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Orphans of the Tangshan quake

Author’s note: China in in 1981 was still to a large extent taking the total thought control approach that survives today in North Korea. But in retrospect, I think I was probably a little simplistic in the way I viewed the orphanage. Maybe a psychologist would say that it was better for the kids to return to Tangshan to face and overcome their nightmares. And in fact, all children in China at that time were taught to believe that the Party is god. In a diluted form, so they still are today. I tried to go back to see the orphanage in 1986, but it had already been closed down. Maybe partly as a result of this article, who knows.

Now we have the Wenchuan earthquake, and while the loss of life appears to be nowhere near Tangshan in scale, there will surely be lots of orphans. We??ll see how the Party handles it this time, but I am confident it will be in a more humanitarian way, which I guess means placing the kids with families. For reference, see this AP story published yesterday: Chinese eager to adopt quake orphans.

Children of China’s Party
By Graham Earnshaw in Shijiazhuang
May 2, 1981

In an orphanage in this city, the Communist Party of China is rearing a corps of children as its own, training them to love the party as their own mother and father.

They are the orphans of Tangshan, the site of the devastating earthquake in 1976 which left 250,000 people dead and probably millions more injured and homeless.

Nothing could be done for the dead, but the party immediately recognised the potential of the 500 orphans found amongst the rubble of Tangshan City.

The order came down from above: none of the orphans are to be sent for adoption to other families, all are to be kept in the care of the state and taught unswerving loyalty to the party.

“The party is the sunlight and I am the flower,” the children sing. “The party’s benevolence is as infinite as heaven. Socialism’s benefits are boundless.”

Five years after the earthquake, there are still 346 children in the “Orphanage of Foster Revolution.” More than 200 others have already gone back to Tangshan City, east of Peking, to live and work.

Most are happy to go, said the orphanage officials. If they do not want to go back to the source of such traumatic memories, “they are re-educated and then sent back.”

The orphans, ranging in age from five years to 17 years, live a cloistered life within their compound in the middle of this city, carefully watched by their teachers and virtually never allowed out.

Three young girls paraded before visitors were only six months old when the earthquake hit and no one knew their names, so they were given a new surname – “Party.”

Their full names roughly translate as “The Seedling Fostered by the Party”, “Revolutionary Redness Fostered by the Party” and “New Generation Fostered by the Party.”

Outings are group events organised by the orphanage. There are no individual contacts with children outside. There is no pocket money – the orphanage supplies all their needs, and the children would not be allowed out to the shops anyway.

“They love the party much more than most children,” said the headmaster Mr Dong Yuguo. “The party has given them a second life.”

But why are they kept so isolated?

Because they are busy, and because if they went outside with other children, they may hear people talk about their families and parents, which would make them feel bad,” he said.

To a Westerner at least, the explanation rings false. Despite the laughing faces, the school has a sinister ring to it.

These children are amongst the few in China that the party can control completely. There are no competing allegiances, none of the influences of family and friends. They are the party’s to mold and shape.

Another of the orphans’ songs runs: “If revolutionary resolve is established when young, then we will dare to brave mountains of knives and sea of fire, closely following the Communist Party.”

“I love the party because the party takes care of us, gives us clothes and education and loves us very much,” one 17-year-old girl told me in halting English. “I will go wherever the party sends me.”

Everyone studies hard, trying to get into college or university. If they don’t, they go back to work in Tangshan where their parents died.

But they will go back as committed Communists striving with one mind to do the party’s bidding.

After five years of constant drilling and propaganda, it would be surprising if they did anything else.

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