China 1982

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1982

We were woken up this morning at 5:00am, and we were on our way (in the dark) by 5:45am , arriving at the docks on the Yangtze River at about 6:30am.  The reason for the early start is to board the vessel that will be our transport and our accommodation for the next few days as we travel downstream on China’s inland highway, the mighty Yangtze River.

Our boat’s name is “East is Red No.35”.  Over 100 large ferries operate on the Yangtze, all of which are named “East is Red” because of the anonymity that was encouraged during the Cultural Revolution.  Our boat could not be categorised as salubrious.  Most of the passengers sleep on the floors of the corridors and decks, although most of our group are accommodated in very cramped, very small four-bunk cabins.  The toilets are less than basic, and if there was any room in them, I’d try and get a photo.

Today’s trip was marred somewhat by a fairly heavy fog that persisted for most of the day.  Downstream from Chungking we passed Changshow, a small industrial centre, and we stopped briefly at Fuling to pick up and drop off some passengers.  As always, we caused great consternation among local people – when members of our group stood on the deck when we docked, it seemed to be the most exciting thing that has happened in Fuling for many years.

After passing Fengdu and Zhongxian, and as dusk approached, we came to a 30 metre high pedestal rock with a temple on top.  The rock is called Shibaozhai, and the temple was built in the late 1700s.  There are rumours that a large dam will be built on the Yangtze River in coming years (the so-called Three Gorges Dam), which will flood the temple and many of the small villages we are passing.

For most of today we have been travelling through poorly terraced hills growing wheat.  Geology has played a strong role in shaping the area – for much of its course the Yangtze follows a geological syncline in the sandstone rock, and the terraces often follow the sedimentary layers rather than being horizontal. 

There is less river traffic than I had expected, although what traffic exists is quite antiquated.  It was a common sight to see boats being hauled by teams of men walking along the river bank pulling the vessel with ropes.  It is also common to see people washing their clothes in the river using beating sticks and soap.  We saw a very large group of people doing their Sunday washing in this manner at Zhongxian.

We pulled into the wharf at Wanxian at about 9:00pm.  With a population of 250,000 people, this was the largest town we had encountered since leaving Chungking.  The town (city?) is about 2,500 years old, and like almost every Yangtze settlement, it is confined to only one side of the river – the river is simply too wide for bridging.

Floods occur on the river annually and they are often quite severe; the river rose 40 metres at Wanxian during last year’s flood.  Despite the high “buffer zone” between the river and all towns along the Yangtze, including Wanxian, the river did enter the town and cause damage to houses and roads.  No lives were lost in Wanxian, however, as adequate warning were received from upstream stations.  We were told that the 40 metre rise in water level “occurred overnight”.

For safety reasons, the stretch of the Yangtze known as the Three Gorges can only be negotiated during daylight.  Therefore, our boat is to be docked at Wanxian until 2:40am tomorrow morning.  Our tour organisers don’t like to allocate excessive free time, however, so at 9:15pm we disembarked and set off to visit the Wanxian Silk Factory.  We climbed the 100 or so steps from the floating wharf to the edge of the town, and then travelled by minibus to the factory. 

Wanxian is a “mountain city”, which I have learned is a Chinese expression for “built on a cliff face”.  The narrow, winding streets represented old China at its best – unfortunately far too dark for photos of course, even with my 400ASA film.  After passing a tower built during the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) at the highest point of the town, we arrived at the grey brick workshop-like building.  The factory operates 24 hours every day, seven days per week, so we were able to begin the visit by looking at its operations.  It has five sections: spinning, weaving, dying, finishing and machinery repairs, of which we visited the first two.

Some card reading machinery was used to weave jacquard patterns , but on the whole, the machinery was old and noisy with poor lighting (dull bare light bulbs over each machine), using wooden bobbins.  There were no obvious protections against noise or unsafe machinery.  Most of the staff were young, with some in their teens, and there were both males and females, although females were more numerous.

The factory was established in 1969, and extended in 1978.  It has 800 employees in the five workshops.  All the workers live in Wanxian, some in a special factory dormitory at a fee of 5 yuan ($Aust.2.50) per year.  Those not in the dormitory travel to work in special buses (sensible in such a cliff-like town).  The average pay of the workers is 50 yuan per month, plus incentive payments for additional production.  The annual output is 1.8 million metres, of which about half goes overseas for export, with the balance being sent to all parts of China.

The employees work a 48 hour week, divided into six eight-hour shifts per week.  Workers rotate their days off to enable the factory to work all week – something that seems to be universal in factories across China.  Workers who perform the night shift receive two days off in every eight.

Following our tour of the factory, we were given oranges and green tea to have during a talk with the manageress of the factory, Mrs Pe.  During the talk, and again during my subsequent questioning, she told us that all the silk is locally sourced and the machinery is all Chinese, with some of it coming from Shanghai and the rest from either Hangchow, Sian, Chekiang province or Szechuan province.  More than 30 products are manufactured including crêpe de Chine, satin, and linen weave.  All the silk designs are developed within the factory.  It is regarded as a medium sized factory within Szechuan province – it os also the only silk factory in Szechuan province.

Following the factory tour, we visited the elegantly named “Wanxian Antique Store of Szechuan Province For Our Foreign Friends”.  Yes, it was a TT (tourist trap).  Upon returning to the East is Red No.35, we didn’t have long to bed down and sleep before the vessel pushed off right on schedule at 2:40am.

Day 10

Yangtze River, China


11 April 1982