China

China wakes up early.

In these summer days of record heat, factory and farm managers try to rearrange work schedules so the economy can keep humming along without people keeling over.

Some workers are encouraged to show up at the cool crack of dawn, then take a three-hour break at mid-day. Visitors wishing to catch the course of daily life at its beginning must be up by 5 or 5:30 a.m., or miss the first rush of bicycles, buses and sidewalk breakfasters jamming the streets.

At Dawn in this city of the Kwangsi Chuang autonomous region, everyone appears to be eating something. Workers in faded blue pants and short-sleeved white shirts hold chunks of steamed bread as they walked along.

From dank, dark, little noodle shops along the avenue comes sounds of enthusiastic slurping and clicking of chopsticks. Kweilin's people are known for lingering over their dinners at night, but fast food in the morning in an old habit, encouraged by a government that wants people at work on time.

This sort of devotion to duty creates scenes familiar to Washingtonians dependent on mass transit. The commuter bus on Kweilin's mainstreet begins to pull away from the curb. Half a block back, a woman clutching her cylindrical lunch pail begins to run and yells frantically: "Don't go! Don't go!" She chases the bus for a block, but it does not stop.

EVEN IN THIS most picturesque area of China, with green, grotesque mountains and blue lakes all around, Communist city life displays all the charm of an office filing cabinet laid on its side. Colorful stores and browsing spots for the early shopper are rare. Signs up on nearly every mak-shift little clapboard building proclaim serious bureaucratic tasks performed within.

"Factory production section, economic management division, Kweilin city industrial bureau," says the sign on one storefront. Next door is the "Number two gate section of the Kweilin City Fruit Products Company," followed by the office of the "Face the Sun people's commune of New Culture Street."

DURING ANOTHER morning stroll in Canton 250 miles away, I stumbled on some unusually carefree (and mostly young) early risers at the Yuehtzu district public swimming pool. It was 6 a.m., but the pool was packed. Across the street the two-story Fragrant Scent restaurant was also full, with noodle eaters making a terrible racket. A mob of bicycles parked outside made the sidewalk impassable.

Walking down Canton's Liberation Road in the morning heat, I passed dozens of houses with doors left wide open to let in air. The residents did their morning chores oblivious to the glances of curious passers-by. These were small, wooden houses, packed together like a minature, filthy version of Alexandria's Old Town.

People inside were combing their hair, munching breakfasts or checking bicycle tires. One small boy, about 7, wrote laboriously with a pencil on a piece of paper spread on the table beside his school rucksack. He could barely see what he was doing, the tiny dining room-living room-kitchen was dark, with only weak morning light coming in the doorway.

HERE IN KWEILIN the morning sun also reveals much that is grimy and dark, though after climbing the 347 steps to the top of the hill of Many Colors it is hard to tell that. One sees a fairy tale land, sugar candy hills jutting out of neat, square vegetable and rice patches. The great height erases foul odors, crumbling walls, peeling paint and the grind of tractor gears. All seems neat and clean, as if lifted from some feudal paradise and set down here.

DOWN BY THE Li River on the east end of Liberation Bridge stand young people in patched clothes who have little time for family tales. They carry hoes on their shoulders. Stern teen-age girls, the Youth League activists at the local high school, order them to line up for a march into the fields across the bridge.

"Are you students?"

"Yes."

"But it's summer, so you're not going to school?"

"Oh, but we are. This is the Labor part of our course."

The bridge is a thin, well-traveled link between China's two worlds, city and countryside. Peasants trudge into town carrying fruits and vegetables to sell for extra income. Some also bicycle to city jobs, leaving behind wives or husbands who must live outside the population-controlled cities. City folk bicycle out to see relatives or look for hard-to-find foods.

The city tinkles with bicycle bells.Everyone is riding, walking, jogging, sitting, spitting, squatting or waiting for a bus. Small women bend low to the ground while pulling 200-pound cards of coal and sand, the slowest things moving in a city going full tilt. It is 7 a.m.