By John Zhuang
Huang Hexin, carrying a 10-pound fruit basket and a pile of guidebooks on Communist Party policy and national politics, climbed nine floors and knocked on Zhong Jingbing’s door.
Huang is the head of the Veteran Cadre’s Department of the Liwan District in Guangzhou. She is paying routine visits to the veterans in her area before July 1, known as Army Day in China.
Zhong Jingbing, a veteran born in Malaysia in 1925, is one of Huang’s visits this day. Zhong fought for the Communist Party in 1943 to 1949 as a military correspondent, before the country was founded.
A policy enacted by the central government in 1982 stated that the old cadre’s retirement system should be established to replace the life-tenure system of an official. In the policy, veterans who fought before the country was founded, are categorized as veteran cadres and enjoy a better policy than those worked after the country was born. Zhong is one of the veteran cadres.
Zhong lives with her adopted daughter, Chen Qiao, in an old building in Zhongmen street in Liwan. During Huang’s visit, Zhong kept expressing gratitude for the visit and the “good policy of the government and the party.”
During the chat, Chen mentioned that Zhong suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution. “They hung a banner that said ‘Overthrow Zhong Jingbing’ in a building,” Chen said.
Zhong later told her to stop, “I’ve been through a lot, but it’s time to let it go. The country treats me well after the reform in the 1980s,” she said.
According to Huang, the other part of the department’s job besides paying visits is to maintain the Aged Cadres College in her area. The college is a nine-story building located in Saiba Street. The college holds 10 classes for retired who only need an identity card to sign up and attend. The courses in the college include Chinese dancing, calligraphy and English.
The instructors drop by to conduct classes once a week. During the rest of the week, the elders will visit the center at random times to practice in their interest.
The major group using the college is the retired cadres. These are the people who work for the government after the country was founded in 1949. The retired cadres mean specifically the people who ranked as “section director” or “chu ji” in Chinese administrative system and above.
Li Ming, 72, is the elected monitor of the calligraphy class. Li comes to practice almost every day. According to him, most of the classmates started without any knowledge of calligraphy.
“Almost everyone starts learning after their retirement,” Li said. “Now they have all achieved a certain level and form their own character in calligraphy and Chinese painting.”
Besides regular courses, the college also holds conferences for the elders. “The dance classroom can be connected with the next room and together make space for up to 200 people to have a conference in,” Huang explained.
Sun Youwei is another director of Liwan Veteran Cadres Department. He is in charge of taking care of the Aged Cadres College affairs. According to Sun, most of the veterans are too old to get out of their houses and travel through the city.
Although the retired cadres are relatively younger than the veteran cadres, they still need protection and care.
Veterans and retired cadres are two major group that the Veteran Cadres Department takes care of. This business is one major part of the Communist Party’s organizational work. For this reason, Huang holds the concurrent post of deputy minister of the Communist Party’s Organizational Department in the Liwan District.
Since 1982, the work and structure of the Veteran Cadre Department have been changing. As time goes by, the number of the veterans is decreasing. In the 1990s, there were more than 400 veterans who lived in the district. Now the number has decreased to 100.
In the Liwan District, there are more than 1,000 retired cadres who the department supervises.
Instead of considering themselves in an aging business, Huang and Sun both showed faith in their job. “I’ve learned so much from the elders I look after,” Sun said.
Huang sees herself as a pioneer in social welfare. “At this point, the country is not strong enough to provide sufficient welfare for everyone, so it has to start with a small group that contributed to the country the most,” she said. “We are more like a pilot project than a special welfare department.”
Nowadays, the government has set up many centers that provide social and community services in major cities. The Veteran Cadre Department is often asked to communicate with these centers to provide experience for their work and service.
Besides the Aged Cadres College, the elders are often organized as “the China National Committee for The Wellbeing of Youth” to provide service for the poor and less educated children in the community.
“Make the veterans and the retired cadres aged and learning, aged and happy, aged and contributing,” Sun said.