"People are fed up with this talk that capitalism is inferior to socialism. I think the two systems must be treated like two kinds of food in two bowls. Let the people taste both and decide for themselves which one tastes better."
These words are from the diary of a 28-year-old Peking factory worker, made available by him on the condition that his name not be used. The language is often rough and inconsistent, but the doubts about the Chinese communist system are heard at some point in nearly every private conversation with young Chinese these days.
"I want a few dollars' raise? Maybe, but they'll torture you first with all the meetings, discussions, study sessions . . . . Ah, it's frustrating! the capitalists in the old society were good at exploiting people, but the Communist Party is even more crafty."
The worker's diary reflects a classic generation gap between the aged revolutionaries who rescued China from famine, civil war and terrible suffering 30 years ago and their grandchildren, who cannot appreciate the changes and do not find their current lives satisfying. In a major speech at a youth conference this month one of the aged leaders, Vice Premier Wang Renzhong, pleaded with youth to reject "unhealthy things from abroad and stick with "communist ideals."
A brief look at the life of one young Chinese, complete with inconsistencies, rumors and petty angers, shows the message has difficulty getting through.
Sunday: "After work at 2 p.m., I went windowshopping with a few friends to the Peking Department Store. Our eyes were caught by a huge crowd of people milling in front of a display window at the left side of the building. I squeezed myself in and found out that they were all looking at the advertising display of Sanyo Corp. [a Japanese electronics firm]. The window was full of modern household electrical appliances, and all the Chinese beside me were raving about them.
"Japan achieved such speedy economic development in the 30 years since the war. China had the same 30 years, yet it is far behind. Newspapers sing praises of socialism and damn capitalism, but this is the best proof.
"You go in the department store and walk up to where they sell cassette recorders and find out that the sets are imported from Japan and that the cheapest costs about $667. I get a monthly salary of $27. If I want to buy a cassette recorder, I'll have to save up all my salary for three years -- that is, no food, no drinks . . . How can you expect me to have the urge to work for the four modernizations [a plan for Chinese economic growth]. A good pair of leather shoes cost $23 -- are these the benefits of socialism?
Monday: "Recently there's been a short supply of vegetables in the market, so ordinary Chinese frequently don't get to eat vegetables anymore. The huge Peking Chongwen vegetable market had only one variety, garlic shoots, to sell.
"One has to line up for more than two hours just to be able to buy some vegetables. They refused to sell more than two small bundles of spinach per customer. The Chinese hardly get any nutrition from what they eat. They only care about stuffing their stomachs full.
"You're lucky enough if there's somebody in the family who could line up. If both husband and wife are working, leaving early in the morning and coming back late at night then you just don't expect anything to eat. You just bear the hunger. What is even more infuriating is that at the time of scarcity, some of the grocery stores are arbitrarily raising the prices of vegetables. They pass off low-quality vegetables as good ones."
Tuesday: "Felt very bored after work today, so I decided to watch a movie. I made the rounds of the movie houses and ended up not watching any.There are a few newly released movies now showing, but they're lousy so people don't want to see them. . . . Television is even worse. Culture is not suited to people's wishes but to the needs of propaganda. During the reign of the Gang of Four [a radical faction that appeared China's modernization policies], the single scenario you saw on the screen was the gang struggling against veteran cadres; now the roles are simply reversed.
"It is such a hassle to watch a movie you like. People literally fight over tickets for movies shown 'internally' [not shown publicly but by arrangement with work places]."
Friday: "Got up at 5 a.m. Discussion on salary readjustment reached its 10th day. We were told that only 40 percent of the factory population will be entitled to raises. The past few days, people in my factory have been engaged in heated arguments over who among us should get the pay raise. Although a one-step promotion only means a few more dollars, it's what we ordinary Chinese hunger for.
"I'm both a technician and a junior administrator, I've been working for nine years. The crux of the matter is, the government won't let me earn what I deserve."
Saturday: "I went around to different workshops to inspect the job of transporting some machines. I also chatted with some workers . . . about the salary readjustments plan. The majority of the workers say they are extremely dissatisfied with the leadership because they have appropriated for themselves the 40 percent quota. All the bureaucrats and some frequent toadies will get the promotion.
"Small wonder that a section of the workers just lie down on the job, either reading newspapers or chatting. The machines are antiquated and noisy. The workshop is just a messy sight."
"And what about those bureaucrats? The rumor is that Ye Jianying [the second-ranking party leader] doles out $66,677 for his birthday parties in Guangzhou. It is best that the people in the Communist Party make the first move in making self-criticism. That's what we call socialist equality."