Keeping 'em down on the farm; China: rural youth want factory jobs

''When they see tall chimneys in the distance, their hearts are afire. When they grasp the handle of a plow, their hearts are cold as ice.''

The magazine Party Life recently used this expression to show how young peasants on the outskirts of Shanghai yearn to exchange field work for a factory job.

Job mobility in China is extremely limited. Four-fifths of China's billion people live in the countryside, and the growth of industrial and other nonagricultural jobs is insufficient to keep pace with demand.

China has avoided the shantytowns that rim the outskirts of megalopolises like Calcutta or Sao Paulo only by drastic controls on population movement. It is extremely difficult for a peasant to move from a rural commune to a city, and many of the backdoor shenanigans of which the media here constantly complain have to do with obtaining the official clearances necessary for such moves.

Party Life, a magazine not generally available to foreigners, recently carried an article detailing the results of a survey of young Communist Party members in Xinchang commune, Nanhui County, Shanghai.

The county is part of Greater Shanghai but is not included in Shanghai proper. It stretches east and south of the city, forming part of the delta of the Yangtze River.

The survey, conducted by the party committee of Nanhui County, showed that party members, who are supposed to set examples for the general populace, are by no means immune from the longing many ordinary young peasants have for the bright lights of the city.

Of 796 party members in the commune, the survey found 245 were between the ages of 20 and 35. By far the greater part of these young members joined the party during the 10-year period of turmoil known as the Cultural Revolution.

They survey also found that 174 persons - 72 percent - joined the party during these 10 years, 1966-76. Only nine had joined before the Cultural Revolution, and 62 had been admitted since the downfall of Jiang Qing (Mao Tse-tung's wife) and her ''gang of four'' in October 1976.

Only nine of the 245 were university graduates or had equivalent diplomas; 26 had high-school-level education; 220 had only primary-school or junior-high-school education.

If one is looking for work outside agriculture, party membership is apparently a help. Only 103 of the 245 were in agriculture, and of these only 39 were engaged directly in field work. Thirty-six worked in county-owned enterprises and 106 in enterprises run by the commune.

Party members, the survey found, shared the general perception of commune members that working in a factory was much more preferable to toiling in the fields.

''Some say that there is no head or brains in agriculture, nor day nor night, that life in the fields is most tiring, most bitter, receiving the least rewards , under the worst conditions,'' the survey comments. ''Whereas work in a factory is energy-saving, and high in income, it gives one a good reputation and one's nameplate shines, and it is easy to find a partner to fall in love with.''

The survey cited the case of a woman party member, the head of her production team (equivalent of a hamlet in pre-commune days), who wanted to be transferred to a factory.

She was also scheduled to be married to a person in another production brigade (equivalent of a village). She knew that in this new village, her turn for assignment to a factory would never come around; therefore she kicked up a huge fuss at a meeting of cadres in her own village, demanding that her factory assignment be decided before her marriage.

The survey also reproached young party members for wishing to lead comfortable bourgeois lives once they were married, and not wishing to attend party meetings. Not satisfied with their present ''three treasures'' (radios, sewing machines, bicycles), they pursued high-class consumer goods such as television sets, floor fans, and large sofas.

Some, in their desire to earn as much money as possible, deserted agricultural work even during the busy season in order to peddle goods, sometimes obtained illegally, outside. Other party members who knew of these goings-on kept their mouths shut, saying, ''The power of those above me is great , the fists of those below me are strong. I can do nothing.''

The survey blamed ''lax and weak'' leadership for this state of affairs - a phrase that was first used by Deng Xiaoping and other top leaders last summer. It has since been repeated throughout the country.

It advocated sincere study of top-level Communist documents as well as criticism and self-criticism and a tightening of discipline all around. Punitive measures, it said, should be taken against those who did not measure up to membership standards and who did not respond to education and help.

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