Chapter Ten

The Back Door

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, visiting foreigners were invariably impressed by the puritanical, almost obsessive personal morality that they seemed to see about them. Personal ambitions seemed subsumed in the desire to abnegate all self-interest and `Serve the People'. Scrupulous respect for the personal property of others was universal, theft unheard of. Sexuality seemed to have been extinguished, adolescence banished, in an entire population who would say, with an enthusiastic glow in their cheeks, that they would certainly not even think about the opposite sex until they had devoted the best years of their lives to building New China.

All of these things were true, of some of the people, some of the time. During my years in China, the true stories of those years began to flow, in private conversations as well as in the authorised outpourings of a new generation of writers, dramatists, reporters and film-makers, who made the most of their licence to `expose the crimes of the Gang of Four'. Gradually, as the re-evaluation of the Cultural Revolution gained official stature, the term `Ten Years of Chaos' came to replace the name `Cultural Revolution'. That period was not simply a political and administrative chaos, but also a moral chaos, as monstrous oppression forced millions upon millions of individual Chinese to learn to lie and to betray, as their only means of survival.

The long reign of the Communist Party as the only possible avenue of advancement for the ambitious during that period ensured that its ranks steadily became swollen with opportunists and hypocrites, who paid no more than the necessary lip-service to Communist ideals, as they plotted and fought their way along their own careers. Every Chinese knows many such Party members quite intimately. It became such a matter of course than many Chinese today do not even hold grudges against careerists who took advantage of the situation, except where they, personally, have suffered at the hands of such people.

The most important result of all this was a complete breakdown in voluntary social ethics. Social discipline was maintained mainly through force of terror. Those smiling, scrupulous room-boys in China's state guesthouses were possibly robbing their own commissariat mercilessly, as a matter of habit, but the penalty of being caught interfering with the possessions of a Foreign Guest were too frightful even to contemplate the risk. One could be denounced by an ambitious colleague, even for some inadvertent matter - hence the many strange tales of foreigners' discarded items, such as razor blades and threadbare socks, pursuing them in brown paper parcels from hotel to hotel across the length and breadth of China. But, as China re-opened its doors to the world, all that began to fade away.

One of my name-cards, distributed at the Democracy Wall, found its way eventually into the hands of a character called Yang, who presents a good example of the social flotsam created by the Cultural Revolution. His personal history was told to me in so many versions, with so many inconsistencies, that I am inclined not to believe any of it, as was the case with practically everything the man ever said to me. Still, on those ground-rules, I kept up an occasional meeting with Yang over a period of several months, and gradually built up a more detailed picture of his rather sordid world.

We first met rather as I had met Wei Jingsheng. Yang simply rang me up and asked to meet me, without stating his business. Hoping that he might be someone from another of the activist groups, I arranged a rendezvous near a patch of waste ground, the deserted construction-site of part of Beijing's city ring-road where the great City Wall had stood until the sixties. As I drew up, somewhat nervously, there was no-one to be seen, but a figure soon emerged from behind one of the workmen's sheds. He was unusually thin, with either unusually big feet or unusually big shoes on normal feet. He wore a leather jacket, and a lank, drooping hairstyle that gave him an effete appearance, compounded by the lonely whiskers here and there on his chin that reflected his irregular shaving habits. Yang spoke hesitantly in a high, wheezing voice, which, in contrast to his wispy frame, always reminded me of Marlon Brando's Don Corleone, in 'The Godfather'.

As we drove around Beijing, talking in the car, it quickly transpired that Yang was not the slightest bit interested in saving China from fascism, nor any other political crusade. He wondered if I might be interested in obtaining any Cultural Relics? How about gold, silver, or precious stones? He had access to a steady supply of all these things, he told me, and would sell them to me, or to any other foreigner I could introduce him to, at a very good price compared to the official prices in government shops.

I tried to control my hair standing on end as I heard this, as it was the first time in China that I had been on the receiving end of such a blatantly criminal proposition. The penalties would be very harsh indeed, and I could expect no mercy from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation if I was responsible for having our organisation kicked out of China. I was one of what was, then, still a tiny number of foreigners, resident in China, who did not have diplomatic immunity, and I could easily find myself imprisoned if caught in an offence. I knew that I had already come to the attention of the Public Security Bureau because of my contacts with the Democracy Wall activists, and I considered it possible that the man now making this offer to me was an agent provocateur of the Security Bureau, setting up an entrapment. It had not happened to a Westerner in recent times, but it could well happen any day.

`How do you get hold of these things', I asked, wondering if he could produce a story with any credibility at all.

`These are family things. My family was connected to the old Imperial Court. A lot of valuable things were hidden during the Cultural Revolution. Now they don't have to be hidden, but the government buying-stations pay only one quarter of the real value. So, if you are prepared to pay even half the value, our family will still be a lot better off. There are many families like this in Beijing'.

My curiosity got the better of all judgement. I set up another rendezvous and told him that, while I did not want to buy anything, I would like to see what he had.

Our rendezvous was on the eastern fringe of the city, amid walled factory compounds and dusty, four-storey residential blocks. It was a cold January evening when I picked Yang up again. This time he was carrying a standard grey vynil holdall, the type every Chinese carries on his travels, with the usual picture of the Great Hall of the People and the characters for `Beijing' stencilled on its side. If Yang was a security agent, he might be wearing an electronic bug of some kind, so I was wary with my words.

`What have you got, then?, I asked, finally.

Yang didn't say anything, but began delving into his bag, bring out a number of small parcels wrapped in copies of the Peoples Daily and the Reference News, the latter being a paper that foreigners were not allowed, at that stage, to read, despite the fact that almost everything in it is of foreign origin. When I saw the Reference News, though, I relaxed, concluding that a police entrapment operation was most unlikely to have let Reference News fall so casually under my view.

Yang first unwrapped some fairly nondescript snuff-bottles and minor pieces of porcelain, of which thousands were readily available in souvenir shops at inflated prices. He then produced two or three other pieces, reproductions of Ming porcelain and bronze which even I, with my limited knowledge, could pick as fakes, while he endeavoured to persuade me they were genuine. On later meetings he attempted to sell me many modern bronze replicas of ancient coins, proving to me that the ancient and honourable Chinese industry of antique-faking was once more back in business.

When I had made clear I was not at all interested in anything else he had shown me, Yang reached into his side coat pocket.

`What about these?', he said.

On his palm were six ingots of gleaming gold. They were the traditional Chinese `tael' ingots, shaped something like a shoe, and hallmarked on the top with purity rating and place of assay. What struck me on closer inspection was that each of the ingots bore, as part of their hallmark, the five-pointed star, proving that they had been cast after the founding of the Peoples Republic. So much for the Emperor's great-nephews! At current world gold prices, Yang held in his hand the equivalent of five years' salary for a middle-class Chinese office-worker.

Yang wanted to sell all these items to me for foreign exchange, so that he could buy scarce items such as refrigerators in the Friendship Store and resell them outside at a profit. It was not an original idea, nor was he alone in nursing it. But I was not inclined to risk my neck for the sake of his enterprise, in a country where `speculation' was a most serious crime, let alone breaching the state monopoly on gold.

Yang continued to telephone me, and several more times I went to meet him, always curious as to what he was up to. His own plans developed.. he had decided to migrate to the United States. Could I introduce him to anyone at the United States Consulate who could facilitate his visa application in return for gold? He had heard that a number of the Americans working there had wives who were of Chinese origin - surely they would be susceptible to gifts? All Chinese liked gold, he told me. I said he must find that out for himself.

Over time, Yang tried to tempt me with various new offerings. As his attempts to woo me got nowhere, Yang finally tried to supply something he thought I, as a journalist, would not be able to resist. He brought along one of his friends who claimed to be a driver in the National Peoples Congress car-pool, who said he would supply me with confidential information if I would help him change yuan for dollars. To prove himself, he told me that the Congress Standing Committee would meet in two days time for some important decisions concerning Chairman Mao. It didn't, and I never saw him again.

Once, Yang told me that he had now contracted a marriage with a Chinese woman from Hong Kong - a woman older than himself, working as a purchasing agent for Hong Kong factories, who wanted him to act on her behalf in contacting Chinese industrial agencies and suppliers. This marriage would soon provide him the means to leave China, he said with some satisfaction. Several months later he was still hanging around.

`She won't help me get a visa', he confessed, with some chagrin. `She wants me to stay in China and do the business for her. There's nothing I can do about it. Anyway, I only see her every three months, and I think she has another husband in Hong Kong, or at least a boy-friend'.

Not all was lost. Yang had secured for himself a means of entry to the Friendship Store, and a supply of foreign exchange, through the allowance his Hong Kong `wife' paid him. His relationship with me had never been anything but blatantly mercenary, and I was relieved when he ceased telephoning.

Many other foreigners had experience of such callers during that period. Some did get deeply involved in illicit transactions of one kind or another, in particular certain of the diplomats from poorer countries, for whom the financial rewards may have been just that much more tempting.

The local reality was that government policies were bringing a great relaxation in the world of China's commerce, which resulted in a huge build-up of both supply of, and demand for, goods and services, which the atrophied state commercial system was quite incapable of handling. This spelt 'opportunity' for entrepreneurs, large scale and small. In some cases, these were people with official positions who operated basically within the recognised commercial conventions. But it also raised a whole crop of free-lance `fixers' and commission agents whose function was to evade or bend regular commercial channels on behalf of their clients - to find Back Doors for deals and favours.

Wu Qing was a memorable example of such a budding entrepreneur. He lived in Guangzhou, where his father had a middle-level position as a cadre in a central government department, but his family origins were in Shanghai. This made him an outsider, in the tightly-knit Cantonese world, although he had lived there most of his life, knew the dialect, and knew the city and its workings intimately. It was being different that gave him his start in his career. He did not look like a Cantonese - he was taller, heavier, comparatively fair-skinned, and had by Chinese standards something of a pointy nose. In his schooldays he had been called upon to play the roles of Foreign Devils and Yankee Imperialists in propaganda sketches. He had sometimes been tagged with these insulting epithets outside of school hours, and had learned to use his fists, in retaliation against his Cantonese tormentors.

Wu Qing's parents were minor figures in the Party establishment - they were both former members of the Red Army - and they came in for heavy persecution during the Cultural Revolution. Being non-Cantonese could have exacerbated the treatment they received at the hands of local Red Guard mobs, and Wu's mother never recovered from the beatings and imprisonment she suffered. Her last years were lived in a state of mental debility, living at home, but requiring constant supervision by members of the family. Once, during the time I knew Wu Qing, his mother escaped from home and was found two days later, forty kilometres away from home.

Like many of the children of the privileged in that period, Wu Qing learned a lot about survival while he was living as a virtual orphan, together with three younger sisters. He spent eighteen months in a Labour Reformatory on a charge of brawling, after some gang fighting between his non-Cantonese friends and a local group of young hoodlums. He learned, in the reformatory, how to please his supervisors (which was the only way he would ever get out of the institution), and also picked up plenty of useful tips on life in the fast lane from fellow-inmates, some of whom were in for fraud, burglary, and sexual offences.

Wu and his sisters were shuttled around amongst relatives, most of whom were in Shanghai. Wu soon developed the practice of using his journeys between Guangzhou and Shanghai to carry goods from one place, where they were plentiful, to the other where they were scarce, and could either be discreetly sold at a profit, or used as presents for people whom Wu would later wish to ask for favours. Tropical fruits and herbal medicines would fill his bags northwards, while haberdashery and manufactured goods from Shanghai would be his return cargo. Thinking this way became a habit, and he practised building up a network of friends and contacts who could get him access to almost anything.

Certain things, of course, were difficult to get anywhere except in the Friendship Stores. In those days, Friendship Stores operated on the ordinary Renminbi Yuan, and their privilege was protected only by security police who guarded the doors. Hanging about there one day, Wu noticed that many of the foreigners being admitted to the store looked rather like Chinese. Many were, in fact, overseas Chinese or other Asians. It was rare that their documents were checked - ninety-nine times out of a hundred the experienced guards could sum people up at fifty metres and sort locals from visitors with no trouble at all. Clothing was a big part of it (Chinese cloth-shoes were a dead give-away), but general style and demeanour were even more important.

Wu decided to gamble on his `foreign' looks and try to run the gauntlet. He located an overseas visitor who was prepared to trade him some foreign clothes for one favour or another, and, Hey Presto! He was admitted without question to a comparative Wonderland of consumer opportunity. He used his first visit to stock up on a few items of `foreign' apparel which would improve his credentials for the next visit, and to check out the lie of the land. He also bought a large container of cooking oil, highly prized and strictly rationed everywhere but the Friendship Store. That oil was not for himself, but as part of his circulating stock of favour-producing gifts.

Wu developed a modest trade in scarce goods this way, earning a little commission in addition to the minor government salary he received for some nominal position assigned to him by an old friend of his father. Having conquered the Friendship Store, Wu began to infiltrate other `foreign' domains, such as the Dong Fang (`Oriental') Hotel, where all foreign and many Hong Kong businessmen stayed in Guangzhou. He was a sociable and engaging person, almost an exhibitionist, which was probably one reason he was so successful at running the gauntlet of doormen. Most Chinese adopted a diffident if not reverential air as they approached the portals of these privileged institutions, but Wu Qing strolled purposefully in as if he owned them, talking loudly and confidently in his non-Cantonese accent. As his operations grew, he made a practice of travelling from place to place whenever possible by one of the high-class taxis which served the foreigners' hotels. Tactical gifts to certain of the drivers smoothed this path.

I first met Wu, in fact, not in a foreign enclave, but in one of the more fashionable teahouses of Guangzhou. Beijing had closed almost all its once-famous teahouses years before, considering them dens of bourgeois lifestyle, but the Cantonese even at official level were less inclined to take ideology so literally, and the teahouses remained an important part of life. That day Wu Qing was with a friend whose father was Chinese, but whose mother was one of the many European communist enthusiasts who had come out to `help' China, as they saw it, in the 1950s. She had become disillusioned after suffering persecution during the Cultural Revolution, and had returned to her homeland, leaving husband and children behind. The son whom I met spoke only Chinese, but he had refused all his life to identify himself with China, wore the most Westernised clothes he could muster, and even went to the lengths of peroxiding his thick black hair, which turned it red. He was now one of the lucky few who had obtained a visa to emigrate, and he was leaving to join his mother in her own country.

On successive visits to Guangzhou I would usually see Wu Qing, and I watched his life develop remarkably. He managed to get to know some of the foreign traders at the regular Guangzhou Trade Fairs, and he became a sort of unofficial facilitator for them with local bureaucratic and commercial problems. This role expanded until, by the end, he was a salaried, though unofficial, agent for a European trading house, and negotiating on their behalf with Chinese trade corporations at a relatively senior level. His presentation had come a long way, and he had learned, from scratch, enough English to deal directly with `clients' who spoke no Chinese. He loved to display his success. One day, in a coffee bar of the Dong Fang Hotel, he caused me some alarm by throwing open his fine leather attach� case to reveal something over ten thousand yuan in bundles of ten yuan notes.

`It's all mine.. My own salary and commissions!', he boasted loudly. Quite apart from the legality of Wu's profits (which in very recent times would have been termed `speculation' and earned him a heavy gaol sentence), I was concerned about Guangzhou's unsavoury reputation for violent crime, which it shares with its sister city, Kong Kong. I insisted he close the case full of money immediately. Wu was a little crestfallen that nobody other than ourselves had noticed it.

His position was still, as I understood it, quite outside the law, though clearly it was tolerated by those, on both sides, with whom he did business. The favours done earlier in his career may have been standing him in good stead. I knew that Wu would never be bashful when it came time to ask for a favour to be returned - he had already done so on many occasions to me. He would always meet me with some small gift or other - a sweet melon, tickets to a cultural show, or something, and as a matter of course would ask me to bring him something or other next time I came down from Beijing. By the time I arrived back in Guangzhou a few months later with the item, he would normally have forgotten he ever asked for it, and be quite unappreciative.

For some time Wu Qing pestered me with schemes by which he thought I could help him get an exit visa - it didn't really matter to where, since his plan was to abandon whatever nation opened its doors to him and set up business in Hong Kong, where, he was absolutely sure, he would rapidly become a millionaire. But the request I most enjoyed receiving from Wu Qing, and the one I regretted not being able to fulfil, was the time he eyed thoughtfully the Citroen taxi which was waiting for me outside the teahouse where we sat, and asked if he could `borrow' it..

`Just for two hours.. I have to deliver a sofa from the Friendship Store to the apartment of a Vice-Director of Public Security'.

I don't think he was bluffing, but I had to decline.

`In China, there is nothing that can't be done, as long as you set about it the right way', he was fond of saying.

Wu Qing's apparently charmed life in the shadows was so astonishing to me in its boldness that, eventually, I was forced to wonder whether he might in fact be operating with some kind of cover from the Public Security Bureau. It was unthinkable that the police did not know at least part of his activities, and it was logical that either they left him loose as a kind of bait, hoping to catch some bigger fish of the twilight world, or that he had done some kind of deal with them. I asked him once, directly, whether he had any connection with the Gong An Jiu. He looked a little uneasy.

`They asked me once to work for them, but I refused', was his insouciant reply. Be that as it may, and notwithstanding the fact that I quite enjoyed his company over a long acquaintanceship, I was always very careful not to give him any information about other Chinese contacts. In this, I was behaving as many Chinese automatically behaved in their own social relationships, with always the possibility that someone in the circle might have divided loyalties.

One activity that was expanding on a huge scale during this period was the age-old trade of smuggling. In 1980, China's customs department reported over 14,000 separate cases of smuggling discovered, and, judging by the availability of smuggled goods, this was only a modest fraction of what was really going on. The international smuggling was, and probably still is, concentrated along the southern and south-eastern coastal strip of Guangdong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, where thousands of fishing boats put to sea each day, and were well within the range of other boats from Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. The trade was mainly electronic consumer goods - colour television sets, cassette recorders, calculators, digital watches and so on. These were exchanged on the high seas for antiques, works of art, rare traditional medicines, silver and gold, from the hidden family treasuries all over China. While the official Chinese buying-price for precious metals and other substances remained at a mere fraction of the world market price, there was a strong incentive to such smuggling exchange.

The smuggling trade was still growing in 1982, to the extent that local industry officials in Guangzhou complained smuggled goods were threatening the market for local goods which were now beginning to catch up to demand in quantity, if not quite in quality. Arrests for smuggling were more and more frequent, and extended high up in the local government ranks. Soldiers of the Frontier Guards units themselves were arrested for involvement. Over a million dollars value of contraband was seized on the Fujian coast in the last half of 1981. Anti-smuggling police were repeatedly foiled by the fact that whole villages, including the entire Party apparatus, were in on the game. They tried a system of `bounty-hunting', whereby anyone catching a smuggling boat could keep thirty percent of the seized goods. This soon broke down, as the bounty-hunters found that they could do deals with the smugglers that were more profitable than the offered bounty.

My own baggage was robbed of some imported items, cosmetics for my wife, after it had been checked in to the domestic airline counter at Guangzhou airport. One county post office gave its seal to a smuggling gang, so they could freely despatch their contraband throughout the country and overseas without checking. The problem became an international one in 1982, when it was discovered that Hong Kong heroin-smuggling rings were using Guangzhou as a transfer point for narcotics between Southeast Asia and markets in the Western world. Eighteen people were arrested in one such ring, and given sentences of between eight and fifteen years, but the trade was not wiped out.

Checks by police at Beijing Railway station, on passengers boarding the train to Guangzhou, uncovered large quantities of contraband gold and herbs. Two youths tottering towards their compartment on unusually high platform-heel boots (then the fashion) were discovered to have filled their heels with gold ingots. People alighting from the Guangzhou train with quantities of cassette recorders had inadequate explanations as to how they came by them.

The highlight of all these reports, in my view, was of the case in 1981 in which two large fishing trawlers, one from Taiwan and one from the mainland province of Fujian, were arrested by Chinese customs officers just as they completed a large transaction. The customs seized several thousand Swiss watches, which had been exchanged for bars of Chinese gold. On examination, however, it was discovered that not only were the `Swiss' watches fakes made in Taiwan, but the bars of `gold' were in fact gold-plated bars of lead. Caveat emptor, indeed.

In the first quarter of 1980, Chinese authorities tried to restrict the rising tide of illicit foreign trade, first by banning the circulation in China of foreign currencies (some establishments were willingly accepting foreign currencies for sales, especially in Guangzhou where the Hong Kong dollar was greatly in demand.) In March, they introduced what the Bank of China described as `Foreign Exchange Certificates', and the foreign community called `funny money'. This was a form of virtual currency, printed like bank-notes of denominations matching the normal currency, but with one side printed in English. This new currency was to become the only legal tender in Friendship Stores, foreigners hotels, airlines, and so on. The idea was that it would provide better control of access to those goods and services, and would also make it more difficult for foreigners or Chinese to profit by illegal exchange of foreign currency at black market rates. It rapidly became obvious that the reverse was the case, since many people, such as small traders, taxi-drivers, and stores not designated as `foreign currency' stores, were receiving a constant flow of these `Foreign Exchange Certificates' from foreigners who had no other currency to offer them. A local market in these certificates flourished rapidly.

For a while, there was a flood of Chinese customers into the Friendship Stores, and the foreign community in places like Beijing, long cushioned from the realities of China's endemic scarcities, found that supplies of certain consumer durables and seasonal vegetables were disappearing from the stores within minutes of opening time, at eight in the morning. Down in Guangzhou, Wu Qing was naturally one of the first to exploit this situation, and became a clearing-house in his own right for numerous small traders who did not have the means or the courage to capitalise on their flow of Foreign Currency Certificates, and passed them on to him, in return for the usual considerations.

The son of a Guangzhou bank manager, who had been appointed by his father as Foreign Exchange cashier in a big bank branch, played a percentage game in the fringe currency market which had got him an accumulated profit of 86,000 Hong Kong dollars (then worth around 15,000 US dollars) before he was arrested in a crackdown in October 1980.

The development of the free markets during this period had brought its own crop of opportunists, showing conclusively that the wheeling and dealing talents of a proportion of the Chinese people were not severely affected by thirty years of socialist `political work'. Swindlers, big and small, began to feature regularly in the columns of local newspapers like the Beijing Woanbao (Peking Evening News). One group of youths used to haunt the Qian Men area of Beijing, the old commercial quarter where many of the cheapest hotels are located. They would seek out people among the ten thousand or so rural and provincial visitors per day who came to Beijing on official business, or at least on the pretext of such. They would then offer to sell these visitors a wad of used bus tickets, at a discount price of course. The visitor could then, on his return to his remote home unit, claim `expenses' for the full value of the tickets. The notion of a bottomless public purse, the `big bowl of rice', was so ingrained that many otherwise cautious cadres would have no qualms about this dishonest practice.

Imposters and confidence tricksters had did well for some time, as cadres, used only to following instructions from above, were now given the responsibility of deciding how to increase the profits or efficiency of their units. One of the most famous cases involved a man who built a whole career, in Shanghai, out of pretending to be the son of a senior Beijing military official. He secured all kinds of preferment from local cadres, and even several marriage proposals from attractive and ambitious young ladies, before his exposure. His case was turned into a highly successful play, later a movie, `What if I were real?', which raised the very prickly point that, while this man had been severely punished for his imposture, thousands of `real' off- spring of senior cadres were getting away with minor blackmail as a routine way to secure a comfortable life. Some officials tried to have the play banned, as a discredit to the Party, but it was defended at the most senior levels, and survived.

Tables were turned on the theatrical community, however, with the 1982 `Case of the Director's Daughter'. An 18 year-old girl from Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, dressed herself glamorously, armed herself with gossip from the many Chinese movie fan magazines, and set off on a career of confidence trickery. By name-dropping and flattery, she was able to infiltrate the giddy world of China's star-struck movie industry and swindle several ambitious actors and dancers into giving her large `loans'. Her technique was to introduce herself as the daughter of a well-known film director, hinting that her father was interested in offering her victim a starring role in his next movie. She impressed several others, outside of the movie industry, with talk of high connections and promises to buy scarce goods, then disappeared with the money entrusted to her. This girl, Zhang Ping, was quoted in the Peoples Daily on the secret of her success:

`Many young people admire film stars. They hope that, some day, they can become film stars themselves, and obtain anything they want. It was their ambition, and their desire to find a back door, that allowed me to take advantage of them'.

The liberalisation had also brought about a revolution in public attitudes to sex. There had always been instances of rape, and there had always been young women prepared to use their bodies sexually, for survival or for advancement. The public display of physical form had been deeply suppressed, however, and when I arrived in China in 1978 any woman who dared so much as to tuck her blouse into the waist of her skirt or trousers, rather than letting it hang loose, would turn every head in the street. It was only just becoming acceptable to curl hair, and the results of novice experiments in this line were very mixed indeed. No facial make-up was ever seen except on the stage, although the shops did carry a wide selection of skin creams, eternal youth potions and the like. `Baggy is beautiful' could have been the slogan of the Chinese clothing industry, long before Japanese designers, based on their own relatively shapeless clientele, brought the baggy fashions to the world stage.

There were, of course, hand-copied erotic texts which circulated surreptitiously, as they have probably done in every literate human society, but possessing them brought very severe penalties if discovered. Chinese law has a crime which Chinese translators, for some reason, persist in rendering into English as `hooliganism'. Even in Chinese the phrase liumang shing is a fairly oblique reference to general outlawry, whereas the modern meaning is specifically sexual. `Licentiousness' or `lewd behaviour' probably convey the meaning best in English. It covers everything from public harassment of women, wolf-whistling, through extra-marital sex to rape. This crime seems to account for about half the prisoners, male and female, in the reformatories I visited. A respectable professor could be accused of `hooliganism' if he had an affair with a student, for instance, or even with a fellow professor.

The very existence of homosexuality in China was being denied outright, as a matter of policy, right up to the time I left Beijing. Even in Hong Kong, a common line from older- generation Chinese citizens was that homosexuality was a peculiarly Western perversion, introduced to innocent Chinese, like opium, at gunpoint. This had long been the Communist Party policy on the subject, and it is a matter or record that practising homosexual men were summarily shot, like opium dealers, in the early days of the Peoples Republic. My first office interpreter, Wan Jingzhang, was lecturing me piously on this line of `Western perversion' one day when I had to point out to him certain very explicit passages on the subject in the classic Chinese novel, 'A Dream of Red Mansions', which I had just been reading. He was furious at the loss of face, but had nothing to say.

The foreign community in Beijing, naturally enough, contained its quota of that persuasion, and I was assured by some of them that homosexual partners were no harder to find in China than in other places where that sexual preference remained illegal. My own observations suggested that there were many obvious candidates among such professions as shop assistants and hotel staff. A high proportion of young urban workers live in segregated dormitories, and the years of strict adolescent sexual repression did not necessarily encourage `normal' heterosexual development.

Whatever the undercurrents of sexuality that had persisted through the outward asceticism of the Cultural Revolution, there is no denying that in opening up to the world again, China did invite, and receive, a flood of new temptations to sexual appetites. One which grew strongly along with the smuggling trade, and in the same areas, was that of video pornography. The availability of video cassette players spread slowly - first in a very few government and educational institutions, but then, as tastes developed, it became common for officials negotiating any kind of import contract with a foreign supplier to request that video players be included on the deal. It was unwise to refuse such requests, as there were always other suppliers waiting outside the door. Individuals with wealthy relatives overseas could also obtain the machines, and no doubt were introduced to the pleasures of video pornography by those same relatives and business associates. We began to hear rumours of the children of senior political figures running commercial porn shows, charging up to two days wages for tickets.

For some reason, this craze seemed to take particularly virulent hold in Swatow - a large port city in Guangdong Province, near Guangzhou, with much traffic to and from Hong Kong and Macao. An investigation there in 1982 was reported in the China Youth newspaper, to the effect that nine different work units in the city had been exhibiting `yellow' (pornographic) videocassettes for money on a quite open basis. Thirty people were arrested in connection with these shows, which the report said had made over two hundred and twenty thousand yuan in profits in a few months - a huge amount by Chinese standards. The China Youth took a stern line:

`These pornographic, violent, unhealthy videotapes pollute the soul, and make the masses very angry!'

The paper published another cautionary tale, in the form of a letter, or rather a confession, from a young man who became slightly unbalanced after a binge of pornographic reading -

`I stayed home every Sunday to read sex books, and when going to political study classes I put these `yellow' books between pages of the study materials to read them secretly... Lots of strange things began to happen to me.. In the evening when I closed my eyes, I immediately began to think about these things, and during the day I had no will to concentrate on study or work. Before, when I saw women, I used to blush. After this, I began to stare at them and wanted to molest them. I became pale and thin. To get more excitement I bought and rented more and more books, some forty books and magazines altogether...

One evening, walking by a women's public toilet, I heard there was someone inside. I was seized with desire and forgetting everything rushed into the women's toilet......

Because someone immediately came to the rescue, they stopped my crime. I thank my organisation for patient education. Since this happened to me I feel that these things are a kind of psychological opium, enormously harmful...'

The older generation also became alarmed by what they saw as an increase in juvenile violence. Actually, the violence carried out by children and teenagers in the political campaigns of the near past were genuinely horrific. What caused alarm in the early 1980s was a return to neighbourhood gang fighting, which was often associated with petty juvenile crime and a very high rate of unemployment among school leavers. There were cults, and naturally when Chinese film studios began to co-operate with Hong Kong martial arts movie-makers, there was a huge upsurge in popularity of the traditional Chinese martial arts. The most popular of all was based on the traditional tale of the Fighting Monks of Shaolin Temple, credited with inventing the original unarmed combat routines, since their religious vows forbade them to bear arms. After the film was shown, there was a wave of juvenile runaways right across China, and the handful of feeble old monks still inhabiting the Shaolin temple today found they were having to turn away streams of ragged schoolboys hoping to become their `disciples'.

About the same time, Central Television began to broadcast a drama series it had been given for next to nothing by a foreign distributor hoping for later big sales. This was 'Garrison's Guerrillas', an `action' series concentrating on juvenile mayhem in urban America. This series provoked such enthusiastic imitation by youth gangs across China that it drew storms of protest and was quickly hauled off air.

Other violence was real, however, expressing the anger and alienation of a generation who felt they had been ignored, and whose future had been sabotaged by the political campaigns of old men. The favoured weapon of the juvenile gangs in Beijing's industrial suburbs is a lethal three-edged stiletto, fashioned by sharpening a common metal file to a point, and easily concealed. Stabbings were frequent, often after minor arguments over bus fares and the like. Chinese women told me they were very concerned about the possibility of rape, and I knew of several cases where foreign students had been raped on the dark roads near their institutes on the northern outskirts of the city.

There were occasional acts of violent public protest. A young man blew up himself and several others in the Beijing Railway Station. A young woman taxi-driver went berserk and deliberately drove her cab into a crowd of local tourists at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, killing four. A promising student, turned burglar, clubbed an old watchman to death in an appliance shop. Much was written in the official press on the crisis of a `Lost Generation' without ideals or faith in their future. Eventually, the line became that there was no Lost Generation, only lost individuals, victims of the Gang of Four.

Zhang Wenling and Li Guosheng stand before the court, charged with premeditated murder in the course of an armed bank robbery. Both are twenty-three. Zhang served a brief sentence of Labour Re-education ten years ago for stealing magazines, Li has served three years of the same for attempted rape, `hooliganism'. Zhang has a job as a labourer with a construction corporation. Li is unemployed. Now they are on trial for their life.

The Beijing Intermediate Courtroom is a bare chamber on an upper floor of an anonymous cement tower - duck-egg green walls, fluorescent lighting, three blond-lacquered benches forming a shallow semi-circle, and a large auditorium with two hundred seats, most of them empty. A huge bas relief national crest of the Peoples Republic, five stars grouped over the Gate of Heavenly Peace, dominates the judge's bench from the wall behind it, making all humans seem small. Some foreigners have been brought in to watch justice done. Zhang and Li are on trial for their lives, and they stand in the centre of the bay. The judge is a woman, supported by two `assessors' who will confirm her judgement and confer with her on the sentence. A defence lawyer has been appointed by the court. He will not plead innocence - innocent people do not appear before Chinese courts - but he may raise considerations for a more lenient sentence.

Both men have pleaded guilty. Zhang is short, square-headed, pugnacious. Li is taller, thin, has little to say. The prosecutor outlines the facts of the robbery at a suburban branch of the Chinese Peoples Bank. Two people were shot, one fatally, with home-made guns. Money was stolen. The culprits have confessed. The prosecutor emphasises that the property of the State must be protected from violation. Since there is no dispute of the facts, Zhang is asked to give his version of events. He has drafted and redrafted his confession many times, under supervision, since his arrest. He speaks without shame.

`We planned to rob a bank about a year ago. I didn't want to remain a labourer. I'd rather rob a bank than remain a labourer. Li Guosheng believes in me. We decided winter would be the best time to do it, because the heavy clothes make disguise easier. Also there are fire-crackers around, so people don't notice shooting. I began making guns in 1975, from bits of pipe about fifteen centimetres long. They fired with gunpowder and ground-up match-heads, triggered by a battery, one shot at a time. We made the bullets from bolts and pieces of wire rod. Testing it, the bullet went through five centimetres of wood. We carried hand-axes as well, just in case, and wore plastic goggles on our faces for disguise. We reckoned that the bank staff wouldn't resist, since it wasn't their money, and they would be afraid of death. We carried two guns each. We planned to keep one gun each to commit suicide if things went wrong.

`We rode up to the bank on our bicycles, and waited till nearly closing time. We went in twice. The second time, we went in quietly, then Li said "Don't move. Whoever moves will be shot". One of the clerks moved, and I shot him in the face. I was feeling not quite myself. We had agreed that each of us would kill one person, but the plan went wrong. Li fired his shot from inside his plastic satchel, and it missed. I began to shake. To take advantage of the situation, I jumped over the counter, opened four tellers' drawers, and took all the money I could find. We rode off, feeling quite safe, and were home by four-thirty. I counted the money. There was 1,035 yuan and five cents. I gave half to Li.

`We wanted to buy a cassette recorder, so we went to the shop, but there were none available. I swore to behave well at work, so as not to arouse suspicion. Later, we bought a cassette player, and spent all the rest of the money on food, smoking, drink, a few cinema tickets.

`At my unit, quite a few people knew that I had made guns, and that I had the idea of robbing a bank. At a political study meeting, the team leader raised the subject of the bank robbery. I could feel I was sweating, and thought I was suspected. At the movies, I found a policeman sitting next to me, and believed I was being tailed. When the March job roster came out, I had no assignment, so realised that I was under close observation. I reported to the work site, but was told there was no work for me. I was to go to a criticism meeting concerning four people who had been arrested for crimes. I was very afraid, but the case didn't concern me , and I was not touched. After that, every time I heard a car or truck coming, I was terrified they were coming to arrest me. I tried to commit suicide by holding two wires of an electrical flex. But it was so uncomfortable that I turned it off again. I couldn't bear the agony, so I decided to give myself up and hope for a light sentence. But if they impose the death sentence on me, I don't care.'

Li Guosheng gives a simpler testimony.

`Zhang Wenling said, "Let's rob a bank". I had no objection to his plan.' He stops. The prosecutor is holding a more forthcoming confession, written by Li under supervision in the cells, and he prompts him, as one might a child.

`Can you tell us, why did you rob the bank?'

Li's face shows nothing.

`Because I had nothing good to eat, nothing good to drink, and no work'.

That is the end of his testimony, and the court adjourns to discuss sentence. Zhang and Li return to their cells and we foreigners are led out into the pale spring weather. Later, we are told Li Guosheng was sentenced to death, with a year's suspension to allow for heartfelt reform. If he makes convincing progress, his death sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment. Zhang had initiated, led, and planned the >whole crime, but he had later shown a `good attitude' by giving himself up and informing on his friend, so he was sentenced only to fifteen years prison.

What lay ahead of Zhang Wenling and Li Guosheng as they were led off, manacled, into the Chinese prison system?

In principle, the Chinese justice system pays a great deal more attention to `rehabilitation' of convicts than occurs in most of the world's so-called developed nations. In Maoist philosophy, criminal actions come into the category of `contradictions', to use the normal translation of the term mao dun, which really means something like a paradox. In 1956, Chairman Mao wrote a dissertation called 'On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People', which was primarily concerned with the conduct of class struggle against bourgeois resistance to communism within China, but which also laid out the distinctions on which the present justice system is based. The principle is that all crimes and mistakes fall into two categories, contradictions among the people, and contradictions between the people and the enemy. Some convicts are thus defined as `Members of the People', perhaps needing some corrective re-education, whilst others are defined as `Enemies of the People' who must be ruthlessly suppressed.

Crime, it can be seen, takes on a highly political flavour in this context. The way for Enemies of the People, often known as Class Enemies or Bad Elements (huai fenzi), to cross over and become members of the people again is through abject confession, physical penance, and proven Thought Reform. In the development of the Western common-law system, the trend has been towards separating any religious or spiritual notions of Sin from the social and legal definitions of Crime, but in Peoples China it is quite the opposite. In cases like that of the two young bank- robbers, it is the criminal who is tried and assessed, not the crime itself. The Chinese system, in this regard, is not unlike mediaeval Church-dominated societies in which Sin and Crime are the same thing.

What would seem an obvious flaw, to Western eyes, is that the system favours the facile hypocrite over the honest or obtuse. Numerous fraud cases were reported in the Beijing papers of the early 1980s, committed by former prisoners who had been released on the grounds that they had `shown satisfactory progress in Thought Reform'. Clearly, Thought Reform achieved under conditions of duress is a fragile condition, once the `reformed' individual is faced again with the opportunities of the outside world.

But the process is not made easy for anyone. Confessions, or `self-criticisms' as they are known, normally have to be written time after time, perhaps daily for months on end, until the supervisors are satisfied. Part of the technique is to give the prisoner as few clues as possible as to the specific confession that is being sought from him, so that he must pour forth every possible criminal thought, word or deed, and implicate as many as possible of his former colleagues, in hopes of scoring the bingo. A side benefit of this open-ended confession system is that it so often yields material for further arrests or interrogations of people mentioned. This was referred to in the earlier chapter concerning the trial of Wei Jingsheng, in which the confessions of his friend, Yang Guang, were a major part of the prosecutors case against Wei Jingsheng himself.

Even foreigners are not immune from Thought Reform, and it happens from time to time that the Public Security Bureau will require a foreign resident, or even the occasional tourist, to write a series of ever more abject self-criticisms over some lapse or misdemeanour. It may be no coincidence that the Foreigners Section of the Beijing PSB usually imposes this galling experience on the most choleric among the foreigners. It's a lesson, as they like to say, that `the days when foreign imperialists could lord it over China are finished! The Chinese People have stood up!' Three of my journalistic colleagues of the period went through this, for several hours at a time. The most successful self-criticisms, I regret to have to report, tended to be decidedly tongue in cheek.

It's no joke, however, for any Chinese to find himself under interrogation. Police powers are extremely broad when it comes to `investigation' of a possible crime, and people seem to be detained for questioning for periods far longer than the laws officially permit. When PSB prosecutors satisfied they have a case, the PSB prosecutors present their case to officials called Procurators, who are supposed to re-investigate the matter to make sure that there is a prima facie case. Thus, by the time a criminal case actually reaches the courtroom, guilt has been established by two organs of the state. There is no courtroom discussion over finer points of law, no adversary debate over evidence or new evidence produced. The accused is there, really, just to be assessed for his punishment.

According to the stories of ex-prisoners over the years, first stop for a convict is usually solitary confinement, while the first round of self-criticisms and interrogations goes on to establish the prisoner's attitude to himself, his crime, and the People. The prisoner must beg the People to forgive him, and crave the opportunity to demonstrate his will to reform through hard labour. When this begging has gone on long enough (possibly for years), he will be transferred to a Labour Reform centre. Some of these are located in or near cities, but the bulk of prisoners are sent to settlements in remote areas of the country. Much of the hard construction labour in places like Qinghai - the inner portion of the Tibetan Plateau - is carried out by prison labour, and the inmates live a Spartan and isolated life. I passed the high walls of several such camps in various parts of the country, but there seemed to be a rule among official guides that they should not acknowledge to foreigners what they were.

Some camp inmates, the more easy-going, seem to adapt almost philosophically to prison camp life, but the hardest time, unquestionably, goes to the political prisoners who hold to their `counter-revolutionary' ideas. A murderer, after all, might be undergoing Labour Reform to expiate a single, isolated act of violence with extenuating circumstances, but a dissident intellectual is considered by the Public Security to commit fresh crimes against the People every time he re-states his beliefs.

Such was the case with Liu Qing, a leading activist of the April 5th Forum at the Democracy Wall, who had been arrested in November 1979 for distributing unauthorised transcripts of the trial of Wei Jingsheng. Three years after his disappearance, he managed to smuggle a two hundred page account of his prison life out of the Lotus Temple prison in Qinghai province where he was being detained, he claimed, without ever having passed through the legal processes of charge and trial as proclaimed to proudly by the National Peoples Congress in the year that he was arrested.

He told of spending an initial five months in a damp, cold isolation cell in a Beijing interrogation centre, where his hair began to fall out and his eyesight to deteriorate. As he continued to demand his legal rights, he was beaten, chained, and threatened with indefinite detention unless he improved his attitude and confessed immediately to counter-revolutionary crimes. He wrote several letters to the Procurator-General appealing against his illegal detention, but is not sure that they were ever passed on by his captors. Their only message to him was the stock warning: `Obstinacy will get you nowhere'. He account verified that the intensive interrogation practices, sometimes accompanied by terror and violence, were still being used by PSB personnel in the 1980s, despite what had been widely heralded as China's return to Rule of Law.

`When you are in the hands of the Public Security you have no way to put your case reasonably', he wrote. `I want everybody to know the truth and for society to rise up to prevent these illegalities continuing. We must show them that they can't get away with whatever they like'.

The account was published widely in Hong Kong and found its way to the foreign press as well. We can be sure that Liu Qing's defiance in smuggling out his manuscript has ensured that his initial three-year sentence has been extended indefinitely. Release will depend upon a degree of Thought Reform that a man like Liu Qing is unlikely to achieve.

The PSB personnel who carry out this process of Thought Reform are not always very intelligent, but they are thoroughly trained in the techniques of inquisition and, by all accounts, extremely thorough in the pursuit of their goal of complete psychological mastery of the `criminal'. The term `brain-washing' entered our Western vocabulary, I understand, from the experiences of American prisoners of war of the Chinese in Korea, but the methods and processes are not foreign to European tradition. They are identical to what we now of the techniques of religious Inquisition through the centuries, and for the same reason: that a spiritual system demanding total personal commitment is married to a jealous State power.

Premier Zhao Ziyang charged new Ministry of State Security in 1983 with the task of `providing more effective leadership over counter-espionage work and protecting the security of the state'. China watchers had known for some time that China's governing group wanted to end what had been a chaotic situation in Chinese intelligence work. The civilian Public Security Ministry, the military intelligence, and other groups such as scientific intelligence, foreign trade corporations, and the so-called `United Front' departments, were all believed to conduct separate information-gathering activities with, up till then, little co-ordination. Formation of the new ministry followed a series of spy and hijack scandals which had shown up embarrassing weaknesses in China's existing internal security set-up.

In April of that year there had been a National Work Conference on Public Security, at which the old guard of the security forces were warned that there had been `fundamental changes since the early days of liberation. Class struggle is no longer the central problem in China, and the great majority of the population is now classified within the category of The People. The great majority of criminals, too, are the labouring people and their children. The Public Security organs must take great care to distinguish the different kinds of contradictions among the people.'

An official editorial in the Peoples Daily explained that, since China had begun to practise its new open door policy, `hostile forces at home and abroad have taken advantage of the situation to infiltrate our society and try to destroy it. Remnant feudal ideas at home have re-appeared, and decadent capitalist ideology from abroad has grown considerably. The work of public security should be conscientiously placed under the leadership of the Party and government'.

The old, fragmented security system reflected the clannish attitudes and vertical divisions in most areas of Chinese social organisation, but in the new Ministry of State Security, China had finally set up something equivalent to the Soviet KGB, and just how that Ministry will make its work felt remains to be seen. The same work conference set up a new paramilitary police unit, initially for Beijing only, to undertake much of the routine guard work that had up until then been done by units of the regular army. This guard work includes sentry duty at all important government installations such as the telephone exchange, Central Broadcasting Authority studios, principal railway stations et cetera, and also covers the gateways to embassies, hotels and apartment compounds frequented by foreigners. Apart from other advantages, a specialised group of permanent guards, rather than raw infantry recruits, will be far more effective in monitoring the comings and goings between resident foreigners and local Chinese.

Of course, the majority of social offenders in China are classified in the first group - those guilty of `contradictions among the people'. The most serious of these offenders will be passed on, into the court system, and end up with sentences of Labour Reform, but a much greater number of offenders will be fed into what is called Labour Education. This follows the same general corrective principles, endeavouring to inculcate a `love of labour' among people considered to have reneged on their social obligations, but in theory it does not carry the same life-long official stigma as a sentence of Labour Reform. Those undergoing Labour Reform are presumed to be `basically bad', requiring a complete mental rebuild, while those undergoing Labour Education are presumed to be `basically good', but needing some correction.

Criminal law procedures are supposed to be strict, but by a sleight of hand, Labour Education sentences are handed out without any legal processes being necessary. They go on the recommendation of local committees headed by the Public Security authorities, who supposedly have tried and failed to convince the offender to repent of his own accord.

Squads of young men, in standard Chinese summer working dress of blue trousers and loose white cotton shirts, drill energetically in the courtyard of the single-story brick barracks compound. Their drill master calls out slogans about reforming one's self and serving the country, and the young men bellow them back in unison, to the rhythm of their own cotton shoes goose-stepping across the hard earth. This is their one day off field labour for the week, and they've spent it cleaning up the compound to receive a group of foreign and Chinese press.. the first such visit to the Tuan He farm since it was founded. Woe betide anyone who messes up the drill.

Tuan He (`where rivers join') was marshland until developed as a military state farm in the late fifties. Drainage and tall avenues along the roadsides make it now seem almost as pleasant a place as the average commune or state farm near Beijing, at least in the full leaf of summer, with the din of cicadas in the trees. The inmates work six hours a day in the fields and vineyards of the farm, spend two more hours a day in political study, and go to bed at 9:30, fifteen to a room on one large communal bed.

I go by myself into one of the cells, where the inmates sit stiffly in a row along the edge of the bed under the keen eye of a warder. I talk with the men about their life inside. They are all between seventeen and twenty-nine years of age. About a third are being punished for juvenile delinquency offences, of which `hooliganism' or sexual licentiousness is the most common offence. There is also a rapist, though his offence must have been judged to have mitigating circumstances, as violent rapists are normally executed. A young hairdresser from a public bath-house is doing three years for illegal gold-dealing. A commercial artist is in for forging official rubber-stamps.. a most lucrative trade in China where such stamps are required for almost every move you can make. Others are in for street- fighting, vandalism, burglary and bicycle theft.. the Chinese equivalent of car-theft.

One of the older men says he was imprisoned for having unauthorised contacts with foreigners. The farm authorities later deny this is the case.. he has been found guilty of procuring Chinese girls for foreign men, is himself morally licentious, and has also committed a theft. In Chinese law, much remains in the eye of the beholder. In the whole reformatory, about twenty percent are in for smuggling or black-market activity, and a good number for gambling, long banned in China but now enjoying a powerful vogue among the young unemployed.

One wall of the cell carries a large notice board, on which the inmates have posted their self-criticisms and responses to indoctrination sessions. I scan a few, and see the familiar phrases of gratitude to the Party for its care and concern, of regret for a wrong `class standpoint', of determination to remould oneself and become a useful citizen, serve the People, build the Four Modernisations. The more heartfelt and self-critical, the more likely a good report, an early release, and a chance for a new life outside. Skills of political rhetoric, if nothing else, are being finely honed in here.

Conditions are Spartan here, but still probably better than those enjoyed by the majority of the peasantry. I take a walk away from the main compound, to where work is under way in the fields. I ask an inmate, trimming grape vines under the hot sun, how he finds life inside.

`Much the same as outside', is all he replies, and returns to his vines.

One in twelve of the inmates are the children of Communist Party members, confirming the widespread concern that Party Members do not make better parents than average, and often fail to pass their high social ideals on to the next generation.

Some of the staff are uncomfortable with foreigners. For years it was policy to deny that delinquency ever occurred in New China, now it is being exposed to international view. Others of the staff show a schoolmasterly kindness towards their charges, and I believe that while I might have different views as to who really needs `Re-education', the way it is practised is relatively humane here.

Music is permitted, so long as it is judged to be in sympathy with the reforming aims of the farm. Western decadence is banned, of course, but `decadent' music can itself undergo Thought Reform, with a change in lyrics. The labour camp's `propaganda party' assembles to sing to the foreign guests. I leave with this parting image: the gold- dealing barber on Hawaiian guitar, the seal-forging artist on accordion, and the smuggling son of a well-known actress, leading the inmates in rousing renditions of 'Goodbye to yesterday, tomorrow we serve socialism', 'The Song of Cultured Behaviour', and (raising large placards aloft) 'The Labour Education Policy is Good'.

Beijing Municipality runs three Labour Education farms like Tuan He, with a total of some seven thousand inmates at any one time. It also runs two of the harsher Labour Reform institutions, where the sentences are invariably much longer, from five years to life. That gives a total of at least twelve thousand in labour camps run by Beijing municipality alone, from a total population of some nine million - one prisoner for each seven hundred and fifty of the population. Allowing for lower criminal rates in the country areas, one can still deduce at least a million Chinese in Labour Reform and Labour Education camps today. Most experts say the number is between ten and twenty million, but these figures are, of course, impossible for a foreigner to verify.

One small victory for civil liberties was a new rule in 1983 to end the practice of endorsing the resident identity cards of all former prisoners. Ever mindful of the possibility of fresh witch-hunts, many ex-convicts had lived in perpetual fear that their past might be exposed. According to the official press reports, some had become complete recluses, because there was so little they could do without having to show the incriminating identity cards. There were cases of men who lost chances to marry because they did not dare expose their past. It is a small victory, however, as the Public Security Bureau never forgets anything, and files are indelible.