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
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
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
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
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.