(Excerpted from Chapter 14: Chinese Hard Seat Class: The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries)
Yang Shuo, China 1-7-92
When they think they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know they don’t know, people can find their own way -Tao Te Ching
A snappy Chinese melody rings out from the used electronics store across the street. Shu Li – our waitress at the aptly-named Hard Seat Cafe – chimes in with the high-pitched voice of an angel. A steady stream of bicycles flows by the restaurant, clanging their bells. They are loaded down with bamboo baskets full of giant cabbages, grapefruit the size of soccer balls, chickens, ducks and the occasional live hog. Shu Li tells us she makes five yuan – less than $1 – a day waiting tables. She lives in a tiny room just across the street. Her family lives down the Yang Shuo River in the village of Fu Li. “No money, no boyfriend,” she laments, only half joking. “During Wanx people go to Moon Hill to pray. I go once a year.”
The Hard Seat Cafe was named after a lengthy contest held among Western backpackers visiting this magical corner of China, many of whom had taken the same hell-train we had. The place is run by Mike and Charley – a pair of aspiring, if a bit shady, capitalists in this, the new China. Mike, whose real name is Li Ming Qiang, says 80% of Chinese people are still farmers. His father, himself a farmer, is apprehensive about the path down which Premier Deng Xiao Ping is leading this nation of 2 million. Mao Tse Dong had once accused Deng of being a “capitalist roader”.
“Long time ago,” laments Mike, “there were many tigers here and many trees on the hills, but lately everyone thinks they can cut trees to sell firewood. Now the trees are gone. Maybe my father also cut too much wood. But it was very difficult. There are eight children in my family. In 1983”, he continues, “The government privatized the farms. Before people worked together. Now some clever people get too much. Most farmers don’t like the government. Government buys rice very cheap. Farmers sell rice to the state marketing board, which sells rice cheaply to factory workers in the cities. Now farmers are the poorest people in China.”
Charley, whose real name is Li, says the changes started in 1978 after Henry Kissinger met with Zhou En Lai to forge the detente agreement. Suddenly education and health care – considered basic human rights by Mao’s revolutionaries – were no longer free. “People still pay heavy tax to the government,” Charley explains, “only now they get nothing in return”.
This official extortion led Li to become involved in the burgeoning black market. He buys and sells electronics, changes dollars and makes an occasional smuggling trip into Vietnam – where Western goods he buys from tourists fetch an even higher price than in China. We sell him our camera for $100. His brother, a member of the Chinese Army contingent that patrols the Vietnamese border, helps facilitate his crossings. Li says the army frequently steals chickens from Vietnamese farmers, exacerbating tensions between the two nations, who fell out following Chinese support of the Cambodian madman Pol Pot following the American withdrawal from Vietnam. The border between the countries remains closed – much to my chagrin, since I had hoped to cross into Vietnam in a few weeks.
The chocolate drop-like karsts are emerald green behind an eerie blanket of morning mist. The water rushes by us as the boatman steers towards shore. He is a quiet man, donning a Chairman Mao hat and a blue uniform to protect him from the brisk morning air. We have arrived at Fu Li village, a few miles down the mighty Yang Shuo River. We unload our bikes, which we have rented for an overland journey back to Yang Shuo later this afternoon.
Not far from the jetty, we arrive at the home of Mo Dong Fa. His paintings, he tells us, have become world famous. It is easy to see why. They are stunningly beautiful portraits of the waterfalls, mountains and jungle that now enshroud us. He is quick to show us an order that he has just received from Australia. One painting – which portrays Mao Tse Dong, Lord Buddha and Lao Tzu standing together – is particularly intriguing.
“Mao did many things for the people”, says Mo, sensing my interest. “Free food. Free medicine. Free education. These things are good.” Mo grew up here and never ventured far from the village. There are no cars here – only bicycles and an occasional truck. The market here has become a regular attraction for package tourists staying in the expensive hotels of Guilin. Vendors peddle everything from the bamboo cages we’ve seen on the bikes to fresh snake meat. As we walk through the market an old woman holds up a live puppy, hoping to entice us with its well-marbled muscles and plump belly.
We buy some of Mo’s paintings and take his address should they be a big hit back home. The ride back to Yang Shuo is surreal as we join a sea of bikes, maneuvering its way through a maze of rice paddies and dodging the occasional government lorry. We arrive back at the Hard Seat and find most of the foreigners waiting on an expensive meal of snake, which they have been anticipating all week. We opt for chicken and talk to Yohannas, a half-crazy Swede who I feel may have intelligence connections. He tells us how he once tried to save a dog from an inauspicious ending at the Fu Li market. He told a woman he would buy the dog later that afternoon. When he returned to pick it up, it was cut into neat slabs of red meat.
Dean Henderson is the author of five books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Stickin’ it to the Matrix, The Federal Reserve Cartel & Illuminati Agenda 21: The Luciferian Plan to Destroy Creation. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @www.hendersonlefthook.wordpress.com