Bombshell disclosure to Madam Chou in China
Excerpted from volume two of Sarath Amunugama’s autobiography
I had always followed developments in Communist China with great interest. I recalled the helpless and feeble Christian missionaries who had been expelled after Mao’s victory, who spoke to us during Trinity College assemblies. Though they had left China on the orders of the new Government these missionaries spoke kindly of the Communists whose dedication to improving the lives of the humble Chinese peasant was admired.
The missionaries told us that the Communist cadres were honest and were improving the living conditions of the poverty stricken villagers. Later as Director of Information I had moved closely with the Chinese and Vietnamese Ambassadors whose low key efforts to counter the “black propaganda” of the West that had demonized them were highly effective.
When I studied in Canada my radical professors were admirers of China, having being disillusioned by the growing entente between the USA and the geriatric leaders of the then USSR. Many of them with their ultra radicalism were unabashed supporters of the hardliners of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. The Monthly Review published in New York was the mouth piece of these radicals and was circulated widely during that time.
My own Professor and friend Dallas Walker Smythe, who was a young economist in the US Board of Trade promoting Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’, had been sacked after the McCarthy hearings. He became an admirer of the Chinese path to communism. Naturally therefore I looked forward to this visit (to China on China’s invitation of a press delegation from here) and became a close confidant of Esmond (Wickremesinghe who led the delegation) who had leftist antecedents and could empathize with the new developments taking place in China after the fall of the ‘Gang of Four’.
The other members of our delegation, though they were important media leaders were not very interested in the gigantic political upheavals that were going on behind the scenes. A key signal which was lost on them, but not Esmond and me, was that Madame Deng Ying Chao, the revered wife of Chou En Lai, was to be the high level dignitary who was to supervise our visit and dine and wine us at the Great Hall of the People. This was a great honour indeed and showed the keenness of the Chinese administration in normalizing relations with the JRJ regime which had swept their favourite Sri Lankan personality, Mrs, Bandaranaike, out of power. I shall describe our interactions With Madame Deng later.
Looking back, I find that the Chinese had several objectives in planning this visit. The first was obviously to send the message that the lunacy of the Cultural Revolution was now over and they were willing to do normal business through international procedures with the new government. Secondly they were keen to show us that the new path advocated by leaders Hua Gua Feng and Deng Mao Ping was to promote industries and agriculture by the gradual introduction of private enterprise.
Our schedule of visits Included travel to reformed communes and new factories producing consumer goods. The trip to a ‘show commune’ helped us to understand the new policy of freeing the peasants from control of rural cooperatives. Whereas earlier the total produce of the communal farms were taken over by the state in order to achieve the targets set out for their region by the planning commission, the Deng reforms gave small plots of land to the peasants to be farmed on an individual basis.
What we saw was that while the state farms were undeveloped and barely reached the targets set for them, the private lots were farmed round the clock by the peasants as they could now retain the surplus. This led to a massive increase in production which had earlier declined under the ideological mayhem created by the Cultural Revolution. This so called revolution had led to massive starvation and famines which were unprecedented in modern times.
Now due to the increase in production small markets were emerging where the more enterprising farmers could sell or barter their surplus. We saw farmers bringing pingo loads of piglets to be sold in those markets which were emblematic of the beginning of private enterprise. As a result of this opening to private incentives the more enterprising workers were getting richer while the party functionaries who had earlier siphoned off a part of the produce in exchange for monitoring production quotas, were becoming redundant. Consequent to the increase in domestic agricultural production farmers were eating better and the famine caused by the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was overcome.
Gang of Four
Because of the practical benefits of liberalization there was a wave of revulsion against the ideologically inflexible ‘Gang of Four’ who were close to Mao. They were convicted after a trial and were in custody when we were in China. Their conduct was condemned by Madame Chou En Lai in her discussions with us. She began the discussion by mentioning the affection that Premier Chou had for Sri Lanka which he had visited twice.
He had been accompanied by Foreign Minister Chen Yi who had been a close friend of the Chou family from the days of struggle against Chiang Kai Shek. However, the Premier, and Chen Yi in particular, had been badly treated by the Gang of Four. She was thankful to Sri Lanka for the concern shown about the Premier in his last days .He had enjoyed the mango fruits that had been sent to him in hospital by Mrs. Bandaranaike.
Then she broached a subject which was presented with great tact. While complimenting the new government she wished to say that they were concerned to see that no personal harm should come to Mrs. Bandaranaike. Esmond with his diplomatic training, immediately put Madame Chou at ease by dropping a bombshell which surprised even us. He said that far from harming Mrs. B, the new President JRJ had offered to make her the Foreign Minister in his Cabinet.
Esmond himself had carried the message from the President to Mrs. B, but she had declined and said that another senior from her party, perhaps Maithripala Senanayake, could be nominated instead. All this was news to the media moguls themselves who were shocked while Esmond went on to discuss JRJ’s political secrets with great aplomb.
Our hostess then replied that she was greatly relieved by Esmond’s assurances and wanted to thank the President for it. Then she guided us to a banquet hall in the Great Hall complex where a 10-course Chinese lunch awaited us. The lunch proceeded with Madame and senior Chinese officials going round the table exchanging toasts with all of us. It was an exquisitely choreographed event. After lunch, like her legendary husband, our hostess dispensed with protocol and personally walked us down the many steps to the waiting cars and wished each one goodbye.
It was a memorable occasion which was recreated several times later when I was part of the official delegation of our President or Prime Minister visiting China on a high level tour. With President Mahinda Rajapaksa I met Hu Jin Tao and with Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe I met Me Jin Ping. On both those latter occasions we were treated with the same courtesy. Since they were the highest state banquets, a navy band played Chinese and Sri Lankan songs while we ate and drank.
Special mention must be made of the fiery Maotai thimblefuls which after many toasts had our heads reeling. This inebriation vanished when we stepped out to the bitterly cold Beijing air to get to our cars.Our Ambassador in China at that time was a senior Foreign Service officer ‘Charlie’ Mahendran. He entertained us right royally in his residence.
I felt quite at home because Charlie had read history at Peradeniya and his charming wife Mohana Coomaraswamy was my contemporary at the University. They were the parents of Arjuna Mahendran of the celebrated Bond scam which spelt the end of the political career of Ranil, Esmond’s son, when he crashed to a humiliating defeat in 2019. It also marked the end of the UNP as a credible party in the country.
While going through my old papers recently I came across the notes I had made during my China tour. These notes were written up on the same day of the events described. They may be useful to the students of Chinese history of the immediate period following the Cultural Revolution since such eyewitness accounts are rare and now hard to come by. Our visit was undertaken when the `Gang’ had been defeated by the government of Hua Gua Feng.
Deng Xiaoping was still not in full control. It was only a short time later that he would effect a sea change in the CCP’s policies. But this was a period of transition when the liberalization policies were being introduced for the first time. The old ‘long march’ leaders were preparing a new economic agenda.
Madame Deng [Wife of Chou En Lai]
“We were asked to remain in the hotel lobby within reach of a telephone and to expect a call from the Great Hall of the People [GHP]. Exactly at 10.30 a call comes through and we are bundled into our cars to drive straight to the GHR Officials accompanying us are all very excited and full of anticipation as it was a rare privilege for them to go to a ceremony like this and interact with a national leader. As we enter, Madame Deng is at the entrance to the large lobby. She is very gracious and has a word with every member of the delegation. She is full of smiles and witticisms which are immediately translated for us. Laughter brightens her eyes. The face is very wrinkled showing her age. A group photograph is to be taken in the lobby.
Arrangements are going like clockwork with senior officials now assembling In the lobby. Deng briskly moves over to a stage and poses for photos with the delegation. After picture taking we are led into a spacious room for a discussion. Deng shuffles up to the main chair sits and motions for all of us to sit in the designated seats.
She looks elegant and a cut above the officials. Wears fashionable ankle length suede boots and a well cut serge trouser suit. Looks like a friendly grandmother. She asks whether we are comfortable and well looked after. Wants us to be careful not to catch a cold in the Beijing air. Refers to her visit to Sri Lanka. It is a beautiful country with gracious people who are friends of China.
Then she talks about the conditions in China and criticizes the ‘Gang of Four’. She asks for our itinerary from the officials and studies it. Says it is good to visit Shanghai and the other cities. She jokes with our Ambassador Mahendran saying that he knows China very well and recalls that she attended our national day party at his invitation earlier that year.
We asked about Premier Chou and she referred to the Non-aligned conference in Bandung. [Perhaps a subtle dig at Esmond who was active in Bandung as an advisor to (Sir John) Kotelawala who followed a pro-American line there]. She also referred to the Rice—Rubber deal which was so important for China at that time. It came at a very difficult time for China and that gesture would therefore never be forgotten by the Chinese people.
She then went on to explain what had happened in China recently after the Cultural Revolution. Recalling the role of her husband Chou she said that he played a role in the Nanking uprising. Today the Peoples Liberation Army flag and the army cap have the inscription I\8 on them denoting the date of the uprising.
Mao called it the first revolutionary military attack on the KMT of Chiang kai-Shek. The Gang of Four and Lin Piao wanted that inscription removed. But Mao would not allow it. Chairman Mao’s theoretical positions were always better than theirs [Chou and hers] when they were young. Mao changed the strategy of the Chinese Revolution. He depended on the countryside and finally captured the cities. She wanted us to visit Changshan. There is a saying that, “As long as the red flag flies in Changshan’s mountain, the Chinese revolution will go on from generation to generation”. That was the first base area of the Communists.
Then she referred to the ‘Gang of Four’ who had not only hounded her husband to death but also hindered the growth of the country in the name of ideological purity. Hers was an important statement about the activities of the group which was then shrouded in secrecy. She said that, “The Gang tried to distort the history of the Chinese revolution and disrupt the working of the country. Since their fall 18 months ago there have been many great achievements in China and many of the misdeeds of the Gang of Four had been exposed. The fifth National Congress and the 11th party meeting had decreed that the exposure of their misdeeds is still a major task. There is a Chinese saying that “it is better to see once than to hear a hundred times”.
Teaching feminism at SL universities
“Feminism is not a synonym for man hater though we need a new man now”:
By Aruni Samarakoon
Recently, I was in a discussion on Feminism with the members of the Post-Graduate Research (PGR) community at the University of Hull, in the United Kingdom. They were my colleagues, from the Middle-East, Asia and Europe, representing the natural and social sciences, but, apparently, did not possess any prior knowledge on feminism. I say this because most in the natural sciences seemed to characterise feminism as a political ideology against man (man in this context represents male). This discussion provoked me to recollect why feminism was stereotyped by these scholars, who were researching for their doctoral degrees at the time.
The objective of this article is to extend my argument of teaching feminism at the Sri Lankan universities in my last Kuppi column (25/10/2022), which drew attention to the gaps in teaching and learning feminism in the classroom and practicing it in everyday life.
I introduced the basic notion of feminism in my last Kuppi column, but would like to extend the conceptual understanding of feminism in a new direction, that is the notion that feminism is not an anti-man discourse. bell hooks—lowercase letters symbolise, for hooks, resistance to injustice and prejudice in the capitalist system or a “new language” of equality and justice for all—in Feminism for Everybody: Passionate Politics (2000) states, “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… and it was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy ” (p.01). hooks’ proposition was further reinforced by socialist feminist Sheila Rowbotham in her book, Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972). Rowbotham suggests that feminism is a new political project to empower both men and women and create a new man and woman. Notably, hooks and Rowbotham did not agree with ‘binary politics’ that constructs man as “enemy” and woman as “victim”.
Who is the “New Man”?
The political notion of the “New Man” was developed by Rowbotham. She critically examined women’s representation in post-French revolution politics and asked how the latter “represents the voice of women in the French Revolution”? She suggested that women moved once again into the second sex (subordinate role) paradigm at the end of the French Revolution as revolutionary politics turned into patriarchal politics. Therefore, she suggested the concept of “New Man,” a man who recognizes class and sex oppression as the primary determinants of exploitation. The “New Man” understands the equal significance of ending classism and sexism at once. I draw on hooks and Rowbotham to propose that a “new man” is a necessary condition for teaching and learning feminism at Sri Lankan universities.
The question is whether you see the “New Man” in any context in Sri Lanka? Let’s start with the recent peaceful uprising of “Gota- Go-Home-2022”. Revolutionary political agents of both male and female sex were visible at the beginning of the uprising. For example, the image of a woman carrying a child in one hand and a placard in the other went viral on social media. The female undergraduates were on the front lines of the protests, holding the banners and shouting the slogans. The activities of women in this scenario took me back to the French Revolution;
“The idea of a march of women to Versailles to stop the bloodshed spread in April 1871. Beatrice Excoffon, the daughter of a watchmaker who lived with a compositor, told her mother she was leaving, kissed her children and joined the procession at the Place de la Concorde. Nobody was clear about the aims of the march or knew definitely what they should do, but there were political rather than strictly economic motives” (Rowbotham, 1972, p.104).
The women who came to the streets in the Sri Lankan uprising had both political and economic motives. They were not certain about the plan, though their voice was to end the “dictatorship” and restore “democracy”. The fundamental question is where are these women now? How many of these women were in the political party negotiation table at the end of the uprising? How many were able to voice their political motives? I argue that these revolutionary women were thrown to their private spaces by the “Old-Man”- the agent of patriarchal politics. The irony is that the “Old-Man” was preoccupied in ending the dictatorship in parliament, while maintaining sexist dictatorship in their revolutionary political bodies. Thus the “New Man” is a necessary condition to practice feminism as political ideology for everybody.
The aims of feminist academic discourse and activism were/are to raise women’s political consciousness and empower them to be the “New Woman”. The scholarship of hooks and Rowbotham interpret the “New Woman” as one who opposes patriarchal politics. The “New Woman” can be found today in every sector; these women are in a hard struggle to establish the “Woman’s identity” in those settings. For example, the underlying impetus driving the ongoing Iranian protest is to recognize Women’s identity as a human being. Tearing off their hair cover was a symbolic representation of their voice to get identified as human, in my interpretation. However, creating the “New Woman” is a contested and difficult political process. What is the role of teaching and learning feminism at universities in creating the “New Man” and “New Woman”?
“Learning outcomes” of Feminism
A key “learning outcome” of Feminist pedagogy would be to critically examine a given social reality. The given social reality contains the stereotypes, power hierarchies and objectification of the human body. Feminism then, will throw light on this social reality and raise the critical mindset of both woman and man to question that given social reality.
Feminism, in that case, plays the role of activism for social transformation. The focus of old school pedagogy was examining theory; activism was not a part of older pedagogical approaches. It was feminism that introduced activism as a new method of teaching and learning Amy K Levin states in Questions for a New Century: Women’s Studies and Integrative Learning (2007) that, “feminist studies programmes work to meet knowledge and skills goals and activism is the requirement of the course” (p.18). Connecting knowledge and personal experience is a part of feminist activism.
However, in the context of Sri Lankan universities, activism is yet to be recognized as a legitimate pedagogical activity. In my experience, the most university academics in Sri Lanka maintain a hierarchy of academia and activism. They tend to present the theoretical arguments of other prominent scholars in academic language, rarely understood by the public. In activism, the theoretical explanations are discussed in simple language and examples of everyday life are connected to theory, to engage the public.
In conclusion, the point of feminism is not an anti-man thesis, but to create the “New Man and Woman” . The “New Man ” concept in Sri Lanka can and must be improved and expanded by teaching feminism at higher education institutions. Training undergraduates in activism is necessary for social transformation, which should be the ultimate objective of education. It is worth noting that the Kuppi collective has taken the lead in discussing new approaches to education; feminism is part of that discussion.
(Aruni Samarakoon teaches at the Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies
Indian model as wayforward
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement that district committees can be considered as part of the solution to the vexed problem of power sharing between the ethnic communities has caused a considerable furore in the Tamil community. It came as both a shock and a disappointment as the president has also been speaking about fast-tracking the national reconciliation process. The president said he is ready to reintroduce District Development Councils when former president Maithripala Sirisena proposed setting up of district councils under the provincial councils as a cost cutting measure. “Former President, I listened to your comments on District Development Councils and I am ready to do it,” the President is quoted as having said. Subsequently, the president’s media unit clarified that the President meant that the District Development Committees (DDCs) will be established within the Provincial Councils.
The president’s media unit further elaborated that the DDCs would provide a platform for coordination between the government, the provincial councils and the local governments for all executive decisions. It also said this will ensure the process is not duplicated and will reduce financial wastage. The concept of the district as the unit of devolution was tried before in 1981 by the president’s uncle, the late president J R Jayewardene during whose period the government established DDCs to be part of the solution to the ethnic conflict that was getting worse by the day. The Sri Lankan security forces had been ordered to control the growing Tamil militancy. The security forces were armed not only with guns but also with the Prevention of Terrorism Act which was abused then as it is abused today though to a much greater extent then, than it is now.
The memory of the brief period of the DDCs is an unhappy one to the Tamil community. The elections to the DDC were contested by the ruling party, the UNP, to which the president belongs. The government’s attempt to rig those elections and win them at any cost led to the catastrophic burning of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981. This seat of learning was one of the most sacrosanct institutions of Tamil civilisation that symbolised the high quality of education in the north of the country that was the envy of other parts of the country. It is therefore not surprising that the president’s media unit was quick to deny the very negative inferences made with regard to the president’s speech.
The president’s media unit can be relied upon to accurately portray the president’s cryptic remark with regard to his willingness to resuscitate the district council system. However, the very idea of creating a complex platform for coordinating the central government, provincial councils and local government bodies for all executive decisions seems to be a difficult task. It runs the real risk of killing any possibility of decision making through a multiplicity of committees. Coordination within one level of the government is difficult enough. Coordinating between multiple levels will be even more difficult. There have been issues when two drivers sit at the wheel. Who does the Government Agent in a district report to as he also serves as the District Secretary? What is the protocol when a central deputy minister and provincial minister attend a formal meeting?
The questions noted above have been raised in the past and many remain unresolved and making further units of devolution will be confusion compounded. The irrelevance of the proposed district committees to the solution of the ethnic conflict can be seen by another problem. The provincial councils, which were formulated to be the solution to the ethnic conflict, and to represent the wishes of the people of each province, do nothing of the sort at the present time, as they are non-functional where people’s representation is concerned. For the past four years, the provincial councils have only been administrative bodies run by a presidentially appointed governor who can act, and does act arbitrarily, without consulting the people of the province. During this period, elections to the provincial councils have not been held. Far from being institutions of devolved power, the provincial councils now represent the centralised power of the state, both unfortunately and perniciously.
The ability of the government to neutralise the provincial councils by the undemocratic method of not permitting elections to be held for 4 years gives impetus to the Tamil community’s rejection of them. The provincial councils were brought into existence in 1987 as the main democratic part of the solution to the ethnic conflict. They were meant to provide the people of each province with the power to decide on locally relevant matters. But this right has been denied to them. This would be the main reason why the demand for federalism is once again coming to the fore. In a landmark judgement the Supreme Court in August 2017 with Chief Justice Priyasath Dep presiding ruled that “Advocating for a Federal form of Government within the existing State could not be considered as advocating Separatism.” The court dismissed a petition that ITAK (or Federal Party) had, as one of its “aims” and “objects” the establishment of a Separate State.
The TNA which is the largest Tamil party (with ITAK as its major component) has responded positively to the president’s announcement that he intends to seek a solution to the ethnic conflict by the 75th anniversary of Independence. They have said that they will seek a solution on the basis of federalism. Their spokesperson M. A. Sumanthiran has pointed out that there are more than 25 countries in the world which have federal system and they are very much united, and contain over 40 percent of the world’s population. The United States, India, Switzerland and Malaysia are examples of federal states. The key feature in a federal state is that the government will not be able to change the way a provincial council is governed. Certainly, the government will not be able to arbitrarily postpone elections to a provincial council for four years and then run it centrally through a governor of its own choice.
On the other hand, from the time that the Tamil polity has asked for federalism, beginning in the 1950s, the Sinhalese polity has rejected it as being injurious to the country’s national sovereignty and security. There is misapprehension that federalism might be the first step to secession. The examples of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are given as examples of federal states that broke up on the lines of their federal units. The Sinhalese position is that a unitary form of government would protect the country from being divided in this manner. However, even unitary states have been divided if they did not manage their ethnic relations in a constructive manner as was the case in Sudan (which divided into South Sudan) and Serbia (Kosovo). The enlightened reasoning and decision of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2017 needs to be explained to the political parties and to the general population.
The 18th century English poet Alexander Pope wrote “For Forms of Government let fools contest whatever is best administered is best.” Just across the seas from Sri Lanka the world has a good example of a diverse and huge country that has held together as one and is now getting stronger and stronger, both in terms of its economic might, but also its international stature. The Indian form of government is neither wholly federal nor wholly unitary, but can take on aspects of either as the situation demands. In times of peace it is federal, in times of stress it can become unitary. This was the solution that India and Sri Lanka agreed to in the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and which was distorted in the 13th Amendment. Recently in parliament, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa went one step forward to say he was for discussions on 13th Amendment plus. India has been Sri Lanka’s best saviour at the present time in terms of the economic crisis, giving Sri Lanka far more than other countries. With India’s political support to a political solution based on its own learning and experience, a viable solution can be found and Sri Lanka can forge ahead as a truly united nation to economic development.
Top acts heading overseas…for 31st night
Sohan & The X-Periments, and the new-look Mirage outfit, will not be around to usher in the New Year – 2023.
While The X-Periments will take a break, from 31st night activities, their leader Sohan will be away, in the UK, making sure that the folks, over there, have a ball, as the New Year approaches…and after!
He will be at the Honeymoon Banquet Hall, in Hounslow, London, together with the band Roots, and guest artiste Damin David – UK Lankan’s Voice Winner – to welcome 2023.
This dinner dance will commence at 7.00 pm and wind up at 1.00 am, and will be held in typical Sri Lankan style, with kiribath, tea, coffee, after the countdown.
Among the highlights will be the selection of the New Year Queen.
This will be Sohan’s third trip to the UK, for this year, and it did come as a surprise, he says, adding that he is glad that he is in demand in the UK, as well.
Sohan will also take wing for Australia, to perform at a very important event – a concert to honour the late Desmond de Silva.
It will be held on 11th, February, 2023, in New South Wales, and will also feature Mignonne and Suraj, Melantha Perera, Mariazelle, Corrine, and Sohan Pieris, among others.
This concert will showcase the music from Desmond’s incredible musical journey…with the Spitfires, Jetliners, Foreign Affair (UK), Replay 6, Desmond and The Impressions, and the baila king himself, in ‘hologram.’
In the meanwhile, the new-look Mirage, who captivated a full house at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, Mount Lavinia, last Friday night – December 2nd – is scheduled to head for Oman for two important seasonal gigs – on 23rd December and 31st December.
On Friday, the 23rd, they will be at the Grand Hall, Al Falaj Hotel, in Muscat, for ‘Sri Lankan Musical Night’ – from 3.00 pm onwards.
In addition to their Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve gigs, the General Manager of the Al Falaj Hotel, Praveen George, indicated to me that Mirage will also be seen in action at a few more events, in Oman.
Down Under, too, elaborate plans are being made to celebrate the dawning of another New Year.
Two popular bands, in Melbourne, Replay 6 and Ebony, will be at the Grand On Princess, to provide the right kind of music to make this New Year’s Dinner Dance nostalgic.
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