My Jiangxi III highway project is located in the southern part of Jiangxi province, Central China. Starting at Ganzhou, it ends in the city of Ruijin. The latter is famous for two things. Firstly, it was the home of the first ‘Red Government’ of China, or the ‘Soviet Republic’. Secondly, it was the one place where Chairman Mao never visited again. Since our field supervision was ahead of schedule, my colleague Fei Deng and I had a few spare hours which we used to explore this crucible of the communist government in China.
On November 7, 1931 Ruijin was where the Soviet Republic was declared and thus, the first capital. The buildings were still in original condition, and bedecked with revolutionary slogans, such as the one to the right “Long Life for the Revolutionary Army”. They had their own bank, printed their own money, stamps, and even collected their own taxes. It was a country within a country.
Digression #1: Many people in the West, who have never visited China, still think that it is a communist country. It is probably more fitting to say that it is a fiercely capitalist country, with a communist government. This apparent dichotomy causes some problems in China, but there is no denying that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in China. As we entered the area we walked through the tourist shop which offered a series of busts of Chairman Mao, in al shapes, sizes and poses. I wonder what he – and his fellow revoultionaries – would have thought (which also happened in Wuhan when we visited the restaurant that is now located in what was his residence!).
Our guide was a delightful young woman who was bedecked in period costume. She guided us around the immaculately kept compound, comprised of a number of large houses which once were the homes of affluent local farmers. I asked what had happened to them and was told that they had sold their properties to the Soviet. More likely they were shot given the incredibly violent nature of the times!
We wandered through buildings which were excellent time capsules. Unlike many other places I have visited in China, these were actually the original buildings which had somehow survived, not modern replicas made to look old.
The building to the right was where they held their public meetings. I saw original photos from the 1930’s and the place was a very accurately decorated and gave the atmosphere of the times.
When we visited the first Central Bank of China they had abacus on display. One of my colleagues commented that Chairman Mao’s brother was able to use two abacus at the same time – although I must say that I was skeptical. I asked if any of them were able to use an abacus and none of them were able to. A lost skill – kind of like we engineers being able to use a slide rule.
They had on display samples of the money at the time. The photo to the left is of a 1 RMB note and you will see that Vladimir Lenin is on the money. They also produced copper coins and silver dollars, but the latter did not have any communist insignia and were copies of coins issued by other mints in China. Needless to say that the silver dollars were the currency of trade with the rest of China. Digression #2: The mint joined the ‘Long March’ when the Communists fled the area, taking all the money and mint machinery. After a while it was decided that it was impractical to carry it all so it was all destroyed.
I was surprised that the Nationalists, who were fighting the Communists for control of China, had let them become so established. There were some close calls, and the tree to the right was the closest. The building behind the tree was Chairman Mao’s house and one day the Nationalist air force bombed the building. The bomb got stuck in the tree, and there is a wooden replica there today.
It was very interesting to see how Chairman Mao was so prominent in everything. This was where he slept. This was where he addressed the masses, etc. After a while I asked a politically incorrect question: I thought that Chairman Mao had been replaced as political commissar during this period by Zhou Enlai due to the difference of opinions on how the revolution should be conducted. After a pause my guide acknowledged that was correct and in fact Mao had very bad memories of Ruijin – hence his failure to ever visit again after he left. She was surprised that a foreigner knew this, but I had read this excellent (if overly biased in a negative way) biography of Mao by Jung Chang which gives a fascinating overview of the infighting amongst the early communists – based in a large part from the communications between the Russian liaisons and Moscow held in the Russian archives.
We then went to another centre of the Soviet government at a place called the ‘Red Well’. This was apparently dug by the Red Army and was a popular place for VIPs to visit. In our hotel there were pictures of governors and other leaders at the well. They offered me a drink from it but I declined as the water in the adjacent paddy field looked less than pure and I could only imagine what was in the water!
The well was located in another compound which housed leaders of the Soviet. Unlike the first place, it was clear that several places had been reconstructed to resemble the original buildings, but there were still a number of places that were from the 1930s.
Again, Chairman Mao seemed the be the main attraction, and we were shown his room with what they claimed was the original furniture. I was skeptical of course, especially since the Nationalists had destroyed a lot of the area when they took control in 1934. In the photo he had the same trademark wavy hair style which he kept for much of his life. Apparently, he suffered a lot from Malaria in this area and was sick much of the time. Probably another reason he didn’t like his Ruijin memories!
An interesting feature of most buildings that we saw that day was a large opening in the roof. This allowed in some sunlight, but also of course rain, snow and other elements. At the base of the hole was a pit which had small drains leading outside.
We were able to wander through a number of buildings and paid a special visit to the first ‘Ministry of Transport’. At its peak the Soviet had an area of some 30,000 square kilometres and a population of over 3 million, so there was definitely a call for such a ministry, although I wondered in practical terms how it operated. There was also the supreme court and my counterparts enjoyed the story of my visit to Pingyao Ancient City’s court, where the demonstrated the application of justice in ancient China. I suspect that the justice was more of the summary type here.
During the time of my visit the ‘National People’s Council’ was meeting in Beijing at the great hall of the people in Tiananmen Square. Ruijin had the “Great Hall of the Provisional Central Government of the Soviet Republic of China”, a woodland auditorium that seats up to 2,000, is shaped like a Red Army cap. This is a replica of the original, built in the 1960s, which was destroyed by the Nationalists when they took over the area. In the back they had bomb shelters dug into the hillside which we wandered through. I would not have wanted to be in them in the event of an attack as they did not seem that well designed to handle a direct hit.
Our final visit was to a hill quite close to the end of the highway I was financing. Yunshishan Mountain is some 18 kilometres to the west of Ruijin. It is a small hill with an ancient temple on the top. In August 1934, the organizations as the Central Political Bureau, the Central Military Commission and the Central Workers’ and Peasants’ Democratic Government were moved to the temple. In October of the same year, the Red Army led by the Central Government began the Long March from here.
This was basically a massive military retreat by the Communists to escape from the advances of the Nationalist Army under Chiang Kai-shek. The Long March was the start of Mao’s rise to power. Only one-tenth of those who left Jiangxi survived the march, and afterwards he was in supremacy.
As with other places on the day’s tour, Mao was a theme throughout. My colleague Fei Deng and I posed sitting under a tree, which was famous as the tree where Mao would come and sit to read the newspaper. Fei said that her father who is a “1000 percent” supporter of Mao would be very envious of her having been there. Hard to imagine the father of a double PhD World Banker being such a proponent of Mao!
We walked around the trails on the mountain and appreciated the views down towards the valley below. In the distance we could see our expressway under construction, yet another example of just how far China had come.
By now it was time to get down to work so we headed over to start our supervision, joined by Jean-Marie. The photo below was taken at the start of our project, with Mr. Wu Kehai from the Jiangxi Provincial Communications Department on the left, Fei Deng and myself, and our consulting highway engineer Jean-Marie Braun. So ended a delightful morning learning more of the history of this crucible of the Communist Government.