China's political leaders view the nation's young people as the source of revolutionary strength. Much of the Party's propaganda is directed toward the young, since the elderly tend to cling to their traditional, "feudal" beliefs. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, the older youths ran rampant as Red Guards, looting and terrorizing the more conservative citizens in their attacks on old customs and beliefs. To many Western observers, it seemed for a long time that the Communist Chinese were engaged in an almost inhuman remolding of their children in their attempt to rebuild the nation.
But for the children of Canton, there is still time to be young. In this city beside the Pearl River where the silvery sound of bicycle bells fills the air, the children seem less influenced by the official doctrine than by their own personalities. Some stare at foreigners in curiosity or amusement; others screech and run away. They play beside the river at being soldiers, and they imitate their mothers, carrying their younger brothers on their backs.
One does not often see families with small children on the streets of Canton. There is currently an intensive government campaign to establish birth control in this crowded city. A large billboard located strategically downtown exhorts residents in the name of patriotism to "have only one child." The official guides explain the problem thus: "We have made mistakes in the past." A family with more than two small children is now an unusual sight.
But there appears to be a good atmosphere of warmth and regard for children among adults. One rarely hears the sound of crying, and children are nearly always accompanied by a protective adult. Even the babies seem comfortable, sleeping and smiling contentedly in the midst of crowded, noisy streets and buses.
The future is somewhat uncertain for the children of Canton. The latest historical revision of Chairman Mao and the insinuations connecting him with the evil Gang of Four have cast the basis of their parents' motivations into doubt. For them, as for their country, this is a crucial transition period, between the first revolutionary phase, led by Mao, and the second, which must function without--or in spite of--him.
Perhaps they will know a powerful, industrialized socialist China in their lifetime. Perhaps they will see an overhaul of current policies that will completely alter China's direction. And perhaps they will know war. But for now, there is time for the children of Canton to spend with their families and with their friends.
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