout the year, in spring, summer, autumn and winter, rural members were tied to the land, working at sunrise and resting at sunset. At the height of the “agricultural learning” campaign, the members were made to work overtime at night. What was the result of such hard work? The production team gave each person less than 200 pounds of rations each year, which was not enough to eat after grinding into flour; the value of labor was extremely low, earning a few cents or a few pennies for a day’s work, and the year-end dividend was not even a few dollars. My family of three, my father, my mother and I are three laborers, there is no idle food. I remember in 1976, I worked hard for a year and received a year-end dividend of 53 yuan, but I could not cash it in because the collective did not have the cash to pay, so the dividend was recorded in the production team’s account book, which was actually a pie.

At that time, this status quo was very common, honest, generous, simple commune members, can only suffer in silence. What would happen to the cadres, city workers and school teachers if they were not paid for a month or several months?

In my family’s case, the production team did not withhold food rations, and I was still owed my share of the dividend. Some other families in the production team, with a large population and little labor, worked hard for a year, but not only did they not get a penny, they also owed money to the collective, called “defaulters”. The production team punishes these “arrears households” by withholding their rations from them, or less. But people always have to eat, and in the end, all the money must be distributed to.

Most of the “defaulters” were poor peasants with good family composition, so what could the brigade and production team cadres do to them? Year after year, the arrears accumulated more, the collective will also be forgiven. In this way, the individual “defaulters” are not ashamed, but more and more dependent on the collective, at the end of the year, the superiors allocate a little relief food and relief money, but also need to give priority to them. “The Communist Party will not starve people to death anyway” became the mantra of the “defaulters”.

Fan Jingyi, the former editor-in-chief of People’s Daily, once wrote a news article: “No phone calls at night, no blockers in the morning, and the cadres of the two communes sleep peacefully”, in which he mentioned this situation in rural Liaoning.

The development of the rural economy to such a point is related to both the “pot-luck” production model and the rural policy under the state’s planned economic system. The wheat produced by the production team every year, except for the rations, seeds, fodder and reserve grain of the community members, had to be sold to the state, and the state bought it at a uniform price.

Please note that this purchase price is extremely low, completely inconsistent with the law of value, and there is a huge disparity with the huge cost of producing grain for farmers. Even for the grain that was sold in excess (the patriotic grain often advertised in the newspapers), the purchase price was slightly higher than the planned grain sale, but the quantity was very limited. The cotton and oil produced by the production teams were also purchased at the price set by the state. On the contrary, the price of fertilizer and agricultural machinery sold by the state to the production team was set very high, and the production team could only buy them as they were.

This is the so-called “scissors difference” between industry and agriculture, or that a large part of the country’s industrial, national defense, science and technology, education construction funds from the national farmers’ hard work and sweat, is the selfless contribution of the peasant brothers. Therefore, at that time, the news propaganda reported the construction achievements of “two bombs and one star”, Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, etc., and the abundant commodities and stable prices in the cities, as well as the support for the revolutions in Asia, Africa and Latin America, without knowing that hundreds of millions of peasants in China were suffering from “less food and no drink”. “(Lin Biao’s words after his defection and destruction, according to the criticism document).

In those days, for the majority of peasants, the collective share of grain is not enough to eat, you need to go to the black market to buy food; collective share of cooking oil is not enough to eat, you need to go to the black market to buy oil; family life, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar and tea, need money; children’s school tuition and ink, paper and ink, need money; in the supply and marketing agency to buy some fabric and needle and thread, need money; not to mention the construction of houses, weddings, funerals and marriages, these need to spend a lot of money to mention the headache of the big event.

So, where do the members get their money from?

In my family’s case, I particularly admire my parents for their economic acumen, good management and calculation, as well as their hard work and perseverance. The trick to earning money was to dig into the collective economy and start a little family side business, but they didn’t dare to cross the line.

The first side business our family engaged in was making persimmon cakes. In the fields of Wanrong County, the ravines and cliffs were filled with persimmon trees, large and small, some of which were decades old. In the summer, the persimmon trees are shaded with green leaves, a good place for members to rest and cool off; in the fall, the red persimmons fall like lanterns all over the branches, which is delightful. The majority of the persimmon trees were owned by the collective, while a few members of the community had one or two trees that they managed on their own. When the persimmons were ripe, the production team evaluated the production of persimmons on the trees and then distributed them on a per capita basis, and the members picked them themselves and processed them to make persimmon cakes.

My family did not have any persimmon trees, and my production team had relatively few persimmon trees. My father would go to our village or other villages to look for members who had many persimmons but lacked the ability to process them, buy the extra persimmons, and bring them home to make persimmon cakes.

Making persimmon cakes was an extremely complicated task. My father and I pulled a small flat cart and traveled dozens of miles up the mountain to pick persimmons from the trees and transport them home. We had to work during the day, so we had to use the night to turn off the skins of the persimmons with a hand-cranked persimmon turning machine, often late into the night. When the sky cleared, the persimmons were then spread out on a book and exposed to the sun. When it rains, they are covered with plastic sheeting in a hurry. When the persimmons are dried to a certain extent, they are gathered up and put in a large porcelain jar to cover them up. After a few days, the persimmons are taken out again to dry, and so on. It is not until late winter, when the persimmon cake itself grows a thick layer of sweet white frost, that persimmon cake production is considered successful.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Japan in 1972, people in our hometown spread the rumor that an important Japanese minister came to Wanrong County during the invasion of China and tasted the local persimmon cakes, feeling that they were soft and sweet and of high quality. Today, he specifically imports persimmon cakes from Wanrong, Shanxi Province, China by name. I don’t know if this legend is true or not, but at that time, the persimmon cakes produced in Wanrong were exported to Japan in such large quantities that the persimmon cakes from neighboring counties also took on the banner of Wanrong County.

Our village supply and marketing agency bought persimmon cakes in large quantities, and the requirements for exporting persimmon cakes to Japan were particularly strict, not only in terms of size and frosting, but also in terms of not having any cores inside the cakes, and also in terms of pinching each cake into a flat round shape. The price of export persimmon cakes was 10 cents per pound more expensive than that of domestic persimmon cakes, so members of the community competed to make more money by processing export persimmon cakes.

Thanks to my parents’ careful processing, most of my family’s persimmon cakes were able to sell at export prices. When processing persimmon cakes, my father’s calculations were like this: spending 1 yuan to be able to buy 25 pounds of hard persimmons, 25 pounds of hard persimmons to be able to process 5 pounds of persimmon cakes, the export price of each pound of persimmon cakes is 30 cents, 5 pounds of persimmon cakes can be sold for 1 yuan and 50 cents. In other words, for every 1 yuan invested, after recovering the cost, you can net 50 cents. Of course, the cost of human labor is not counted. Don’t underestimate this 50 cents, if the processing quantity is large, is a considerable family side income.

More importantly, the export of persimmon cakes can bring back valuable foreign exchange for the country. The processing of persimmon cakes is good for the country and the people, and it is not “speculation” or “capitalist tail”, so there is no need to worry about criticism. So, every year, my parents made tens of hundreds of dollars net from processing persimmon cakes.

The second side business our family engaged in was the processing of sweet potato flour. At that time, we were engaged in agricultural learning, but the more we learned, the poorer we became. The collective to the members of the ration is getting less and less, so we have to plant a lot of sweet potatoes, sweet potato production is relatively high, every 5 pounds of sweet potatoes equivalent to 1 pound of grain. After the autumn harvest, each family and members of the community to hundreds of thousands of pounds of sweet potatoes. Three meals a day, the pot is steamed sweet potatoes, mixed vegetables are sweet potatoes, boiled in the rice is sweet potatoes, sweet potatoes eat people’s stomach sour. Sweet potatoes need to be stored in the cellar in winter, if not stored well, they will rot.

While the sweet potatoes are fresh, processed into flour, the value will increase greatly. At that time, 1 yuan can buy 25 pounds of sweet potatoes, can be processed into 4 pounds of flour, each pound of sweet potato flour can be sold for 50 cents, not counting the cost of labor, 1 yuan of investment can net 1 yuan of money. Father not only processing their own share of sweet potatoes, and buy a lot of other people’s sweet potatoes to process.

Once, my father and I pulled a small flat car 30 miles away from the village to buy sweet potatoes, because of the heavy load of the small flat car, road potholes, resulting in axle damage, just to repair the car cost more than 10 yuan, heartbroken. The sweet potatoes need to be cleaned, crushed into pulp, and squeezed and filtered with water several times before they are finally made into noodles. Every year, my family can also earn dozens of dollars from the processing of noodles.

Speaking of sweet potatoes, I immediately remembered a deeply saddening incident. One day, the production team distributed many sweet potatoes, which needed to be put into the cellar in time. At night, I was supposed to help my parents place the sweet potatoes at home, but it so happened that the movie was staged in the village that night, and the name of the movie was “Little Horse Herder”. My parents spoiled me and knew that I liked to watch war movies, so they let me go to the theater to watch it while they both placed sweet potatoes at home. Halfway through the movie, suddenly the loudspeaker called the brigade health clinic doctors, quickly back to the health clinic, there are urgent patients.

I listened to the radio and didn’t take it seriously. I just watched the movie with great pleasure and returned home with great enthusiasm. When I entered the house, my father was lying on the bed with snowy bandages all over his head. It turned out that when putting sweet potatoes, my mother was above the cellar, holding the sweet potatoes in a large iron barrel and lifting them down to the cellar again and again; my father was below the cellar unloading the sweet potatoes. In the middle, the mother to the upper hanging empty iron barrel, the father did not hang the hook solid, the iron barrel was lifted to mid-air, off the hook and fell, hitting the father’s head, and immediately blood flowing. My father struggled to climb up to the cellar and went with my mother to the village health center to dress the wound. The movie loudspeaker called the doctor for this. Looking at my father’s pained expression and my mother’s anxious look, I wept with regret.

All the above-mentioned family side businesses were done under the circumstances allowed by the policy at that time, were done without affecting participation in collective labor, were done under the circumstances of racking our brains to find ways to raise funds, and were done under the circumstances of working overtime day and night to pay for hard physical labor. With this side income, our family lived a little better than others, not only for me to finish junior high school and high school, the family also bought a brand new “Flying Pigeon” bicycle.

On the contrary, there are many families in the village, because there are many children, a big drag, parents do not know how to calculate, will not engage in family side business, coupled with their own laziness and other reasons, completely dependent on the collective, relying on the “big pot of rice”, the result is a lack of food to eat, no money to spend, life is tight.

Practice proved that the “People’s Commune” did not bring happiness to the peasants, and the “Cultural Revolution” caused “the national economy to the brink of collapse”. It was not that the people were not hardworking, but that the strategy of governance had gone terribly wrong. After the reform and opening up, the joint production contract responsibility system was implemented in the countryside, and the situation immediately changed for the better, and the peasants immediately had enough food and clothing. To this day, the scenes of my parents sweating in the yard, processing persimmon cakes and flour at night, are still deeply imprinted in my mind, inspiring me not to be lazy and not to waste my time.