Communist Rhapsody

By Zheng Wenguang 郑文光[1]

Translated by Adrian Thieret[2]

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright January 2021)

Editor’s foreword (1958): In this era in which one day equals twenty years, people want to know what our country, society, and people’s lives will look like twenty years from now. The writer of this piece has adopted a daringly imaginative style in writing this relatively scientific fantasy. We call it relatively scientific because what he says isn’t entirely baseless. We call it fantasy because to achieve these things still requires the hard work of the people. However, we anticipate that with the efforts of all China’s people, this fantasy can certainly be realized. Today there are only unimaginable miracles; there are no unrealizable fantasies. Because this work is fairly long, we will publish it in two parts.

Part 1: Our Country’s Thirtieth Anniversay

Everything happened so suddenly…

In the morning on the eve of the holiday, Director Zhang said to me: “Get your things together, Keling, we’re leaving on the Red Arrow to Beijing to watch the celebrations!”

I nearly jumped with joy. But Director Zhang told me sternly that before leaving I first had to go to the department to ascertain whether the second phase of the engineering plan had been approved.

We were advancing into the Xinjiang desert, and I was the engineer on the special “War on Deserts Committee.” Our work was, in the amusing words of Director Zhang, “to erase yellow from the map.” The work had actually begun nearly twenty years ago. Back then, people had flown in planes over the great Gobi Desert to seed it with hardy plants such as black saxaul bushes, oriental raisin trees, cacti, and camelthorns that might check the flow of sand, absorb moisture from far below the surface, and slowly form a new green oasis.

Later, however, we discovered a method of eradicating the desert on a large scale. Using ultrasound to disintegrate the sand and rock, and then saturating the land with water, we covered the Gobi with a layer of moist and soft soil. After adding organic fertilizer, wheat, cotton, and fruit trees flourished in it. The desert shrunk minute by minute, to the point where today all that remains is one area in the Tarim Basin. We got the water from Mt. Kunlun and Mt. Tian by creating an artificial sun to melt glaciers that had been frozen a thousand years. Making use of the sunlight that had always been plentiful in the desert region, we split hydrogen molecules into individual atoms, transported these to the tops of the high mountains, and there let them again merge into molecules, creating a furnace that reached tens of thousands of degrees. Appearing above the snowcapped Mt. Tian, this artificial sun cast its illumination in all directions.

I went to the celebrations as part of the Xinjiang Representative Group. Red Arrow was our affectionate name for a new model of nuclear airplane, and it was very fast. I picked up an issue of China Youth to read on the flight, but had only made it halfway through before we landed.

We arrived in the people’s capital at dusk and rode in a driverless autonomous car to our hotel, where we slept wonderfully in rooms fit for emperors. The next day we were taken to Tiananmen to watch the celebrations.

It was a golden autumn, the weather as beautiful as could be. I wasn’t surprised, because the warm sun, azure sky, and gentle wind were the gift of several days of effort from our capital’s meteorologists. Our Young Pioneers of China stood in clean, neat lines in Tiananmen Square, their red scarves shining like fire. In the distance, the gilded tops of the Military Museum and the Industrial Exhibition Hall sparkled like precious gems. Towering above all else was the Space Travel Hall with its bronze rocket statue.

I looked all around, completely at ease. Suddenly . . . ah, but isn’t life full of surprises! One row in front of me to my left I saw the face of a young woman, and there was something extremely familiar about her features. That small, straight nose, those full lips curved in a slight smile, that thin, probably quite severe chin . . . where had I seen her?

But I only thought about it for a moment. The square soon erupted into stunning applause followed by stately and harmonious music as magnificent as the oceans. I will never forget that song, not even in my dreams: “The East is Red!”

An impressive figure walked out onto Tiananmen and raised his hand with a benevolent smile. I wanted to cry out, “Long live Chairman Mao!” but found myself blinking away tears. The people around me seemed to lose their senses; hundreds of thousands of eyes gazed at that great figure on Tiananmen. He had stood on Tiananmen like this every National Day for thirty years, his closest comrades at his side.

The ceremonial cannons fired. Nuclear-powered jet planes turned loops through the ocean-blue sky overhead, drawing beautiful contrails. Tens of thousands of colorful balloons formed a huge slogan in the sky: “Builders of Communism, We Salute You!” Thousands of pigeons rose up and circled around in the clear, clean sky of the capital under the October sun. A neatly ordered parade passed by in front of Tiananmen. At its head was a glittering silver spaceship—the Mars One—and walking with the spaceship were the four explorers, the first group who had traveled to Mars. They had returned to Earth only yesterday.

The sound of clapping rose as people saluted these heroes who had bravely flown to an unfamiliar world. In the past, flying into space had been merely a bold fantasy. Today, not only had we established a research base on the moon, humanity could even fly to Mars.

That woman in front of me in the gray coat kept turning her head back to look at Tiananmen. As she did this once more, she stared, and suddenly cried out: “Look, quick! He’s smiling, he’s nodding his head, he’s saying something!

“He must be so happy,” I chimed in.

“I really want to know what he’s thinking.” Her eyes suddenly settled on me. Her pupils were jet-black, the blackest I had ever seen. “Perhaps he’s thinking that our people are so great, that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to—never mind going to Mars, we could travel the entire universe!

My heart fluttered. Those words, that manner, that accent—they were all so familiar.

Suddenly she stopped talking and opened her mouth in a slight grin, her beautiful eyes open wide. “Have . . . haven’t I seen you somewhere?” she stuttered.

“I doubt it,” I replied awkwardly, “I just arrived from Xinjiang yesterday.”


How it happened, I couldn’t really say, but at the same time we both shouted:

“Wu Keling!”


This little scene momentarily turned us into the center of attention on the observation platform.

My brain flicked back to twenty years earlier. No one could forget those days. Yingzi and I had both just started to wear our red scarves, and in our hometown—a designated “poor and backward” village in Henan—we had joined the adults in the People’s Commune. We had planted an experimental two-mu field that would yield 25,000kg of wheat per mu, and during the national competition for steel production, we had built ourselves a small steel furnace and toiled in its suffocating heat every night to hammer out soft pellets of steel. When our village needed to build a water reservoir, Yingzi and I had set out hand in hand to locate a water source. We had worn holes through our shoes, gotten lost, and then held each other at night to protect ourselves from the cold night wind. Oh what a childhood it had been!

But before long, my dad—an army veteran and long-time party member—started preparing to go to Xinjiang in accordance with the party’s plan, and my life was thereafter tied to the boundless desert.

The night before I left, Yingzi and I had sat on a small dirt slope and gazed at the stars in the cold night sky. Just then the third satellite sent up by the Soviets happened to cross the sky.

“Yingzi, what do you want to do in the future?” I grasped her hand tightly.

“Build a Communist home.”  She spoke solemnly. Later, I frequently recalled her words, and always wondered how a nine-year-old child could say such a thing.

But actually, back then I hadn’t been a typical nine-year-old brat either. The intense, bitter struggles had forced us to mature quickly. Those days artillery could still be heard in the Taiwan Strait and the American devils were still escalating war tensions. Life had been difficult.

“I really want to research science.” I exhaled. “It must be wonderful to put a satellite into space.”

“Sure, we can do anything. My dad tells me that when we’re grown up, we’ll be able to travel the universe . . .”

I remembered her words as clearly as if someone had chiseled them into my palm. After I got to Xinjiang, Yingzi and I exchanged letters, and she even sent me all sorts of seeds, telling me to “sow them in the Gobi” and “make the Gobi as beautiful as our hometown.” Later, much later, our letters grew less frequent. There was no particular reason for it; it was probably just because as people grow up and have to deal with the various difficulties and trials of young adulthood, childhood friendships cool a bit. I heard only bits and pieces of her life—such as that soon after I had left, the People’s Commune in our hometown called “East Wind” had transitioned into a fully Communist commune, and built a steel industry and a machine factory, and the people now enjoyed lives of heavenly prosperity. And later, it was the lean and resolute girl Yingzi who became the commune chairman. Her name even appeared frequently in the paper as an example of a model laborer.  Every time I read her name, I felt a stir of emotion.

These are the things I remembered on the observation platform. People still surged like waves through Tiananmen Square. Holding up red flags, they shouted with flushed faces: “Fight to produce 5 billion tons of steel annually!” “Transform the whole of China into a park!” “Achieve full automation in all aspects of production!” “Go to Venus!”

Yingzi—perhaps now I should call her Comrade Chen Xiaoying?—suddenly turned toward me and said, “Keling, why didn’t you ever come home to visit? Were you too enchanted by Xinjiang?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

“If you went home, you’d see it’s changed beyond your imagination.”

“Our Xinjiang has also changed a lot,” I said defensively.

“Of course.” She smiled. “You’ve driven the desert to the brink of extinction. Every time I see the newspaper I wonder where Keling is and whether he’s come down off Kunlun mountain. The destruction of the desert must be a marvelous thing!”

“You should come see it . . .”

“No, I can’t.” She laughed happily. “I’m so busy here. You know, Keling, we’re also working to automate everything; that’s the core concern of the sixth five-year plan. And at the same time we have to industrialize agriculture . . .

She began to talk about the plans of the East Wind commune. Seeing how clever and strong she was, I knew our hometown was in good hands. Perhaps I really should go back and see it.

She suddenly stopped talking and told me to look at Tiananmen Square. The Young Pioneers were walking past carrying the achievements of their labors and studies: wheat from a field that had produced 500,000kg per mu; a model of a fully automatic steel factory; an airplane called the Red Scarf  that the Young Pioneers had built themselves—the silver plane slowly advanced across the square, and then suddenly soared into the sky, and out of its body floated a sparkling gold banner, “Long Live Chairman Mao!” This took the breath away from both the people in the parade and on the observation platform. All I could do was repeat over and over, “Amazing, what great kids!”

Colorfully dressed boys and girls marched past. They carried—it was dazzling to see. Above their heads floated an island, covered with coconut trees—it was Hainan Island, with a long levee connecting it to the mainland. Just then an electric train thundered across the levee. It was just like a real train, except of course somewhat smaller. This meant that the Qiongzhou Strait levee had been completed, and now electric trains departing from Beijing could reach the Yingge Sea in only 48 hours. Behind this, a group of people held up a volcano erupting with fire and smoke! And beside the volcano was a gigantic power plant! In other words, the 17th Volcanic Power Station in Taiwan had come online. Next came a large ocean factory: in one side went surging, frothing ocean water, out the other side came cloth, grain, and construction and industrial materials. The all-out development of my country’s oceans had finally begun! And then meteorologists walked past holding a chart on which was written: “We’ve eliminated cold fronts and typhoons!” Good, now our homeland will forever be warm and sunny! Yet what moved me the most were the people in Tibetan clothing who paraded past carrying huge bundles of wheat, on the top of which was written clearly: “This year, wheat production per mu in the cold and barren Tibetan highlands had reached 175,000kg!” Just imagine that. In the past, not even grass would grow on those frozen highlands of Northern Tibet.

Our homeland now truly resembled a park full of blossoming flowers. Reports of victory had come in from all directions, and all of the achievements were so amazing. How could our artificial sun compare?

The applause in the square blended exotically with the shouting of slogans and the marching songs in the air to create a grand symphony. People’s faces were all flushed with excitement, and even the sun appeared especially bright.

Now our artificial sun walked past as a display of our triumph in the war on the Xinjiang desert. It was of course just a model, yet it shone in all directions and seemed just as good as the real thing. Long cheers rang through the square. As the audience looked approvingly at our group of Xinjiang representatives, I felt a bit dizzy. Yingzi also looked back at me and asked warmly, “Keling, how much of your desert is left?”

As calmly as I could, I replied: “Not much. We should be able to finish it off in just about five years!”

She nodded her head approvingly.

Everyone’s attention was grabbed again by another round of cheers. A pillar of what seemed to be light smoke rose in the south and floated up into the sky above Tiananmen, where it gradually turned into white clouds. In the clouds appeared two large red flags with several large characters written clearly on them: “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom.” Halfway up in the sky, melodious music sounded, and this was followed by the appearance of men and women in traditional and ethnic costumes who sang and danced on auspicious clouds!

The art brigade! . . . and look! There were also several maidens spreading flowers, their left hands holding flower baskets and their right hands held high, letting the intensely fragrant flower petals fall like snowflakes. Behind them appeared Wu Gang holding osmanthus flower liquor and the moon maiden Chang’e, and the clouds began to resonate with the lyrics of a Mao Zedong poem!

Yingzi grabbed my hand in excitement, and asked: “How did they get up into the sky?”

“Maybe they’re using some flying vehicle. If they spread a layer of smoke around the vehicle to hide it, then the people in the car would appear to be in clouds—that could be it, but I don’t know.”

However, Yingzi might not have even been listening, because a colorful dragon had appeared in the clouds and was spewing fire while writhing upward and downward . . . I couldn’t figure out how they had done it, although there was of course a chance that it was remote-controlled.

Drums and gongs reverberated loudly through the sky, and the square filled with intense cheering. I turned my head to look at Chairman Mao on Tiananmen and saw he was smiling. Ah, look at the magical world brought us by scientific and technological development!

Chairman Mao and his comrades walked, as was their custom, to the two sides of the tower, and waved their hands in salute to the people in the square and the guests on the observation platform. Another round of intense cheering drowned out everything else.

I clasped Yingzi’s hand tightly. “When will we see each other again?”

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she replied, “Where are you staying?”

I gave her my room number at the hotel.

That night I was so excited I had trouble falling asleep. National Day, Chairman Mao’s smile, and the intense clapping and cheering all mingled in my heart, and then those moving childhood years, and my hometown—it had been twenty years . . .

Part 2: Permanent Revolution

Life resumed its normal rhythm after the festivities of National Day.

Our Xinjiang Representative Group toured practically the entire capital in just three days. In the twenty years since I had last visited, Beijing had changed beyond recognition.

Gazing around, I saw tall and slender white poplars, densely leafed locusts, date trees laden with fruit, lemon gums transplanted from the south, kapok trees, and Taiwan acacias all together forming a limitless sea of green. Plants dominated the landscape. Flowers stood out in elegant clusters of white, red, pink, and violet. Roses in full bloom wafted fragrance from every petal, and the scent of the osmanthus flowers seemed to fill the azure universe. Trellis after trellis of juicy grapes stood next to the roads and squares. Serene and spotless, the lush green grass carpeting the city of Beijing glistened gently under the blue sky.

No longer overcrowded and loud, the capital was now a beautiful park. Dust storms were a thing of the past. Nowadays in the capital the air was clean and refreshing, and the weather warm and gentle. Along the main roads one saw only plentiful gardens growing cabbage, tomatoes, and jade-green cucumbers. Then there were the orchards, in which grew everything from the apples of the Northeast to the mangos and durians of the far South. And it wasn’t until one circled around a transparent clear pond—and the brilliant white swans floating in it—or maybe passed over a small bridge above a quiet canal, that the ten or so buildings came into view through the gaps in the greenery. Exquisite, serene, and elegant, these were where the residents of the capital lived. Did it look like a countryside village? It did indeed! But it was nothing like the shabby countryside vistas of Tao Yuanming and Fan Chengda. This was a new Communist city, and the people in these buildings enjoyed lives modern beyond the imagination of any of the old poets. There were spacious and luxurious clubs where one could watch the best contemporary dramas and song and dance performances. There were general stores filled with mountainous stacks of everyday necessities, from radios to matches and more. There were movie theaters that showed the latest movies on wide screens as well as in 3D and panoramic formats—everything one could ask for. There were gyms with first-rate equipment and excellent trainers, and there were warm and clean public cafeterias that served nutritious and tasty food to the entire citizenry. The capital consisted of thousands of these residential areas spread loosely throughout the park. The residential areas were divided by protective trees and large fields, newly built steel factories that could churn out hundreds of thousands of tons of steel every day, completely automated machine, chemical, and textile factories, and also schools of all levels filled with the vitality of young students.

The capital was still under construction, but no longer did one see the scaffolds of old or hear the din of construction sites. Ready-made building segments made of blown glass or artificial rock or plastic were flown in by helicopter for assembly. Construction proceeded with fantastic speed. A building could be completed practically overnight; only 1001 Nights describes anything remotely comparable.

All sorts of cars, motorcycles, helicopters, and flying cars were parked in each of the large public squares. Anyone who wished to use one of these machines needed only to tell the machine’s driver—its electronic automation system—where they wanted to go. Most jobs today, even the jobs of general store managers and cafeteria workers, had been replaced by automation. Underneath Beijing lay an extensive subway system, its electric cars running constantly throughout the day and night. When visiting the Summer Palace or the zoo, people preferred to skim lightly through the canals on magnificent electric boats—how satisfying it was to watch the water glisten in the boat’s wake under the autumn sunlight, drinking in air even more intoxicating than fine liquor!

I was filled with immense joy. What a heavenly life!

On the morning of the fourth day, I woke relatively late. The telephone rang and I dressed hurriedly before twisting the switch to turn on the video phone. Yingzi smiled apologetically at me through the screen.

“Keling, I’ve been too busy the last few days, but how about coming to Capital Stadium today? I reserved a seat for you. Row 12, number 27. It starts at two in the afternoon. Don’t forget!”

I must have looked pretty pathetic. Yingzi could undoubtedly see how sloppily I was dressed on her screen. I quickly agreed.

And so I went to Capital Stadium. I didn’t see Yingzi and the seat next to mine was empty. Everyone stood solemnly erect as the national anthem began to play throughout the stadium. Our beautiful national flag gradually rose, and then the entrance ceremony began for the athletes, all beautifully built young men and women. The master of ceremony proclaimed the start of the games and announced that the first event would be gymnastics, starting with a performance called “‘One Hundred Thousand Years of Happiness” by the East Wind People’s Commune.

Needless to say, I was astounded. A troupe of young men wearing sky-blue tops with white shorts and young women wearing purple skirts flooded into the stadium and arranged themselves into the shape of a beautiful plum blossom. They began to dance as the music started. I grabbed the binoculars from underneath my soft leather seat—every seat had a pair—and through the lenses saw Yingzi! She was standing in the middle of the plum blossom. I had to admit it was an incredibly beautiful dance, and the music was extraordinarily pleasant as well, and completely suited to the title: “One Hundred Thousand Years of Happiness.”

The audience broke into thunderous applause. This group of ordinary commune members were all clearly talented dancers and deserved admiration. The several gymnastics performances that followed were equally graceful. It wasn’t until the track competition officially started that Yingzi ran up into the stands, still wearing her light gray autumn jacket and with her face as red as that ruby pin at her breast.

I congratulated her on their success.

“That was nothing!” She laughed wholeheartedly. And who could avoid joyous laughter on such an occasion and in such beautiful sunny weather? “Just wait until you see our commune members—there are eleven sports masters among us! Do you like sports?”

I hastily replied, “Of course. I like playing soccer, but I’m not good enough to join a national competition yet. More than playing sports, I prefer music and playing the violin.”

“Me too. I like music and poetry, and I also like boating…”

I told Yingzi that I had promised to go to the house of Director Bai for dinner that evening. Director Bai was my old boss; we had worked together in Xinjiang. A few days earlier he had sent me a letter inviting me over for dinner.

Yingzi frowned. “But you can’t leave until you see the high jump competition.”

East Wind probably had someone good competing in this, I thought, and smiled inwardly as I agreed to stay for it.

“We leave tonight,” said Yingzi, “Have you decided to return home?”

I didn’t respond immediately.

She continued to press me: “You have lots of old friends there too, don’t just forget them all! That fish-eyed girl Li Licong is now our doctor at the hospital. And the guy we used to call Young Bull, Zhang Zhong, is also in the commune. He’s mainly responsible for work in the chemical factory. Also, I married Qiu Dongting, and he’s doing scientific research in the commune now. We have two children, one is four and the other is one and a half. They’re both so cute, you sure you don’t want to see them?”

“Qiu Dongting, that little tyrant?”

“Yeah.” She seemed a bit embarrassed. “He was a bit wild as a kid, but now he’s well behaved. We’re very happy. What about you?”

I told her that I too was married and had one child. My wife was a musical actress.

“A musical actress! She must be beautiful!”

I mumbled vaguely in response and was saved by the beginning of the high jump competition, which instantly grabbed Yangzi’s attention.

Only three athletes remained when the bar was raised to 3.17 meters. Following loud applause, an athlete wearing a rice-colored tank top and red shorts began to run. “Look, that’s our Monkey!” said Yingzi as she watched anxiously.

The athlete’s legs made it over, but his swinging hands knocked the bar off its stands. He was a solid and handsome fellow, tall and lean, and his deeply tanned skin gleamed. On the second try he made it over, and the entire stadium burst into thunderous applause.

The bar was raised higher and higher. The other two athletes were eliminated at 3.54 meters. East Wind’s athlete asked the referees to raise the bar to 3.6 meters. He made it over.

It is difficult to describe how much this impressed the crowd, especially Yingzi. Her eyes shone brightly and her breath came quickly, as if it were her who had just jumped that high bar. It was a new world record, so high! Yingzi turned to me breathlessly and said, “He’s Li Licong’s little brother, Li Jiabo.”

But it was time for me to go, and so I shook Yingzi’s hand and said, “Say hi to everyone for me. Perhaps in a few days I’ll go home and see them.”

Director Bai lived in a small apartment. He opened the door for me himself. He was a bit of a character, this old comrade. He had devoted his energetic youth to the war for liberation and devoted his golden years to the magnificent work of building socialism and communism. In the four years since I had last seen him, the hair on his temples had begun to turn white. He introduced me warmly to his wife, a cordial and composed woman of the same age.

I sat in an easy chair made of comfortable soft plastic and looked at the photograph on the round mahogany table next to me. It showed a person in a scuba suit and helmet standing on a desolate plain.

“That’s my son,” explained Director Bai after noticing that I was looking at the picture. “He’s still on the moon.”

Director Bai’s wife added, “Our family is all over the place—our eldest daughter works in the underwater factory in the South Sea, and our younger daughter is still with us here but wants to enroll in the Antarctic Science Institute. She would have come home tonight, but her school is holding a celebration.”

“Your family could populate a whole science department!” I laughed.

While setting the table with bowls and chopsticks, she said, “we’re eating at home tonight. The cafeteria is delivering.”

The doorbell rang, and she ran to answer it. A worker in white uniform carried steaming food into the house.

It was a magnificent feast. The mere fragrance of the wine was enough to make me feel tipsy. Director Bai was a formidable drinker and repeatedly raised his glass to toast me, laughing, “C’mon, lad, help me drink this.”

After dinner we sat on the sofa and drank tea. Director Bai asked me all about the progress we had made in the war on the desert and about the gist of our second-stage engineering plans. He sat in contemplation for bit, then lit a cigarette and said, “Do you think you could speed up your progress a bit?”

At first I really thought I had misheard. There were around 200,000 square kilometers of Tarim Basin desert remaining east of the Hotan River. It was the last desert left on the Chinese mainland, and to reach it, water from Mt. Kunlun and Mt. Tian had to flow through 300 kilometers of canals—canals lined by over 100,000 square kilometers of virgin farmland newly reclaimed from the desert and awaiting planting. Our plan only required five years, and I had always thought that was already an astonishing pace.

When I didn’t reply, Director Bai continued in earnest: “Keling, you all have accomplished a great deal already. But now that our country has become communist, we cannot tolerate this last patch of desert on our national soil—no matter how small it is. We haven’t yet finished the work of greening China. The 700 million people of China and the 3.5 billion people of the world are all watching you.

It was as if I had been slapped. I realized that things were not as simple as I had thought. “But I thought we no longer needed to toil and struggle as we did in the past.” I regretted the words as soon as they had left my mouth.

Director Bai grew serious. “If there’s need for it, you must still struggle. But advanced science and technology will help you—there’s no need to work day and night anymore. Once the scholar He Jinsheng told me—you remember him, right? The geologist—he told me that the Tarim Basin had originally been a swamp, until about 100 million years ago when the water evaporated and it weathered and turned into a desert. He said there’s likely to be an underground sea under the Tarim Basin. Why don’t you look into it?”

I noticed my face had reddened all the way to my ears. It wasn’t from the wine, but from the quiet words of the old man.

“I was wrong, Director Bai,” I said softly. “I thought that since we became communist, we could relax a little bit, especially after our lives improved . . ”

Director Bai laughed good-naturedly. “Don’t blame yourself, Keling, the plan wasn’t entirely yours. I also bear some responsibility. Our thoughts are still a bit old-fashioned: we think that because we’ve accomplished the big tasks, a few loose ends are no big deal. But Chairman Mao warned us twenty years ago that we must engage in permanent revolution, and this still applies today. Here, take a look . . .”

He pulled a map of Xinjiang out of a drawer, studied it, and then said, “Keling, even though we’ve achieved communism, we still have a lot to do. It’s the same everywhere. Look, life is heavenly today—people only work five hours per day and return home for lunch to study, play sports, watch dramas, and do whatever they like—but what about labor? We cannot miss even a day of real, serious labor. Of course, the labor conditions are excellent, but that doesn’t mean we get to dream of fulfilling our work responsibilities while out on walks with our spouses. We could even say our labor tasks have gotten more complicated. During the day, millions of people labor, create, think, and experiment to advance our country ever more quickly to a high stage of communism. Not to mention that we’re advancing into outer space, flying to the stars and into the universe. This is what we call permanent revolution.”

“Director Bai, tomorrow I’ll go back and revise the plan . . .”

Director Bai laughed again. “There’s no need to hurry. Stay a few more days and visit He Jinsheng and other experts and think some more about what to do. And besides, don’t you want to visit your hometown?”

I froze for a second.

Director Bai explained: “I tried to call you this morning. The hotel staff told me you had met someone from your hometown and headed out. So I just thought . . . well, aren’t you from Henan?”

I nodded.

“Then go back home and take a look. See how your old friends have constructed communism. You can learn a lot from it. I’ll call Director Zhang and clear it with him. Then you and I will go to Xinjiang together two weeks from now.”

Thus on October 8, after completing our business in the capital, I took leave from the Xinjiang Representative Party and boarded an electric train south to the hometown I hadn’t seen in twenty years. The electric train slid almost silently along the iron rails, like a plane gliding through the air. Wide, beautiful, and fertile Northern plains unfolded on both sides of the train. This land was no longer dusty yellow earth. Fast-flowing canals functioned like arteries, spreading new life across the land. Gardens, fields, and factories could be seen everywhere, and electric plows cut easily through the rich black earth. The thatch huts of old were all gone, and in their place, elegant residential buildings stood in clusters throughout the green land.

The inside of the train was quite comfortable. It was arranged like a living room and the seats were all easy chairs. The journey only took five hours.

I got off the train and stood at the entrance of the station. In front of my eyes was a flat plain. Wheat stalks, greenish-yellow and full of vitality, had just poked up through the earth. A river flowed peacefully toward the southeast where a tall dam stood, the high-voltage wires from its hydroelectric power station extending out in all directions. To the west stood a huge factory, its giant smokestacks spewing out white smoke. I saw a grove of trees in the distance and caught the fragrant scent of dates—oh, my hometown!

So familiar and yet so strange—my hometown!


[1] “Communist Rhapsody” (共产主义畅想曲), was published in Zhongguo qingnian (中国青年) nos. 22 and 23 (1958).

[2] Adrian Thieret studies the popular fiction of China, Japan, and Korea. He is editor and translator of two upcoming books of speculative fiction by Korean author Djuna: Everything Good Dies Here (Kaya Press, 2021) and Not Yet Gods (Kaya Press, 2022).