Living Revolution | Medicine and Public Health

A Set of False Teeth

- Article and photographs by Kuo Chi-hsin

- China Pictorial April 1966, p.28

It was August 18, 1965, two days before the Congress of the Poor and Lower Middle Peasants of Liaoning Province was due to open. The delegates were arriving at Shenyang, the provincial capital.

Those from Lushun-Talien came in the afternoon. On entering the gate of the hotel, they saw a bookstall set up by the Hsinhua Bookstore. Among the rows of books were the Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung and Selected Readings from Mao Tse-tung's Works. They queued up. An old man over 60, putting on his glasses, pointed and whispered to the sales girl, "Could I have some of those?" He bought 16 copies and turned to leave with a smile. The girl asked the person with him who he was.

"That's Wang Chin-tsuo, a model labourer of this province. He's from the Chaoyang Production Brigade, Fuhsien County. He may be old, but he's got lots of new ideas!" He went on to tell her more.

Wang Chin-tsuo was the brigade's manurecollector. He took his baskets with him wherever he went. On his way to a meeting in the county town or the provincial capital, he collected dung along the road, stopped in the yard of the commune administration and left his baskets there. He picked them up again on his way home.

A manure-collector generally dumps his baskets on a field worked by his own production team. The tally keeper notes down the amount and quality in terms of work-points. At the end of the year payment is received according to the number of work-points. This is the principle adopted in the people's communes-to each according to his work.

But Wang Chin-tsuo did things differently. When his baskets were full he emptied them on some field along the way. It did not occur to him to consider whether it belonged to his team or not. Once someone said to him, "Uncle Wang, this is our field. Don't you mind giving up your work-points?"

Smiling, he replied, "Work-points? Our country is now one big family. It doesn't matter which team raises production, it's just the same in the end!"

He was often heard saying, "Collecting manure is revolutionary too. When making revolution, we must do it as Chairman Mao says -'completely' and 'entirely'. That's what I intend to do wherever I go."

The salesgirl listened with interest as more and more people crowded around.

At eight o'clock the following morning, Wang Chin-tsuo turned up again and bought a dozen more pamphlets containing articles by Chairman Mao. The girl inquired, "Surely you're not buying all these for yourself?"

"No, they're for the young people in our team. If they want to make progress, this is what they have to study."

"But are you going to spend all your money on books?"

"Well, I meant to fix me a set of false teeth with it, but there's no hurry. I want to get these books for our young people." And off he went as soon as he had paid, although the salesgirl would have liked to ask him more about himself.

Uncle Wang had spent 24 years of his life working for landlords. One day when he was off guard he got kicked in the jaw by the landlord's mule and some of his teeth were knocked out. He did forced labour for two years under the Japanese aggressors. They beat him up and he lost several more teeth.

His life had been miserable in the old society, and he loved the new with all his heart. He had received little education, but he tried to read the newspaper every day. "It helps me to learn from those who have worked well," was the way he put it.

After he became a member of the Chinese Communist Party in 1962, he started to study Chairman Mao's works in earnest. If he found something too difficult to understand, he went to the Party secretary for help. "When I read, it seems as if Chairman Mao is speaking to me. Everything he says is true, and sounds so familiar. I intend to do as he says."

Under the direction of the Party branch, he organized young people to study Chairman Mao's works such as Serve the People, The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains and other articles. After that, the struggle against nature found them full of drive, whether it was in controlling rivers, turning the mountains green or building good fields in barren gullies. Their interest in studying grew. There were too few copies to go around and Wang Chin-tsuo had been planning to buy more. Since a conscious desire to study had arisen throughout the country, the printing machines were unable to keep up with the demand. The Hsinhua Bookstore had set up a stall at the hotel so that it would be convenient for the delegates to obtain Chairman Mao's works.

A few days passed. One of the girls from the bookstall handed a letter to the secretariat of the meeting. Enclosed were 30 yuan in cash. The letter read, "The fine conduct of Wang Chin-tsuo, who was once a poor peasant, has made a deep impression on me. I haven't slept well for several nights. Please give him this 30 yuan so that he can have some false teeth made while he is here, Better health will enable him to do more work for the Party."

It was not signed. Who had written it? The girl said it had been delivered by a young man who had put it down and cycled away.

Was it from a worker in Shenyang? Comrades in the secretariat pondered... the workers in the city were not likely to know the old man. All those who could possibly know him included the delegates, the hotel attendants and the personnel of the bookstall. Investigating, they began to suspect that it had been written by the one who had delivered it -a salesgirl by the name of Chen Ping. She flatly denied it however. Working with her at the bookstall was the responsible comrade of the Party organization of the Hsinhua Bookstore. They had a talk and she came out with the truth.

The examplary deeds and progressive ideology of Wang Chin-tsuo had moved her. She thought to herself: Uncle Wang is a good leader of the rural youth. He's healthy and full of go. The only thing is, he has only a few teeth left. If he had a set of false teeth, his digestion would be better, his health would improve and he would live longer. She made up her mind. As a Party member she must help him. Sensing that Uncle Wang would refuse her money, she wrote an anonymous letter.

Uncle Wang was anxious to learn who the sender was. When he saw Chen Ping, he said, "Thank you ever so much! I'll tell the young people back home to learn from you. But I can't take your money. Four of my family work, and we're quite well off. I can have some teeth made next time I come." He was stirred by her kindness.

Chen Ping tried to persuade him but Uncle Wang succeeded at last in giving the money back to her. Later, she used it to buy copies of Selected Readings from Mao Tse-tung's Works and sent them to the young people in Wang's brigade.

This seemed the end of it.

In the evening of August 31, someone from the Institute of Dental Hygiene called up the secretariat. He and his colleagues wanted to make a set of false teeth for Uncle Wang. What had happened? A dentist at the institute saw an article in the Shenyang Evening News about Chen Ping's selfless spirit and read, it to his comrades. Yi Chun-hua, Head of the Orthopedic Department, asked, "What can we do for the old man?"

"Make him a set of teeth," was the general response. "We mustn't let him leave without them!" someone exclaimed, remembering that the congress would be over in a few days. Some were putting their kits in order and leaving for the hotel to give Uncle Wang a check-up. Technician Ting Tsin-hsi asked Yi Chun-hua in all earnestness to entrust him with the task of making the teeth. The leading comrade of the institute instructed them to do what they could to guarantee quality and to finish the job ahead of time. Some of them went to fetch Uncle Wang while others stayed to prepare.

As a rule, a patient having teeth made is required to visit the dentist several times to try them. Since Uncle Wang was leaving soon, they had to break from their usual practice and finish the work in one process. They first took the mould of Wang's jaws and then extracted his three remaining teeth. It was already 9 P.M. when they saw him out. Yi Chun-hua, Ting Tsin-hsi and two other comrades set to work. They did their best to make the teeth a perfect fit. Since the rest had nothing to do they reluctantly went home.

The four of them worked all through the night.

That morning before breakfast, Uncle Wang was handed a set of false teeth. The comrades of the institute had already paid for them. But he insisted on paying and finally they agreed to charge him for the materials only. Uncle Wang borrowed the money from a fellow delegate.

The new teeth fit him perfectly. Now he has no difficulty at meals and speaks clearly.

When the meetings were over, he started for home with his comrades. In the yard of the commune administration, he picked up his baskets and collected droppings along the way as usual.. Only this time he looked younger and happier.


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