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I first visited China in November 1986. I was representing the New South Wales Government on a multinational mission to our Sister State Guangdong. My photo taken for the trip is still in the State archive [click here]. The theme was regional and small business development. The group heard presentations from Chinese bureaucrats and visited a number of factories in rural and industrial areas in Southern China. It was clear then that China was developing at a very fast rate economically.
The Canadian delegate and I went for a walk in one regional centre and were amazed by the quantity and variety of machinery on sale in the high street: lathes; milling machines; plastic extrusion machines and so on; at very low prices. These were clearly being purchased on a grand scale by small private businesses.
I had never seen so many pushbikes as in Guangzhou. The streets were packed; like an endless start at the Tour de France.
One of the things that impressed me about China was the sense of humour of the officials that we met. They were quite cynical and disrespectful. It ran counter to my impression of Communism. They made really surprising jokes about all aspects of Chinese life, including government. In this respect they seemed quite different to the Japanese who at the time appeared to greatly respect authority; at least in the presence of strangers. More than once negative comments and jokes were made about the Japanese (when the Japanese delegate was absent); which is not surprising in the light of history. But he did buy a very nice, and inexpensive, rice cooker at one of their factories.
At the factories we visited the whole delegation was struck by the number of employees working on each machine. It soon became apparent that for each skilled worker there were five or six students or apprentices. Each, no doubt, would soon have a machine of their own; together with six more apprentices. There were few safety guards on the machines and virtually no safety equipment was being worn. I understand that due to very high accident rates in these early days OH&S is now a big issue in China.
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