Story of Ink and Wash - Pull Bread Out of Thin Air
November Issue of Hi Art, 2009
The essential skills for crosstalk comedians are speech, mimicry, comedy and singing. They can “pull bread out of thin air”, and “catch a thief right on the spot”, which means, they are able to support their family, buy cars and houses, pay mortgage, and even travel to Southeastern Asia in their spare time by simply talking. After all, crosstalk comedians are very small part of the total population, if all people in a country are lying through their teeth, it can only be called a wonder, or a historical miracle. Then have that ever happened? Yes. However, in countries like China which has a history of civilization for 5000 years, all people should have had their own point of view, and elites should have been found in every area, so how could the entire Chinese people are telling a lie together? It’s a strange thing.
On December 2nd, 1957, People’s Daily released an editorial, putting forward the slogan of “realizing the full and great Leap of national economy”. On April 15th, 1958, with his ambition, Mao Zedong wrote, “After 10 years, China will catch up with England in steel output, and will catch come up with America after another 10 years.” A month later, he further proposed, “We can catch up with England using 7 years, and come up with America using another 8 or 10 years.” Consequently, Chinese people had produced 10.7 million tons of waste steel with various absurd methods. The steel was of no use, but at least it was piled there, which could be seen, while regarding agriculture, all “achievements” were accomplished by “releasing satellites”, namely announcing false news. On December 25th, 1957, People’s Daily reported that Chenghai County in Shantou District, Guangdong Province, announced that local grain yield there had reached 628.5 kilograms per acre; a few days later, Cang County in Hebei Province had raised their grain output to 750 kilos per acre. Then during the summer harvest in 1958, Suiping County in Henan Province announced their per-acre yield of wheat was 1760 kilograms. On June 12th, People’s Daily made another report The Second Satellite Released by Collective Farms: The Satellite Collective Farm in Chaya Mountain, Suiping County had raised their per-acre output to 1760 kilos, and this was the first time that the phrase “releasing a satellite” was applied to high yields. Then, on July 12th, Peace Agricultural Cooperative in Xiping County close to Suiping County announced that their wheat yield was 3660 kilos per acre, which was twice as high as that in Chaya Mountain. Then the news rocked the whole nation; the reporter described the scene vividly, “The crops are so thick that they cannot allow in a mouse.” However, their glory did not last long. On August 1st, People’s Daily reported that the per-acre yield of early rice in Xiaogan County, Hubei Province, had reached 6805 kilos. The news was so amazing that Mao himself wanted to view it. Besides, local leaders in Hebei, Henan and Shandong also reported to Mao that in the past the per-acre yield had only been 100 to 150 kilograms, while then it was 10 thousand kilos, and their goal was to raise it to 20 thousand kilos. Mao was very happy when he heard such reports. He had also examined the farmlands abundant in grain with his straw hat, which was then shown by the famous photo, “Mao Zedong Inspected the Countryside in 1958”. As soon as Mao returned to Beijing, Macheng County in Hubei Province released another “satellite”. According to People’s Daily, a people’s commune in the county created an incredible record: 18478 kilos per acre. What accompanied the report was a photograph, in which 4 children were standing on the large grain mass, with pure smiles on their faces. The photo was so popular then that it has become “the most influential false photo since the foundation of new China”. On August 27th, People’s Daily published an editorial, Grain Yield Just Lies in Our Imagination and Courage, which was the most encouraging slogan then. On September 30th, New China News Agency announced to the world, “By 1958, China’s total grain output has reached 1.75 trillion kilograms, which is ten times as much as that in 1957. China has become the biggest grain producer in the world.”
Where did these fatal figures and lies come from? In order to make up the false news, the commune who released the biggest “satellite” then selected a rice paddy, whose area was 1,016 acre. They at first ploughed the field, with a depth of 1.5 feet, and then a large amount of base fertilizers were applied: 15 thousand kilograms of old-wall soil, 50 kilograms of pond sludge, 1500 kilograms of liquid dung, and 150 kilograms of gesso. After the seedlings had been planted here, 90 kilograms of bean cakes, 75 kilogram of chemical fertilizer, 3000 kilograms of liquid dung and 120 kilograms of plant ash were also applied. On that day, members from 4 production teams were gathered by the commune. They pulled out seedlings in other 8 acres of fields and moved them to the “test field”, with mud on their roots. It was said that the seedlings in the field were so thick that they could support an egg. In order to prevent them from getting rotten, people had thrust bamboo poles into them for airing, with cool water from the well nearby being sprayed on them. They had also borrowed a blower from the local government, supplying fresh breeze to the seedlings around the clock.
No matter what political system a country has adopted, its society is fundamentally composed of following sectors: workers, peasants, merchants, students, soldiers and intellectuals. If we say that it was reasonable that uneducated workers and peasants might do something ridiculous, and what were intellectuals doing then? On the fourth day after Chaya Mountain in Suiping County released their “satellite”, Qian Xuesen, the most famous scientist who had studied abroad, Leader of Institute of Mechanics, CAS (Chinese Academy of Science), published his article, “How Much Grain Will an Acre of Field Produce?” In it he demonstrated in detail and “scientifically”, “Theoretically, the per-acre yield can be 20 times more than what has been announced by some counties, i.e. 1000 kilograms. This is not nonsense.” Then in his Mechanics in Agriculture: 5000 kilos Per Acre Is Possible, which was included in a magazine Knowledge Is Power, he predicted that given appropriate conditions, the average yield per acre would be 19.5 thousand kilos. Ji Xianlin, a professor from Beijing University recalled, “Then I trusted that firmly, with my hidden sneer at those cowards whose minds had not been freed.”
Guo Moruo, a famous writer as well as President of Chinese Academy of Science then, had also said in his Overture Welcoming the Spring, “In 15 years we will catch up with England, and the goal stated in Programme for Agricultural Development can be accomplished in just 7 years! Great Leaps occurs successively, and our courage can bring the world into an enormous change. Just wait! We will level Chomolungma Mountain off one day!” Beijing University, a famous college in China, claimed that they had obtained 3406 scientific achievements in just one month, 119 of which had reached or exceeded the international standards. After that, Czechoslovakia, which was also a Socialist country then, required Beijing University to offer the list of its achievements and relative materials, which proved that the scientific “satellite” in China was nothing but a big joke. The art circles then were unwilling to lag behind, too. In Central Academy of Arts and Design, led by the dean and Party Committee, all teachers and students strained all energy for more than 60 posters in one day and a half. Then Central Academy of Fine Arts had also finished 138 wall paintings taking the Great Leap Movement as the subject matter, with the largest one being 300 square meters. Having worked 5 days and nights, Twenty-three painters from Beijing Academy of Painting finished 5 giant drawings, each of them being 12 feet in length. Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts had created the magnificent Eastern Grand Dragon collectively, in which workers were handling a machine resembling a steel-dragon, with “foam” at the latter’s mouth. Jiangsu Chinese Painting Institute had also finished a painting with their joint efforts: Food in People’s Commune Is Free. There were also other works, such as Steel Rolling made by Li Fengmian and Great Leap in Countryside by Guan Shanyue. Besides, Wu Hufan had created Bamboo Shoots after a Spring Rain, which was inscribed by him with such words, “Creations and innovations are appearing successively, just like bamboo shoots springing up after a rain.”
What we have mentioned sound so childish and absurd, but these mistakes were made by Chinese people collectively then, and it is natural for people to wonder the reason for their occurrence. Most of Chinese leaders then were born in countryside, and they had carried out military activities in rural areas for years, so is it possible that they knew nothing about the normal per-acre yield? Are intellectuals credible? Is their conscience always with them?
Thursday, October 22nd, 2009