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‘Two innocents in Red China’

The Story

In 1960, China was virtually a closed society. Foreign visitors were rare, but somehow, five French-Canadians were invited to tour the country for 32 days. Among the group were a journalist, Jacques Hébert, and a labour lawyer, Pierre Trudeau. The pair would write a 1961 book, Deux innocents en Chine rouge, about their experiences there. On the CBC Radio program Matinee, Hébert describes the paternalistic treatment he and Trudeau received from the Chinese. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Matinee
Broadcast Date: Nov. 4, 1968
Guest(s): Jacques Hébert
Host: Marion McCormick
Duration: 7:36

Did You know?

• Pierre Trudeau first visited China in 1949 as part of a year-long world tour through Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India and China.
• Nationalist and Communist forces were battling at the time of his visit, and in his memoirs he described Shanghai as: "a bizarre flea market in which everyone, from the poorest to the richest, was trying to peddle his or her possessions for money to flee south or abroad."

• On Trudeau's return to China, in 1960, his delegation met both Chairman Mao and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai.
• "In China [Trudeau] would never think of asking for bacon or eggs. He would have the snake soup or whatever," Jacques Hébert later recalled.
Deux innocents en Chine rouge was translated into English in 1968. In 2005, the book was translated into Chinese and published in China. Hébert and Sacha Trudeau, Pierre's son, launched the book in Shanghai.

• Hébert and Trudeau visited China in the midst of the "Great Leap Forward," an initiative launched by Mao in 1958.
• The aim of the Great Leap Forward was to boost the economy of China with a program of rapid industrialization and by organizing the citizenry into self-sufficient communes. China's most plentiful resource, human labour, was mobilized to build dikes, create irrigation channels and smelt steel in backyard furnaces.

• The Great Leap Forward has been widely deemed an economic failure that was responsible for the deaths of as many as 30 million people. Poor weather in 1959 and 1960 led to crop failure and mass starvation due to unequal food distribution.
• The backyard steel furnaces also proved a waste of resources; the steel they produced was of very poor quality and next to useless.
• The campaign was abandoned in 1962.

Listen to an additional CBC Archives clip in which visitors to China describe the atmosphere of propaganda during the Great Leap Forward.


Revolution and Evolution in Modern China more