Mainland China is placing strong reliance on the gasoline engine as a source of power, and even though many of the engines now in use are ancient and tired, more new ones are on the way.
We found that on a two-week visit this spring. The visit was not long enough for an in-depth study, but we learned enough to pass on information to readers of GEM.
First, let me say that the new technology is exciting to the Chinese. In a land where major reliance is still placed on hand labor-with both men and women providing that labor- anything that multiplies the effect of effort, such as the internal combustion engine, is an object of wonderment.
Some fields are still being tilled by oxen pulling wooden plows. In farm communes, we saw scores of men and women in the fields, with only the most rudimentary tools for working the earth. In some areas, we saw no tractors or even animals such as horses or mules. Yet agriculture proceeds, and millions of tons of crops are produced each year.
There seem to be four types of tractors. The oldest seems to be hand-operated, with a seat and handlebars, which can be attached to a cart or wagon or a simple farm implement. It has a small engine mounted behind the handlebars.
Newer than this is a walking tractor, which is now 'selling like hot cakes' to farm workers who are able to earn some money for themselves. It has a pushing handle at the rear, with an engine mounted forward.
Larger than this is a tractor which is similar to an American riding mower or garden tractor. It is often used for freight-hauling but has some farm applications.
The largest size has a closed body. It is like a small version of a jeep, and just as useful. This is often seen on the highways, pulling loads, but is also operated independently, like a small car.
In addition to these, there is the mainland China version of the 'iron horse', which is a combination of an engine and a carrier. The 'iron horse' looks in some cases as though the engine originally had nothing to do with transport or pulling power, but was mounted on wheels with handlebar guides. Usually there are four or five spotlights, which would make it handy for night work. It can pull heavy loads. We saw one at Shanghai with a trailer containing a large tree with a root ball, being transplanted. A windlass was used, with three long pipe rails, to set the tree in a pre-dug hole. It was a very ponderous and primitive operation.
Diesels are used also on the hundreds of small boats which ply the canals such as those at Suchow, or the Grand Canal which is 60 feet wide. Some of these engines are so ancient that you wonder how they can still operate-but they keep chug-chug-chugging along. The ones we saw were all inboard.
On the farm front, we saw an interesting article in a government newspaper, China Daily, published at Beijing (Peking).
It started this way: 'China has beefed up invention, renovation and production of small and medium-sized farm machinery in an effort to keep pace with the increasing demands of its prosperous rural areas.'
It said production of small tractors in 1982 totaled 274,000, an increase of over 30 percent above 1981.
China Daily said the country has 2,282 farm machinery-building enterprises, employing 1.1 million, capable of producing 2,000 models of 260 kinds of farm machinery.
Improvement and invention are being spurred. Research is to be conducted on eight new models of diesel engines, looking toward 1985. Aim is to cut oil consumption by 3 to 5 per cent, and to prolong life from 1,000-3,000 hours to 4,000-6,000 hours.
Some we saw looked as though they had been nurtured far beyond their life expectancy. It can be said that China has no hobby of collecting and restoring antique gas engines, because they are all in active daily use. When those engines do 'die', they are really dead.
China is still very much a communist country, but its leaders are taking lessons from capitalism. After their assigned tasks have been completed, and their state or commune goals have been met, the people are allowed to work on their own, and earn money which they can keep and spend as they wish.