Briemburg visits China and discovers a radically new society

By Ulli Diemer

Canadians should be critical in their attitude toward China, but at the same time they should realize that they have much to learn from China’s efforts to build a new society. Mordecai Briemberg told U of T students last Thursday.

Briemberg was chairman of the Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology Department at Simon Fraser University when it was smashed by the university administration in 1969 because of the department’s democratic structures and radical approach to social science. Recently returned from a trip through China, Briemberg was giving his impressions to a meeting sponsored by the radical Old Mole group.

One impressive aspect of post-revolutionary life, according to Briemberg, was the practice of medicine. The phenomenon of acupuncture operations, which have been receiving considerable publicity in the media recently, are part of a radically different approach to doctor-patient relationships, said Briemberg.

Thus, he said, doctors discussed their diagnosis and proposed treatment of illnesses fully with patients, and try to get and keep them involved as much as possible in the process of cure. Patients are not knocked out with anaesthetic, but wherever feasible are kept awake during the operations with only local acupuncture needles inserted to prevent pain.

Despite a six day work week and an abundance of hard physical labour, said Briemberg, Chinese workers still appear at work an hour early in order to participate in political discussion groups, and do voluntary labour on digging anti-air raid tunnels after work.

Work teams vie with each other in order to surpass each other in production and seek whenever possible to introduce innovations in the work process that will increase productivity.

Sexual attitudes and morals, said Briemberg, have been greatly transformed. The practice of sexuality falls largely within western stereotypes of Puritanism, with emphasis on abstinence from pre-marital sex, late marriage, and life-long monogamy. At the same time, there is little embarassment about the body or its functions.

School still largely follow authoritarian patterns, with pupils sitting in rows, following a standard curriculum, and receiving military training as early as first grade. But, added Briemberg, there did not seem to be any intimidation associated with the classroom situation, and pupils were free to criticize teachers.

Women, he said, had come a long way from their servile position in pre-Revolutionary society, but, while China has gone a long way to eliminate sex roles, nevertheless these do still exist in may areas.

Universities, according to Briemberg, present a special problem because the Chinese have as yet been unable to develop effective ways of ensuring that universities serve the interests of society rather than becoming elite institutions perpetuating social divisions.

Published in The Varsity, c. 1972

Keywords: China