Communist China—Time for Reappraisal
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Oct 1959, p. 30-41
Duncan, James S., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The last two decades of China's development from a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state into a position of world power and one of growing leadership in Asia. The "Great Leap Forward" since the Communist government took over power just ten years ago. A description of China's development and achievements, and the nature of her people and society now. Reasons for the success of Communism in China, and a brief history of China's revolution under Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Signs that not all is well in the commune system. The generally low stage of living conditions. A detailed discussion of the issue of recognition of the People's Republic of China. The danger of cold war, rather than hot war, with China. The changing economic status of developing nations. Hanging onto our markets over the next 20 or 30 years. Meeting emerging influences. Changing our preconceived ideas, including those concepts of racial superiority. The time for a reappraisal of the position of China and all of Asia in relation to the Western World.
Date of Original
15 Oct 1959
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Full Text
An Address by JAMES S. DUNCAN, C.M.G., LL.D., Chairman, Ontario Hydro
to a joint meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto at Toronto, Ontario
Thursday, October 15, 1959
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.

MR. LAWSON: Today we welcome an old friend. Mr. Duncan is so well known and has been introduced to Toronto audiences so many times, it is clearly unnecessary on this occasion to say anything about his business career or how he lays up for himself treasures on earth. Instead, let me refer to another measure of the stature of the man, his record of public service and his social and humanitarian interests, the rewards for which, if any, neither moth nor rust can corrupt.

He has been Acting Deputy Minister of National Defense for Air, Chairman of UNRRA's Combined Agricultural and Food Committee, a member of the National Research Council, Honorary President of the Fighting French, Toronto Section, Chairman of Toronto's United Welfare Chest and President of the Board of Trade. Since 1949 he has chaired the Dollar-Sterling Trade Council, and since 1955 the Australian-Canadian Association. In September 1956, he acted as Chairman of the National Conference on Engineering, Scientific and Technical Manpower and following this Conference was appointed Chairman of the National Advisory Committee on the Advancement of Education. He is a Governor of the University of Toronto, Chairman of the Royal Conservatory of Music Committee, Director of Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. and of the Industrial Foundation on Education.

This past Spring, at the invitation of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, Mr. Duncan, accompanied by Mr. Walter Gordon, made a three and one-half weeks visit to Communist China. During this visit he attended a closed meeting of the Second People's Congress and chatted with Premier Chou En-Lai at an official government dinner. In addition to his many conversations with officials he personally visited several communes, inspected the living quarters of the people in various parts of the country and saw many factories and industrial centres. I understand that he returned with a deep sense of concern and with some concrete suggestions as to what might be done about the present impasse between Communist China and the West.

It is my pleasure to present a truly great Canadian, Mr. James Stuart Duncan, C.M.G., LL.D., Chairman of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, whose subject will be "Communist China--Time for Reappraisal".

The exigency of our modern methods of communication, limiting my time on the air, for which, no doubt, most of you will feel duly grateful, is, however, somewhat restrictive to cover adequately my impression of a country representing a quarter of the world's population, and obliges me to refrain from further preliminaries.

During the past two decades China has sprung from a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state, foreign-dominated, weak and torn by internal strife, into a position of world power and one of growing leadership in Asia. It is perhaps even still more remarkable that the "Great Leap Forward" (to use Chinese phraseologoy) which carried this problem child of Asia to a position of strength and unity, has been accomplished since the Communist government took over power just ten years ago.

The Communist leaders point with pride to the things which have been accomplished in this short period of time--and indeed there is a lot to be proud about. They do not mention, however, that the chaotic conditions of the Chinese economy in 1949 were due in no small measure to twenty odd years of civil war; heralded by the Communist Party in 1927 (when they seceded from the Nationalist government at Wuhan), and with the strong moral support of Soviet Russia, the Communist leaders announced a program which called for all-out class struggle and a crusade against (what in their Communist jargon they describe as) all reactionary forces and Foreign Imperialists.

As a result, the Communist government is now strongly entrenched. It is probably the most dynamic, the most dedicated, and the most powerful which has ever controlled the destiny of China. Whereas their leaders have risen to power frequently through cruel deception and subterfuge, and the heartless elimination of those who opposed their ambitions, it must be said of them in all fairness, that once they reached the summit, they set an example of austerity, of endless toil, of dedication and of personal integrity which has not only left its stamp upon the people but has made more bearable the ruthless disciplinary measures imposed upon those who fail to live up to their exacting standards.

Opium-smoking, alcoholism, prostitution, gambling have been practically stamped out. Bribery, and even tipping, have been eliminated. To what degree this new puritanism is due to indoctrination or to the fear of retribution is a matter of speculation. Both have no doubt played their part but I strongly suspect that fear was the predominating factor.

Wherever one's travels take one in China, unbelievable activity and material progress are in evidence everywhere. Factories, the building trades, basic industries operate around the clock on a three, eight-hour shift basis every day of the year, excepting the days of "national rejoicing," which are six in number.

In the city of Peking alone, more building has taken place in the last seven years than since the beginning of the Ch'ing Dynasty in 1644. Everywhere new factories are being constructed. Public buildings, apartment houses,

schools, and universities are rising from their foundations with amazing rapidity. Railway lines are being laid down; airports and sewage systems are being built. More food is being grown, more goods are being produced, more children and young people are being educated, and the spectre of starvation no longer stalks the land.

It is perhaps, therefore, explainable that the great masses--illiterate, docile, inured to hardship, and unaccustomed as they have always been to freedom as we know it in the West--are prepared to put up with the endless toil and sacrifice which is being imposed upon them. Firstly, this is so because they have no alternative; and secondly, because of the belief and hope, which is being drilled into them every hour of the day, by every known method of indoctrination, that they are laying the foundation for a better and more abundant life. They are being taught to suffer now without complaint so that their children, and their children's children, will suffer less in the future.

The people as a whole are polite, friendly, hospitable. They are remarkably resourceful, unbelievably hardworking, and indoctrinated to a degree which precludes individual judgment and causes them to reject the most obvious truths. They are puritanical to the point of boredom. By nine-thirty they are ready for bed; by 5:30 in the morning they are preparing for the day's work. Their most exciting topic of conversation is the great leap forward in pig iron production or the additional bushels of wheat per acre produced in 1958 over 1957. They wear their faith like a badge of honor and proclaim it much more vigorously than the Russians. They display an almost pathological reluctance to express any personal opinions on ideological questions or to deviate in the least little bit from the party line.

There are no grays in China, all is either black or it is white. If you belong to the Western World, then you are an imperialist; if you are a land-owner, then you are an exploiter of the people; if you live in Korea or Formosa, you are a running dog; if you are an American, you are an expansionist and a Paper Tiger to boot; if you differ from the party line, in the most minor detail, you are a reactionary--and a deviationist.

There must be many among the older people who have known a better life and who are spending their days in suffering, in hopelessness, and in despair, but these are not vocal. They are the anonymous ones, they are not identifiable. They are caught up in a mass movement from which there is no escape. Besides, the government is not interested in the middle-aged or the old--these are expendable. All their thoughts, all their hopes and their planning are centred around the young, whose pliable minds they are carefully indoctrinating into the ways of Communism, and into whose eager hands they intend in due course to pass on the torch.

From what I have seen of these bright-eyed, enthusiastic, hard-working and dedicated young men and women, they will not disappoint the hopes and aspirations of their government. They are supremely ignorant of the outer world. They have learned but one side of every question; as the French saying goes, "Having listened to but one bell, they have heard but one sound." They are fanatically convinced that Communism is the only road, and they are all looking forward with infectious enthusiasm to the bright new world in which they expect to play their important part.

I have seen no evidence whatsoever of the weakening of the Sino-Soviet ties, so hopefully forecast by Western wishful thinkers. That this relationship may deteriorate when China becomes more powerful than Soviet Russia, as I believe she will, is highly probable. But this day is not yet dawned, and I am dealing with conditions as they exist today.

The spectacular growth of China's infant industry has only been made possible by the massive aid of the U.S.S.R.--all of which, by the way, is paid for by China through shipment of foodstuffs and raw materials to Russia. The Soviets have not only co-operated in the over-all planning of China's industrialization but they have designed their factories, supplied the machine tools and equipment, sent teams to supervise their installation and get the plants started; in addition to which, they have trained tens of thousands of young Chinese in corresponding plants in Russia. One of the most astonishing features of China's growing industry, the output of which increased very rapidly, is that it is manned exclusively by young people, whose average age does not exceed twenty-five and in many plants does not exceed twenty-two.

The upsurge of Communist education has kept pace with that of the economy as a whole. Before the revolution probably 90 per cent of the population of China was illiterate. Today the percentage is still high but primary education has now become obligatory. There are 83 million children in the primary schools, 12 million in the secondary schools, and 660,000 in institutions of higher learning.

In the early days of the revolution, Chairman Mao Tsetung was not slow to recognize that the path to power in China lay not through the proletariat, as in Soviet Russia, but through the teeming masses of hard-pressed peasantry, for whom, in the opinion of many, any change could only be for the better. Mao Tse-tung became the leader of the peasants, who supplied not only the economic sinews of the revolution, but the voluntary manpower for the Red Army. Eighty per cent of all the agricultural land of China was owned by the landlords and wealthy farmers. That this should be taken from them without compensation, and distributed gratis among the land-hungry peasants, was the bait which rallied them to the cause of the Communist revolution. Land reform (as it was called) was, however, but a gigantic hoax, a calculated deception of unprecedented proportions. And although it was implemented in 1951, it was never the intention of the government to create a permanent land-owning peasantry. As soon as they felt themselves sufficiently entrenched, the government moved forward with relentless and undeviating purpose towards their original objective of becoming the sole owners of all the land in China and of turning the peasants into a disciplined, militarized, captive and regimented laboring force.

Time does not permit me to describe the steps which were successfully taken, but by the end of October, 1958, the government's purpose was achieved and 26,000 communes sprung into existence in a short period of three months. From November, 1958, no peasant in China owned any land at all, and all of them, men and women, became overworked and regimented members of labor brigades detailed to tasks alternately upon the land, in small factories, on building projects, or for any other purpose which the commune manager and his committee (all young, and all active members of the Communist Party) deemed to be in the interests, not of the peasants and their families, but of greater productivity.

Living conditions in the communes are bleak and starkly utilitarian. All the peasants eat together unbelievably modest rations of ground corn or rice, with an occasional sprinkling of bits of dried fish, in unbelievably drab communal dining-halls. They report to work in the fields or the local factories at 5:30 in the morning in the summer time, and are there till 6:30 at night, with rest periods during the day.

It must be pointed out, however, that from the point of view of increasing agricultural production, and therefore reducing the danger of starvation, the commune system, which disposes of large working forces, has a lot of merit. What is missing in the picture is the fulfilment of a pledge, and the well-being, the comfort and individual freedom of the peasants themselves.

I reject the thought that this form of mass slavery was the only avenue open to the government by which national production could be increased and starvation held at arms' length. Those of us who believe in the free enterprise system, and the productivity of farms which operate under it, know that it was not. From a political point of view, however, it was undoubtedly the best way to control the lives of 520 million peasants.

That all is not well in the commune system is startlingly illustrated by the fact that Chou En-lai, in an official speech before the Peoples' Congress, when we were in China in May, stated that total agricultural production in 1958 had risen by 64 per cent over 1957, and that by 1958, as a result of the communes, it would reach the enormous figure of 122 billion yuans. On September 1st, four months afterwards, he announced that these estimates had been overoptimistic and that the 64 per cent increase was reduced to a 25 per cent increase, and that the 1958 estimate was reduced from 122 billion yuans to 67 billion yuans. The Great Leap Forward proved to be a medium size leap only, but even so, a 25 per cent improvement in total agricultural production in one year is still a remarkable performance.

Although the living conditions are very much worse in the communes than in the cities, they are unbelievably low everywhere. A large proportion of all the freight in China is transported by human effort, and one is moved to pity at the sight of tired and sad-faced women, eight or ten of them together, struggling to push or to pull heavy carts laden with steel girders, or bags of cement or material of all kinds, knowing that all that is in store for them at the end of a long and weary day is to share a miserable room, and no doubt a common bed, with five or six other people, and to eat a bowl of rice or ground corn, or occasionally noodles, for their evening meal.

We lived in a hotel in Canton which was called "Loving the Masses," a phrase which is on everyone's lips, and is a sort of cornerstone of Chinese indoctrination, but it seems to me that pitying the masses would come closer to the truth.

Much as we deprecate the methods used, China of 1959 is a formidable reality. The authority of her government is not being effectively challenged by any rival group. Its control over the masses is such that, providing China's government can ensure a modest yearly improvement in the living standard of her docile and disciplined people (and from what I have seen I believe she probably can), the Communist government, I predict, will remain in power for many years to come.

Under these circumstances, it is fairly generally agreed that recognition of the People's Republic of China must some day become an accomplished fact. For 650 million people, whose population is increasing every 12-1/2 years by a number equal to the 1958 population of the U.S.A., it cannot be indefinitely ignored. I doubt if anyone having visited China in recent years still believe in the fiction of the successful subjugation of the mainland by Chiang Kaishek and the Kuomintang.

The $64,000 question is what can be done about it. How do we emerge from the present impasse? The first thing which must be understood is that China is no longer prepared to accept renewal of diplomatic relations with any country which recognizes the national government of Formosa, which she considers as part of her national territory. The recognition of China, therefore, implies the abandonment of Formosa, and in so far as the United States and certain other Western countries are concerned, the disavowal of treaties freely entered into. There are many who feel strongly that the non-recognition of China by the United States in 1949 was unrealistic and regrettable. I share that point of view.

It would be an over-simplification, however, to conclude that if non-recognition was a mistake, early recognition, without a change of heart and policy by China, is the necessary answer. Such a reversal by the U.S.A. of a policy which has been pursued with uncompromising determination for ten years, would be looked upon by China as a sign of Western weakness and compromise and would be acclaimed by the Communist World as a victory of unparalleled proportions. Furthermore, many well-informed people, while critical of the United States' early non-recognition policy, believe that if she now reversed herself, China, intoxicated by such a signal victory, might well look upon the abandonment of Formosa as a stepping-stone to further and more important demands, and these might well include the relinquishing of America's zone of influence in the Pacific. There are many in expansionist China today who believe that this prerogative belongs to them. A complete volte face in America's policy thus does not appear to be the answer. The cure might prove to be worse than the disease.

But the continuation of the status quo ante doesn't make sense either. The U.S.A. should continue, therefore, her policy of containment; but operating from strength (and her strength in the Pacific is unquestioned), she should embark in all sincerity and without loss of time upon a policy of gradual rapprochement. Not immediate recognition, therefore, but generous acknowledgment and respect for China's position as a world power seem to be indicated.

We in Canada should follow a similar policy. The disadvantages of independent action on our part with regard to our relationship with the U.S.A. would far outweigh any advantages which we might derive from immediate recognition of China. Both our countries should sponsor, however, on the broadest possible front, and on a reciprocal basis, cultural and commercial exchanges of all kinds. Members of the Chinese press, leaders of industry, of commerce, of finance should be made welcome among us. Embargoes on exports should be reduced to a minimum and eliminated as soon as possible. We have nothing to fear and much to gain by opening our doors wide and extending to China a welcoming hand. This does not imply approval of the Chinese form of government, any more than our reception of the leaders of the Soviet Union implies our approval of theirs.

It is claimed by some that such conciliatory moves would well be rebuffed by China, but I am inclined to doubt it. Those guiding China's affairs are subtle, nimble-witted and far-sighted men, and it might well be that they would welcome a gradual rapprochement with the United States, and correspondingly a lesser dependence upon Russia.

The day will inevitably come when China will be given full recognition and a seat in the United Nations. The formidable reality of her position cannot be indefinitely ignored; but China will have to realize that she cannot shoot her way to recognition, that she must work her passage towards a settlement in which all parties concerned, including Korea, Formosa and the uncommitted countries of Asia, would take part and the interest of each be safeguarded. Providing the West remains strong and united, so that it is obvious that aggression in the Pacific could be defeated, the danger of a hot war with China is, to my mind, somewhat remote. China's thoughts today are not turning towards an early war but towards a long period of peace, during which she hopes to develop her resources, build her industries, educate her people, equip and modernize her army. She recognizes that the permanency of her government depends upon her ability to do these things.

The early threat is not, therefore, of a hot war but of a cold one. It is only less dangerous by a matter of degree. Until quite recently, the high cost economies of the West could compete with the low-cost economies of the more backward nations, because their industrial equipment, their technologies, and their mass production methods offset the more primitive efforts of the low-paid workers of the "have not" countries. Today all this is changed. Soviet Russia and now China possess, or are in the process of building plants and employing manufacturing techniques which compare in every way with those of the industrialized countries of the West. The combination of cheap labor and raw materials, on the one hand, and comparable manufacturing equipment and practices, on the other, have created a new situation which is going to be a hard one for the West to meet.

Quotas and high tariff barriers are not the ultimate answer, certainly not for Canada, whose prosperity is so dependent upon export trade. Broadly speaking, the solution is not to keep out competition but to meet it. To do this (and it won't be easy) we must maintain our somewhat precarious lead in scientific development, research and manufacturing techniques, and all of us, not only the manual and the white collar workers, must be prepared to work a great deal harder, and, if necessary, to do so for smaller rewards.

This situation is only alarming if we fail to face up to it. Do not let us forget that the industrial strength of North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe is still much greater than that of Russia and China. We have the tools, it is up to us to use them effectively.

The thirty-six hour week and more pay for less work is certainly not the answer; but perhaps more work, intelligently directed, more production for the same pay, and more dedication should enable us to hold the line.

The important thing is that we should hang on to our markets over the next twenty or thirty years, because, human nature being what it is, the inexorable pressures for better living conditions, more comfort and more luxury, will make themselves felt in the Communist countries as they have with us. These pressures will tend to increase costs, and as this happens their competitive advantage over the Western World will tend to lessen. This is happening today, in some measure at least, in Russia.

In closing, may I say that I brought home with me from China last May a feeling of admiration for the unceasing toil, the intelligent dedication and the resourcefulness of a hard-driven people. I returned home, however, with a sense of deep concern over many of the things I saw in China and the impact which they will undoubtedly have on our Western way of life, unless we do something about it, and do it soon.

To meet these emerging influences we must change many of our preconceived ideas, including our out-dated and fallacious concept of racial superiority. The time has come, gentlemen, for a reappraisal of the position of China and all of Asia in relation to the Western World. Indeed, such a reappraisal is long overdue.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. S. Proctor, President of the Canadian Club of Toronto.

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Communist China—Time for Reappraisal

The last two decades of China's development from a semi-feudal, semi-colonial state into a position of world power and one of growing leadership in Asia. The "Great Leap Forward" since the Communist government took over power just ten years ago. A description of China's development and achievements, and the nature of her people and society now. Reasons for the success of Communism in China, and a brief history of China's revolution under Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Signs that not all is well in the commune system. The generally low stage of living conditions. A detailed discussion of the issue of recognition of the People's Republic of China. The danger of cold war, rather than hot war, with China. The changing economic status of developing nations. Hanging onto our markets over the next 20 or 30 years. Meeting emerging influences. Changing our preconceived ideas, including those concepts of racial superiority. The time for a reappraisal of the position of China and all of Asia in relation to the Western World.