Mao Zedong on the iron industry in Xunwu County, Jiangxi, 1930

‘Seek truth in facts’ has been an important rule throughout the Chinese Communist Party’s history, and numerous investigations of local conditions were undertaken by activists in various places in the party’s early years. Mao Zedong’s report on an investigation of Xunwu County in 1930 has been published (in 1982) because it was written by him, long before he became a leading figure in the party; undoubtedly many other reports, equally valuable for historians, lie unread in the archives. The Chinese text of the report is 141 pages long and gives a detailed description of social and economic conditions in the county and its most important city, also called Xunwu. The part translated here is Section 17 of Chapter 3, ‘Trade’. For the places mentioned see the map.

17. Iron production

There are three blacksmiths’ shops in Xunwu, with Master Ye, Master Yang, and Master Li. Master Yang is from Anyuan, Ye and Li from Yudu. Each shop has a capital of about 50 yuan. They produce a great variety of implements for use in agriculture, crafts, and cooking, including . . . [The original lists 26 implement types, difficult to translate], sabres, swords, pocket knives, nails, door hinges, and barrel hoops. With the exception of the three types of weapon the products are ordinary articles of everyday use which are sold in Xunwu City and the vicinity. Both the products and the way they are made are traditional.

Iron is smelted in six places . . . [the places are listed]. In each place there are furnaces for iron smelting and for the casting of woks, ploughshares, and mouldboards. It is not only in Xunwu that the iron is sold; most is sold in Huizhou and Shilong [both in Guangdong, about 250 km away and connected to Xunwu by the Dongjiang River], and some in Menling [in Jiangxi, 30 km away]. About half of the woks are sold in Huichang and Ganzhou [in Jiangxi, 50–100 km away], and a small proportion in Chaoan and Shantou [in Guangdong, ca. 200 km away]. Ploughshares and mouldboards are only sold locally.

Each furnace requires the following labour force:

  • 20 charcoal bearers. Charcoal is used in both smelting and casting.
  • 15 colliers, who produce charcoal from wood. Each charcoal kiln requires 3 workers, and 5 kilns serve each furnace.
  • Ironsand bearers. Ironsand comes from erosion in the mountains; peasants [sluice it and] carry it to the ironworks. These workers are difficult to count.
  • Workers at the ironworks itself: furnace tenders, 10; finers, converting cast iron to wrought iron, 12; founders, casting woks, 12; stoker, 1; manager and his assistants, 3.

An ironworks employs in all about 200 workers.

A furnace for iron smelting alone requires an investment of about 1000 yuan; a furnace for casting woks another 1000 yuan. Thus an ironworks for both smelting and casting requires an investment of 2000 yuan. The greatest expenditures are for ironsand and charcoal, but there are also board and wages for the workers.

Some ironworks are owned by individuals, others by partnerships. The furnace master is paid 1.20 yuan per day, while workers are paid 0.30 yuan and board. The manager is paid 70 yuan per year. The workers are paid daily, the manager annually. The works also pays for religious sacrifices, bonuses, and transportation for the workers.

The furnace master has high status; if he is not treated well he can sabotage the works and ruin the firm. A furnace master can earn as much as 500 yuan in a year. An ironworks can produce iron for 4000 yuan per year; thus the six ironworks in the county can produce for 24,000 yuan per year.

Before the Republic [1912] either no foreign iron or very little came to the county, and wages were also lower. Iron production was much greater than now, and an ironworks could produce for over 20,000 yuan  per year. Under the Qing dynasty [before 1912] there were only two ironworks in Xunwu, producing for a total of 40,000 yuan per year. Today the number of ironworks has increased, but total production has fallen; the reason for this is that workers’ wages are higher (because the price of foreign industrially-produced goods is high), and there is competition from foreign iron.

Of the three blacksmiths’ shops in Xunwu city, two of the masters are from Yudu and one from Anyuan. The itinerant smiths in rural areas are all from Yudu. In Yudu there are numerous ironworkers. There are 3800–3900 ironworks; the large blast furnaces are operated by 4 men, the dwarf furnaces by 3, so that there are about 13,000 ironworkers. [A little algebra shows that these figures imply 1300 large blast furnaces and 2600 dwarf furnaces.] Men from Yudu work as smiths not only in Jiangxi but also in Guangdong and Fujian, and a few in Southeast Asia.

Translated from Mao Zedong nongcun diaocha wenji, Beijing 1982, pp. 89–91. There is an English translation by Roger Thompson, Mao Zedong, Report from Xunwu, Stanford 1990, pp. 105–107, but the translator did not understand the metallurgical terminology in the text.]