THE UNIVERSITY spreads across the top of a high hill where part of Kunming’s ancient city wall once stood. The campus is enclosed by red mud-brick walls, the color of Yunnan’s soil. How the Chinese love walls! Every entrance is guarded by a gatehouse with its aged gatekeeper, straight out of a Chinese fairy tale.
Although handsomely laid out with some fine buildings, the campus looked seedy and run down when we first saw it. Around our own Foreign Languages Department old peeling buildings were falling down next to gaping holes where foundations were being dug by hand for new ones.
“The place looks as if it’s been bombed!” remarked Paddy.
“No—just 13 years of total neglect,” explained one of our new colleagues.
When I look around today and see the new buildings, fresh paint, paved paths, and sturdy young trees, I can hardly believe that so much regeneration has taken place in less than two years.
In 1966 China’s Cultural Revolution turned young people radically against education, authority, and tradition. High-school students became activist Red Guards and stopped studying. All Chinese universities were forced to close down while students and teachers alike were set to doing manual labor for their “reeducation.”
Four or five years later the universities reopened. But only factory workers, peasants, or soldiers, who had been recommended by their leaders, had the right to attend (although some of the leaders managed to slip their own children in). The standards were low, the students stayed for only three years, and the curriculum was heavily weighted with politics and manual labor.
In 1976, when Chairman Mao Zedong died, the notorious Gang of Four, which had seized the reins of power during his old age, was overthrown. China’s schools, colleges, and universities began to return to real education amid the wreckage.
SINCE THE COUP that brought the Rene government to power, the Seychelles have felt other influences. A sign hails the construction of “19 flats for the Embassy of the U. S. S. R. in the Seychelles.” Soviet soccer instructors coach Seychelle youngsters, who are encouraged to join the Young Pioneers, as in the Soviet Union.
A two-year National Youth Service (NYS) program at first brought protests and demonstrations by high-school students and parents. Now the program is under way with a camp on Mahe, where youngsters 15 to 18 are separated from their families in “a disciplined organization,” where they are taught “vigilance” and “the history of imperialism.” Without two years of NYS, few students can take entrance exams for foreign universities or get government jobs.
Granite is a solid and special fact of geology here. Nowhere else do geographers find mid-ocean islands of granite. According to tectonic theories, the Seychelles are a remnant of an ancient landmass dating from 600 million years ago. “You can think of the Seychelles as the world’s smallest continent,” Amoco geologist Jeff Pinch says with a laugh. “We even have a continental shelf.” Amoco has been drilling for oil on this shallow shelf, 100 miles west of Mahe.
I flew out one day aboard the company-chartered helicopter to the drill ship Diamond M. Dragon, working in 90 feet of water, using a collection of wise machines: satellite navigational devices that fix the well’s position within two yards of latitude and longitude . . . diamond drills . . . a 146-foot derrick . . . closed-circuit television to watch the coral-crusted bottom.
“Also very good food,” a locally hired Seychellois volunteered with a grin. “But no sousouri here.” Sousouri is a fruit bat, usually served in murky curry sauce.
Expenses mount up: The drilling operation costs more than $65,000 a day.
“I hope they find no oil,” a Victoria businessman told me quite seriously. “If the petroleum companies find oil, the government will not need money from your tracking station or from tourists. Then they could afford to be real Communists.”
Another entrepreneur reassured me somewhat about local customs. “We have no secrets here. Too small,” he said. “Only 65,000 people. Yes, I have a family: six children by three girl friends. Not married. All my girl friends work, and I send them money for the children.