Chapter Six

Tails of Capitalism

By the end of 1982, China had approximately three million privately-owned businesses back in commission, with more registering almost as fast as the new Individual Trade sections of the local Commerce and Trade Administrations could handle them. The national director of the Administration was not satisfied, comparing this number to the 8.3 million private traders registered in China in 1953, before the Party's programme of `Socialist Transformation' began to take everything over, closing all private shops and amalgamating existing co-operatives into large conglomerates. By 1978, before the radical reversal of policy towards private commerce, there were only one twentieth as many retail outlets in Beijing as there had been in 1953. The main streets had formerly been lined with shops of all kinds, some big, but mainly small family businesses. Now they were nothing but row after row of shuttered shopfronts, falling into disrepair or converted to store-rooms and living quarters. Not surprisingly, the limited number of large, state-owned stores in Beijing and every other city of China were quite unable to give satisfactory retail service to the population, even with the limited range of goods that the industrial chaos of the time was able to produce.

Would-be urban entrepreneurs in the new climate were likely to find things no easier than their country cousins. A man from the fringes of Beijing who bought a second-hand three-wheeled truck from a commune, to start a local transport business, found quickly that the meagre quarterly ration of diesel oil he got from the cadres in charge of fuel allocation would last him only one month. His business was highly profitable, however, and he admitted frankly that he bought the other two-thirds of his fuel requirements on the black market.

Wang Xinren, a former rural team leader from a commune in Sichuan Province, arranged to take over a small abandoned coal mine, made it profitable, and rapidly expanded into ownership of two grain mills and a truck. With assets worth 40,000 yuan, he became a target for local cadre investigation as a `Capitalist exploiter', but the charges did not stick - more senior officials held that he had built up the capital through his own labour and exploited nobody. A student from Nanking astounded his family and friends by spending a year on the intensive study of scientific poultry farming, then going out to the village where he had been rusticated during the Cultural Revolution and setting himself up to raise quail and superior grades of chicken for the city markets. His assigned work unit in the city, where he claimed he had nothing to do, tried to charge him with `breach of organisational discipline'. Nobody had considered moving to the countryside as anything but a penance, but the man proved he was right with an income that started at a high 1000 yuan in the first year and shot up ten times in the second. Provincial authorities upheld his right to do so.

Others who went into the transport business found themselves facing arbitrary confiscation of their vehicles by cadres who simply felt that there was `something wrong' with people getting rich - it had been classed as a sin for so long. Peddlers and retailers in the cities were often persecuted, then reprieved after appeals to higher authorities. The Director of Beijing's Private Enterprise Administration department, a veteran woman cadre named Zhou Yinlan, admitted that the new line represented a 180-degree change of view for people such as herself, who had spent most of their careers working to eliminate the `tails of Capitalism', as individual businessmen were called. She admitted to having been `re-educated' to the new line by observing the thousands of jobs private trade had created for the young, who would never have found state employment, and by the big improvement in available services to the people. About half the private traders were retailers, about twenty percent were in convenience catering, ten percent in small handicrafts production and a further ten percent in local transportation services. All of these trades contributed directly to the quality of life for citizens, and exploited nobody.

There were also crooks, of course. Some of the fruit and vegetable peddlers offering fresh country produce had in fact got up early to snap up the best fruits on offer at the fixed-price state vegetable stores, and were re-selling them at a premium in another part of the city. One could argue that they worked for their profit by making the selection and transporting the produce to a more convenient location for buyers - but under the Chinese system they were still classed as `speculators'. On Wangfu Jing street, the high-class shopping area of Beijing, certain young men made a living buying out shop stocks of the fashionable leather shoes most in demand, then offering them outside on the pavement, one pair at a time, like ticket scalpers, to late-coming shoppers who had missed out.

It was not only in commerce that private employment was growing. Professionals, also, were gradually permitted to offer their services to the public for a fee, subject to government licensing. Doctors, accountants, tailors and other skilled persons began to hang up the painted board outside their own front door. A number of these were people already at retirement age, or people who, under political persecution, had been out of the government employment system anyway. Some were among the tens of thousands who during this period were being released from labour camps or from rural exile, as political charges and `labels', laid against them years before in old campaigns, were dropped. But others chose voluntarily to drop out of the system, and were given permission to do so.

An engineer in a Shanghai technical institute undertook a spare-time job as a technical advisor to a small rubber factory, and was rewarded with a handsome bonus of 1200 yuan when his work saved the factory from bankruptcy. His own employers, however, were outraged, and had him charged with `serious economic crime'. Courts supported their charge, the engineer was demoted and his reward confiscated. The Shanghai Party Committee, however, thought otherwise. They judged his work to be socially useful, and his example a good one for the new campaign, and therefore ordered the Court to return his money, and the Institute to restore his promotion. This case, incidentally, is an interesting example of the casual authority of local Party committees over the legal machinery of state.

Private vocational schools also began to open, and were extremely popular, both with the unemployed youth looking for extra qualifications, and with some people already in employment, but wanting to boost chances for promotion, as skill was now promised to prevail over seniority. Many of this second category were of the so-called Lost Generation, who had received very inadequate secondary education during the years of the Cultural Revolution. The Long March School of Accounting, in Beijing, operated after hours in classrooms rented from a local primary school. Run by an elderly accountant trained long before the revolution, it charged pupils about ten cents per hour for classes, and paid its teachers more than double what they would get as government teachers. Soon, ten thousand private pupils were in such schools around Beijing, and the state was benefiting from that many extra vocationally-qualified people, at no public investment.

The revival of genuine commerce in China drew attention to the fact that there was very little in the way of commercial law to govern it. Laws and regulations of contract, foreign investment, copyright and patent, truth in advertising, industrial safety and workers compensation insurance, all had to be re-invented. Experts in these fields from all over the world were invited to China, and much head-scratching went on in the offices of the State Council and its ministries, which had worked so long in the past to eliminate all these vestiges of Capitalism. All domestic insurance business, for instance, had been cancelled in China in 1958 and was not revived until 1979.

In the rebuilding of its commercial structures, China turned for advice, once more, to one of the most interesting of its political groupings, the so-called Patriotic Capitalists. Not all the Capitalists of China had been obdurate in opposing the Communists during the civil war, and when the Communists won in 1949, there were some who elected to stay and co-operate, rather than get out with whatever they could transfer to Taiwan or Hong Kong. The Peoples Republic began, in any case, as a United Front of the Communists with a range of small, middle class parties, and the Communists encouraged Chinese Capitalists to believe that they had a future in China, so long as they did not oppose the Party. In this context, it was hardly surprising that even many of the big industrialist families who fled communism left at least one member of the family on the mainland, to retain ownership of the family's immovable investments, and to make what he could of the uncertain new system.

A number of such scions of Chinese Capitalism had already established credentials as supporters of the Communist Party, either secretly or openly, and these were treated relatively well from the start. Others made rapid conversions, as they witnessed die-hard Capitalist resisters around them ground into the dust, sooner or later. Those who survived the transition were eventually marshalled together, for administrative and supervisory purposes, in the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and in the China National Democratic Construction Association - a registered `political party' with a group of delegates on the large national advisory council known as the Chinese Peoples Political Consultative Congress. As the Party's new regime became more firmly established and gained confidence, the power of these men over the assets they nominally owned drained away, until, during the Cultural Revolution, all the deals and guarantees that had been made with them by the Party were repudiated, and they all suffered the same kinds of persecution and deprivation as senior people in every other field. A special hatred had always been nourished in the Party's extreme left for these silvertail socialists in their decaying Shanghai or Beijing mansions, and many of the older men and women died.

Zhao Meiling had grown up in the ambiguous atmosphere of such a Shanghai mansion - a European-style two story house with four bedrooms, several servants, and a large walled garden in the fashionable former French Concession area of Shanghai. Her father, an engineer educated in America, had swallowed the bitter pill of accepting Party-appointed officials to run the large electrical manufacturing business he had inherited from his father. That is to say, they ran the staff and the political education, and went to the meetings where production targets were announced and merit awards given to Model Workers. When it came to actual production of the goods, Zhao's father, under the diminished title of Deputy Chief Engineer, continued to be the only man who knew the business.

He had conscientiously tried to train a couple of likely young workers to succeed him in this, but his plans were dashed by the Cultural Revolution. His two apprentices were the ones selected by the Party faction to lead the struggle meeting at the factory at which Zhao's father was repeatedly bashed over the head, accused of being a spy (because he had written a few letters to his brothers in Hong Kong) and of `fawning on all things foreign', because his brothers had bought him subscriptions to some British and American technical publications relevant to the business. From there, it was easy for the Struggle Group to conclude that he was an unrepentant Capitalist renegade plotting counter-revolution to re-establish feudal- Capitalism in China and sell out to Imperialism. He was locked for two weeks in an outdoor lavatory, close to starvation, until he wrote a `confession' that satisfied the Red Guards on all these points. Then they `sentenced' him to further beatings, and he died of internal injuries.

Zhao Meiling was fourteen and her elder brother sixteen when, during this period, a mob of Red Guards stormed their home compound and ransacked the house for `evidence'. Everything of value was taken, floors were ripped up, furniture destroyed in the hunt for concealed riches. A small amount of the family's gold, hidden years ago, remained undiscovered, but the events were too much for Meiling's mother, a wilful, spoiled daughter of the old Shanghai bourgeoisie. She killed herself by swallowing insecticide. Meiling's brother had never been able to challenge his mother's formidable will, and was now incapable of taking charge.

At fourteen, Zhao Meiling became head of the family. With tears, bullying, and by using contacts of her father in the Shanghai elite, she was able to ensure a survival pension for her brother and herself. Other families were moved into all but two rooms of their house, and sheds were built in their garden by a neighbouring clothing factory. Zhao Meiling never lost her will. When the wheel turned, and the compensation policies were announced, Meiling, now twenty-five, went to work like a terrier on the Shanghai bureaucracy. Many Capitalist families, in their terror, had destroyed all evidence of their former wealth and status in hopes to avoid further persecution. Meiling had carefully kept all documents, and obtained signed statements from people concerning her parents' deaths. Within a few months, she had been paid substantial sums of compensation, with promises of much more over a period. She had recovered more rooms of their house, though some of the new tenants were proving difficult to move, as they had high connections of their own to bring to bear. The sheds, however, were removed from the garden.

Meiling's brother had become completely dependent upon her, and she had grown to despise him. With money now to spend, he did nothing but lounge around with other such children of the old Capitalists, sipping the deplorable coffee of the `Western-style' cafes, exchanging cassettes of Hong Kong and Taiwan popular music idols like Deng Lijun, chasing starlets of the local movie industry and talking big about plans to make a fortune in private trade.

Meiling decided that she could do no more in China, and began working on plans to get out. She found a friend of her family to teach her English, and made rapid progress. The bureaucratic contacts and practice of the past ten years did not let her down, and I met her after her successful exit to Hong Kong, a tall, lean, uncompromising woman with a tendency to talk more than listen. Six months later, she was back in Beijing, possessor of the prized Hong Kong re-entry card, and representative of a busy international trading company. I had no doubt she would do well.

With the watershed of the fall of the Gang of Four, the Patriotic Capitalists were among those to be dragged back up from the mud where they had been cast, scrubbed down and set back upon their shelves. In the case of the Patriotic Capitalists, things were even better than for others such as academics, due to the policy of restitution of all property and income which had been confiscated during the Cultural Revolution in breach of earlier agreements. For those who had once been owners of vast industrial empires, even the laughably low rate of compensation they had been obliged to accept from the government under its `buying out' programme of the fifties amounted to quite large sums of money. With the restitution, China overnight restored a few dozen personal millionaires. Grand houses and furniture, if they had not been destroyed, were also returned. The only catch was that all monies were in the non-convertible local currency, renminbi, and could not be exported or spent overseas.

Andrew Yang smoothes back his silver hair and adjusts the horn-rimmed spectacles on his nose. Pipe clamped between his teeth, he glances briefly over my shoulder into the distance, like a tweedy English schoolmaster at a cricket match. The finely tailored grey wool lounge suit sits comfortably on his slim Shanghainese frame, and he wears a discreet necktie with more aplomb than any Chinese I have met on the mainland. His English is better than most overseas-educated Chinese, reflecting the years in St John's College, Shanghai, and decades of fraternisation with the foreign elite there, before the revolution. Andrew Yang could have chosen to live anywhere in the world, and he has chosen to stay in China.

`Yes, I spent a few years down on the farm', he tells me, with a wry laugh. `Things are much better now. We old Capitalists want to help China, and the Party leaders these days seem to want to let us do it, so we can agree on quite a lot!'

The farm years had been tough, as he laboured in the fields where, before the revolution, peasant families had struggled to survive on the low prices paid by purchasing agents from his family's mills. He doesn't want to dwell on that.

`We prefer to look to the future, now, and I think I can say that China's future now looks brighter to me than it ever did'.

Mr Yang now plays no part in the industries that once belonged to him. He has been paid out in renminbi, millions of yuan in the Peoples Bank of China and in the Shanghai International Trust and Investment Corporation set up as a vehicle to mobilise funds such as his in constructive projects.

`We'll be putting up some housing blocks for overseas Chinese to buy for their local relatives, if they wish. There are some joint ventures we're looking at, but nothing definite yet. Perhaps a hotel or something like that'.

Nothing about him is typical of China, and I wonder if he feels himself to be something of an alien in Peoples China. Even in the old days, many Shanghainese considered themselves apart from the hinterland.

`My family are all over the place', he says. `I have children living in the United States, relatives in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Even in Australia. I visited them all last year. There's no problem for me in travelling overseas, I've plenty of foreign exchange in family overseas accounts, and the government now lets me go when I want to. But we've got our old house in Shanghai, and a lot of money here, and somebody's got to spend it, so I always come back.'

He laughs, acknowledging that we both know his answer is not complete. We walk across some new stone paving to a balustrade, and both look down into the cement pond with fresh lily plantings in the water. He finishes his answer.

`And of course, I am a Chinese. This is my home, and this is where I want to be. I wondered if I had made a mistake, sometimes, when we were all thrown out on the scrap-heap. But now I know I am doing the right thing'.

Like all the big mercantile families of Shanghai, the Yangs are now distributed all over the trading world. Where they do not have family members, they have trusted friends. We are on the site of a joint venture project between a Chinese unit and a foreign contact of Andrew Yang's, in which he has no personal investment, but is acting as a consultant and occasional facilitator in Shanghai. He is not paid for this work, but there is a quid pro quo. The foreign investor has imported a large Mercedes into China, customs duties paid, for use in connection with the project. For most of the year, the car lives in the garage of Andrew Yang's large Shanghai residence, and is at his disposal. Mr Yang is quietly more than pleased with this deal, as his millions of yuan can only buy him an old-fashioned Shanghai sedan or huge Red Flag limousine, inconvenient for Shanghai's busy and narrow streets. Ownership, anyway, is not the point - to be seen around Shanghai in a new Mercedes is excellent Face.

As we part, he gives me his business card, up to date typography clearly printed in Hong Kong.

`Andrew Yang, Director, Shanghai International Trust and Investment Corporation. Business and Trade Consultant' .

Trust and Investment corporations have been set up on similar lines in other major industrial cities of China, based on the same resources of restored private capital, supplemented by credit facilities with the Peoples Bank of China and its foreign banking arm, the Bank of China. They are managed by boards of these Patriotic Capitalists, under a broad charter of trade and development financing. As in Shanghai, these large trusts have devoted a good part of their resources to developing joint- ventures with foreign firms wishing to participate in Chinese manufacturing industry. The admission of joint venture and wholly-owned foreign investment to China was another policy shift which caused ideological trauma to a generation of cadres brought up to believe that Capitalists and Imperialists were, by definition, exploiters of Chinese labour.

Many of the earlier foreign joint venture partners found that their Chinese partners were taking the view that any profit the foreign partner took out of the country was a net loss to China, and should be kept to an absolute minimum. I know personally of cases, for instance, when foreign joint venture partners found that their Chinese partners were conniving to pay exorbitant prices to local materials suppliers, so as to maximise the overall Chinese profit at the expense of the foreign joint venture partner. The problem was so common that potential joint-venture partners began to shy away, and stern instructions had to be issued to Chinese partners to make sure the foreign investment inflow was not sabotaged. A national economic monthly the World Economic Herald, deemed it `wrong to haggle over the profits foreigners will make. While guaranteeing that China's sovereign rights will not be impaired, the joint ventures must be profitable to foreign shareholders. How else can foreign funds be attracted?'

To be fair, the obstructions usually arose through the intervention of cadres in the Party stream of the administration, not from people like the Patriotic Capitalists, who understood very well the principles of Capitalist investment and the profit motive. The Chinese Capitalist trusts have also provided funds for new medium and high-technology plants being set up outside the state-owned industrial sector, or as joint ventures between state and private (i.e. Trust) investment. To take things even further down the Capitalist Road, the Trusts began raising extra capital by public issues of fixed term, fixed interest debentures (unheard of since 1949), and later advising industrial units who wished to raise private capital by the same means. It was only a matter of time before even that supreme symbol of Capitalism, the stock market, would be discussed as a necessary development for China's mixed `Socialist Road' economy.

Shanghai was built up on trade and commerce, from a small trading town to a metropolis of eleven million people in little more than a hundred years. Its people have always had an eye for the main chance, and also loved a gamble. Even its local branch of the state-owned Peoples Bank decided to use this gambling urge for the national good. In 1982, at a time when the state economists were worried about the excess of cash floating around in their reflated economy, the Shanghai bank branch instituted a savings lottery system, offering large cash prizes on a monthly draw at five yuan per ticket. On the results of the first few months, the bank reckoned they would be adding over 280 million yuan to their deposits annually. In a Capitalist society this would raise no eyebrows, but it drew concerned editorial comment from Party conservatives, worried that this was altogether too obscene an exploitation of sheer human greed.

The broader organisation, the China Democratic National Construction Association, and another even looser grouping called the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, can martial a hundred thousand former managers and owners of small to medium sized businesses, as well as the major industrialists. These associations have become active in providing management consultancies to collectives or private businesses, and have started a number of regular training courses in `management for profit', which attract long-serving staff from government organisations as well as the hopeful new generation of entrepreneurs. One textile factory in Anhui province raised ten million yuan for an expansion programme with a debenture issue of two kinds - the first simple large-denomination bond for sale to institutions with spare capital, and the second a three thousand yuan bond for sale to individuals or families, and which carried with each certificate the right to nominate one qualified worker to a job in the new factory.

Again in Shanghai, the municipal housing bureau began to raise capital for new developments by selling off existing homes to their occupants. In fact, only a few individuals (either with overseas relatives or recipients of lump sum compensation from the Cultural Revolution) could afford to buy houses - but sales were still brisk, with the major purchasers being other work units who found it simpler to buy than run the bureaucratic gauntlet of trying to construct their own accommodation for workers.

Without doubt, the prince of China's Capitalists is Wang Guangying, the 65 year-old chairman of the Everbright Industrial Corporation. Wang inherited his father's large chemical manufacturing business in Tianjin in 1949, and co-operated early with the Communists. Zhou Enlai nick-named him the Red Capitalist, and his sister, Wang Guangmei, a radical student who had joined the Communists in Yenan and became English interpreter to the Party elite, later married President Liu Shaoqi. He could hardly be better connected than that, but inevitably fell almost as far as Liu Shaoqi himself did in the Cultural Revolution.

Wang Guangying returned to prominence immediately upon the posthumous `rehabilitation' of Liu and his economic policies in 1980. He became a leading figure of the Tianjin International Trust and Investment Corporation, but even greater things were in store. The policymakers were impressed by the huge profits being made by Hong Kong trading and investment companies, based firmly on the huge flow of commodity trade to and from mainland China. The issue of the future of Hong Kong, and its 1997 re-integration with the Peoples Republic, was to require very delicate handling if the golden goose of Hong Kong, earning more than one third of China's total foreign exchange, was not to be killed prematurely. A solution would be for the Peoples Republic to increase its own overt trading and investment profile in the British-administered enclave, both to shore up local and foreign confidence in the Capitalist future of the place, and also to participate in the steady transfer of Hong Kong's tangible and intangible assets to Chinese hands, as the foreign trading houses, inevitably, wound down their involvement there. Wang Guangying would be the man to head this, under the umbrella of the Everbright Corporation.

In the months before September 1984, while the British government slowly came to accept the inevitability of agreeing to almost every significant Chinese condition regarding the transfer, the Everbright Corporation seemed to make daily headlines in Hong Kong, where Wang Guangying had set up an expensive corporate headquarters, a lavish residence in the millionaires' row of Victoria Peak, and a pipeline to apparently limitless capital funding from the mainland. Anti-Communists were ready to see Everbright Corporation as a Trojan Horse for Hong Kong, but most investors were simply happy to find that there was a new major capital source around to support the extremely shaky confidence of the colony's property market and exchange rate.

Nominally, Everbright is a private, non-government corporation, and its capital funding is either drawn from the various Trust and Investment corporations of `former Capitalists' or borrowed at market rates. By the time the agreement on Hong Kong's 1997 transfer was settled by British and Chinese governments in September 1984, Everbright's total investment in Hong Kong had risen to an estimated four billion dollars - very big money even in terms of China's annual national budget - and the `private' label on Everbright Industrial Corporation was beginning to wear a little thin.

Everbright's corporate brief includes setting up markets for Chinese exports, attracting joint venture capital into China, and securing licences to advanced manufacturing technology. Wang Guangying said in an interview with foreign correspondents that his corporation was prepared to `do business with foreign firms shunned by government corporations - for instance, firms based in countries with which China does not have diplomatic relations.' These could include Israel, Saudi Arabia or even South Africa, one suspects, if there was money to be made without dragging China's foreign policy overtly into the dust. But what matters, ultimately, is that Everbright is expected to behave like a private corporation, as a talisman for the future of Hong Kong and, in the much longer term, Taiwan. China's rehabilitated Capitalists are charged with the duty not just of making money for China, but of refurbishing the links of blood, friendship, and hopefully `patriotic feeling' with their brother Chinese Capitalists outside of the Peoples Republic.

Shanghai is unchallenged as the home of industrial Capitalism in China. Placed at the mouth of China's economic heartland, the vast Yangtze River basin, it was in an ideal position to develop as entrepot and processing centre for the raw materials of the inland, and for imports from the outside world - a role filled, by default, by Hong Kong since 1949. Shanghai had been a moderate-sized port and local cotton-weaving centre when it was taken by the British Navy in the Opium War of 1842. With the establishment of the Foreign Concessions there (small enclaves where Chinese law was not allowed to apply) and the expansion of foreign trade, Shanghai grew at a furious pace, soon sprouting its own prosperous middle-class and wealthy Capitalists as well as the mass of workers and unemployed attracted to the city from the over-crowded hinterland. Among them developed the most Westernised of Chinese, as well as some of those with the most burning hatred of the airs and oppressions perpetrated by arrogant foreigners on Chinese soil.

Candlelight glints on rich red carpet and cedar panelling in the former French Club of Shanghai - now the Jin Jiang Club. The dining room offers starched linen, heavy silver service, a menu out of any European club of the early 1950s, and a standard of willing service from the staff unmatched anywhere in China. Nobody knows why, but Shanghai is the only place in China where almost everyone seems to take some pride in their work, even table service.

Chairman Mao took over this club as his own residence while he planned the Cultural Revolution. Five-metre high walls protect the ample French gardens, the swimming pool, tennis courts, and elegant Edwardian arbours, from the busy traffic of surrounding streets. Now it has been handed back to foreigners, under Chinese management, and everything costs foreign currency. Squawking video-game machines fill one of the card-rooms, where foreign residents of the concessions used to sit over the green baize tables with their elegant Chinese and white-Russian mistresses. Billiards are still available upstairs. Foreign residents of Beijing look forward to trips to Shanghai just for the pleasure of eating here, knowing the roast beef and potatoes will at least taste right.

The band has been frozen in time. They feel their way gingerly through renditions of popular tunes of the 1940s, when foreigners last ate and danced in these rooms. Hoagy Carmichael's 'Starlight Melody', 'Sweet Georgia Brown', Cole Porter's 'Begin the Beguine', on piano, one-finger guitar, quavering saxophone, and a confident trumpet leading the solos. For a gesture to the modern, a tense rendition of Paul McCartney's 'Michelle'.

I happen to enjoy the music intensely, as if meeting an old acquaintance in a remote and unlikely travellers' hostel. I question the band on their history. Most of them played in this and other Shanghai foreign clubs in the forties, and into the fifties, before their music was declared `decadent'. Since then, they have been on the payroll of the Shanghai Film Studio, drawing salaries, but only playing their swing in a few revolutionary movies, for those ever-popular dancing, drinking scenes of pre-revolutionary decadence. Now, they admit, they are too old to learn new music. In any case, the Authorities would not encourage importation of Western popular music, which is still considered dangerously decadent. So they play the music they know and enjoy, as long as they are asked to.

The Foreign Concessions endured until 1948, but by no means every little businessman in the concessions of Shanghai was a `running dog of Capitalist-Imperialism', as they were later labelled. Shanghai had everything, and room for every kind of person. Getting away from the nineteenth and twentieth century thoroughfares of redbrick and European neo-classic facades, the old walled Chinese Town still feels different to other Chinese cities of the Yangtze basin. It has an openness, an expectancy, an eye open for opportunity, and a quickness of step in the inhabitants which make a Westerner feel slightly less foreign.

Upstairs in a small, two-storey house in the old town, the Ying family is watching TV. Anna Karenina moves through flowery English meadows, attends an English country racecourse, in Russian period costumes of brilliant colour. Speaking perfectly dubbed Mandarin, she plays out her abandonment of social morals to follow personal emotion, and dies before their eyes. The BBC production, in translation, makes a very Chinese tale.

The colour TV is an anomaly in this house, a gift from a sister-in-law who has lived thirty years in the United States, and returned last year for a visit to her old home. A large walnut veneer dresser along one wall, under the movie-star calendar, is the only reminder of the comfortable life Ying and his family once enjoyed. Now three couples - the parents and two married sons - share the two rooms with two grandchildren. Makeshift partitions and an attic sleeping-loft have disfigured the living room beyond recognition. The shop below, and the rooms behind it, were given to another family during the Cultural Revolution. A back balcony serves as kitchen, and the toilet, Shanghai fashion, is a ma tong - a wooden bucket with a lid, left outside the door for emptying once a day, and kept on a window-ledge over the back lane when not in use in the living quarters.

Ying had been a young man with a future. He was an accountant, who became manager of a music store at the poorer end of Nanking Road. He formed a District Ukulele Band from his customers, and boosted sales of the handy, cheap instrument so much that he became distributor for a major American ukulele manufacturer, to all of China. Business looked very good. That was when he bought the shop-house in which the family now live, and the walnut veneer furniture of which the cabinet is the only piece left. Photographs he pulls from it show him, dapper in a Western suit, at the centre of a group of forty ukulele players.

Could I put him in touch with the manufacturer again, he wonders? Perhaps, in the new climate, the ukulele will be welcomed again in China? The old man is no longer in good health, but he is thinking of his sons.

The revolution went badly for Ying. He was a small businessman, a promoter of Western culture and products, and, to top it all off, a Christian. Ying's wife was the daughter of a Chinese pastor of a protestant church, prominent in the Chinese Christian community. His tweed sports-jackets and round clerical collar made him an easy mark for jeers and taunts in the new anti-foreign climate, but he persisted in sticking by his Westernised ways, learned from those who taught him his Christian faith, until he died, fortunately before things got rough.

Ying's business was not bought out, like the big Capitalists. Instead, he was steadily taxed and squeezed until there was nothing left of it, and import of instruments became impossible. He gave up the business and went back to work as an accountant for one of the amalgamated co-operative stores down by the waterfront. But he must have grumbled about his loss, for with the massive anti-Rightist campaign across China in 1957, he was interrogated, labelled and gaoled for four years for `counter-revolutionary agitation'.

His two boys were mere children at that time, and the experience for them was shattering. As the children of a Rightist, they were hounded from the Young Pioneers, and `put under supervision of the masses' by their schoolmates, in case they, too, should show signs of counter-revolutionary ideas. Their mother persisted in taking them to church, even so, until the church itself was closed down a few years later as a `remnant of bourgeois thought' and an enclave of foreign worship.

Ying was released from prison, but retained the Rightist label on his personal file, and could not get steady work. The family lived by his casual work as an accountant for collective units and surviving small traders, and by meagre rent from a room of their house. His boys had become regular truants and were beginning to get into minor police trouble. It was a relief for him when they were both sent away in the early stages of the rustication programme, though their mother wept over their exiles in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, two of the poorest provinces.

Come the Cultural Revolution, Ying and his wife were both rounded up, he as a Rightist suspect, she as a foreign lackey for her persistence in her Christian religion. Her father's prayer- books, which had been passed on to her, were burned by Red Guard raiders, as were most of his souvenirs of the Ukulele Band and his brief career as a successful small businessman. While their boys were away, their housing was declared `excessive', and the other family was moved in. Since the policy of restoring housing to its rightful owners was announced, Ying has been trying to regain the rest of his house through the courts. First priority in such cases is being given to Overseas Chinese, to encourage their loyalty to China. Elderly, poorly-connected Christians with bad political records get low priority. Ying has been rebuffed in his first approach to the court, and is running low on energy.

Both his sons returned years ago from the country, but because of their father's political status were unable to get jobs. Fortunately, both married girls with factory jobs, and they do not starve. The elder son makes a little money giving guitar lessons to local youths crazy to learn Western music, the other has a casual factory job, without security or welfare benefits. Party policy was to make the `petty bourgeoisie', like this family, join the working class. In Ying's family, they have succeeded in one generation - his sons were denied education. Old Mr Ying's dream for them is to follow his footsteps - become Chinese agents for some foreign firm or other, as he was for the ukulele manufacturer. He thinks the present climate would permit this. But his sons have been so roughened by the torments of their formative years that they are unlikely to inspire confidence in any Hong Kong or foreign merchant.

The Yings had a daughter, whom at first they never spoke of. It was only after Mrs Ying let something slip about grandchildren in a country town that I asked further, and was told. She was younger - young enough to have believed the indoctrination of teachers at her school regarding her parents' `crimes'. She had grown up as a pious Young Pioneer, lecturing her parents conscientiously on their backwardness, and denouncing them publicly when the occasion called for it. When her own turn came to be sent to the country, she vowed to stay there to `Serve the People', as Chairman Mao had called upon her to do, in expiation for her parents' ideological failings. This vow was fulfilled when she married another of her group, which automatically established residence registration for them both in the small town, and cancelled their Shanghai registration.

The Yings still loved their daughter, and were grateful that she sometimes brought one or other of her own children to town to see them. But they never saw their son-in-law, and never wanted to.

`He is a Communist', explained Ying, as if no more need be said.

The Communist Party in China had always had a most complex attitude to Christianity. Along with other religions, it was automatically condemned as `superstition' and `opiate of the masses'. But, more than other religions, it was attacked, perhaps even feared, as something foreign, like opium, which had the power to capture the minds and wills of Chinese and make them resistant to communist indoctrination. The cruder peasant communists, like Mao himself, were unambiguous in their special hatred of Christianity. Chinese historians knew that there had been many instances where `protection of missionaries' had been the pretext for armed territorial expansion in China by foreign powers. In 1978, I was taken to see a `historical drama' in which a depiction of a foreign bishop, huge putty nose, flaming red wig, and bulging purple robes, was seen persecuting poor Chinese peasants in the most abominable way. At the climax, this foreign Christian bishop picked up a crying Chinese baby in one hand, drew a gigantic pistol from his robes with the other, and blew off the baby's head.

But others at the more intellectual end of the Party spectrum had a more complex attitude. Many of them had been educated in Christian schools and colleges, and realised that there were many kinds of Christians, many of them sincere in their desire to help China. Premier Zhou Enlai was one of these, and owed his life, on one occasion, to the hospitality of a foreign bishop in China who hid him from searching Nationalist troops.

`Freedom of religion' was the nominal policy of the Peoples Republic from the beginning, but it was a very qualified form of freedom. The first condition of this freedom was that any church in China must sever all organisational links with any foreign church. This could be accommodated by protestants, on the whole, but was doctrinally impossible for the Catholic Church. The Vatican, anyway, with its overt hostility to Communist China and its continued diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, made no effort to compromise. Foreign catholic priests were expelled, and those Chinese who felt bound by their loyalty to Rome went to prison. Many of them are still there. The proportion who felt that compromise was preferable to annihilation participated in a schism very similar to that which created the Church of England. They denied Papal authority and re-organised as a Pope-less Patriotic Catholic Association of China. Under Party supervision, they proceeded to elect their own bishops `democratically', and have continued in this form, including the saying of Latin mass, to this day.

The protestants had included some of the most troublesome and militant of missionaries, as well as some of the most liberal or even left-wing Christians in China. In their turn, they were obliged to shrug off foreign links and amalgamate on the principles of Self Determination, Self Financing, and Self Administration as the `Three Self Christian Movement'. Another condition of both churches continuing to function was that they could not preach sermons during their services. For a long time, in fact, it was forbidden for them to #teach# religion at all, even to their own children, under Chinese law. Even when religious freedom was relaxed again from 1977 onwards, many Christians complained that they were still not allowed to teach, publicly, the true doctrines of their religion, including resurrection, virgin birth, and original sin. Though I never encountered it myself, I heard numerous reports of a continuing underground Christian movement, with those unsatisfied with the state- supervised churches arranging their own services in private homes.

None the less, there was a tremendous upsurge in church- going, Catholic and Protestant, year by year. Many churches which had been closed were re-opened, at least in the major cities of China. Property was restored to them, and they were allowed to renovate and expand. Services in the Chinese churches took on a deep poignance, in the context of the common persecution that most of the participants had shared. At the big catholic Cathedral Church of Mary the Immaculate in Beijing I met an old Chinese woman who had been a nun, but was no longer permitted to wear her habit and had been forced to work in a factory - only male priests were recognised by the state religious administration. In the small wood-panelled chapel of the former YWCA in Beijing, which operated for many years as the only licensed Protestant church, I watched women weeping with emotion through the singing of hymns. The official press reported on a village, north of Beijing, where the entire population of six hundred remained faithful and considered themselves to be Catholics, three decades after their priest had been chased away and the church desecrated by Party activists. They arranged to have two priests visit them once a year from Beijing for seven days, during which the whole year's round of baptisms, marriages, and even extreme unctions could be consecrated, not to mention the confessions.

One aspect of the renewed worship which must have surprised the Party leadership was that an increasing proportion of those attending churches were young people under thirty years of age - people who had grown up entirely under the communist system and through the programme of communist education in atheism. With the general opening in attitudes towards the West, some of this might be attributed to a curiosity about Christianity as a central feature of Western culture. At the very least, it could be taken as a vote of no confidence in Party doctrine.