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This article is taken from PN Review 103, Volume 21 Number 5, May - June 1995.

After Ancestor Worship Isobel Lusted

The Seamen's Club in Qinhuangdao contains in its vast marble depths, a book room known as the library. It is there for one purpose only, to disseminate facts and figures. In the 1970s Mao's dicta took pride of place: the Little Red Book stood in heaps, lined shelves, came in every dialect spoken in places where men might conceivably be drawn to the sea, albeit under only their own national flag.

It was hard to escape Mao along with the output of the Daging oil fields, steel, coal, kaoliung, wheat, rice, league tables of performance in health, education, commune produce and so on.

The librarian, however, lfred talking. He made short work of the handouts and was soon into his chosen field, Ming history. He owed his position to having been a seaman pre-1950 and of having retained not only the tongues of the visitors, but also how to assess them - not their needs, rather their reactions, a strange requirement where seamen were on 'best behaviour' havingbeen subjected to lectures on the undesirability of international incidents and the facility with which they occur.

I think Ming history had become a refuge for this non-card-carrying old man. It was difficult to decide how much tongue-in-cheek went with the handing out of leaflets; sometimes when he looked up from a map or one of his Wall rubbings as he related the permissible, the four quarters of the world seemed to shine from his eyes. ...


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