Strange visit sparked Chinese fascination

Tom Cartwright was quite impressed with his accommodation.

Retired seaman Tom Cartwright from Hednesford, with the propaganda he was given during a visit to China in 1971
Retired seaman Tom Cartwright from Hednesford, with the propaganda he was given during a visit to China in 1971

On duty with the Merchant Navy in Shanghai in 1971, he had been put up in the luxury Peace Hotel in the British quarter of the city. And he describes it as pretty much the same as what one would expect to find in an upmarket hotel in the UK.

“There were Otis lifts, Armitage Shanks toilets, it was all made here,” he says. “There was a beautiful, big solid four-poster bed, and wood-panelled floors.” And the full-English breakfast the next morning made sure everyone felt at home.

But there was a little bit of extra room service which had a slightly sinister tone.

As he returned one evening, he saw that the domestic staff had been. The room had been cleaned, the bed neatly made up, and they had left him a bit of reading material under his pillow.

Wish you were here? A postcard from China

But this wasn’t your usual tourist bumf, or a guide to the hotel’s facilities.

One leaflet urged: “People of the world, unite against the US aggressors and all their running dogs.”

“Freely expand the anti-Japan forces and resist the onslaught of the anti-communist die-hards” implored another.

“I came back in the evening, and I had got loads of propaganda under my pillow,” he recalls.

“That happened every day for about two weeks.”

Tom, now 81 and living in Hednesford, near Cannock, had been fascinated with the goings on in China ever since he took a ride in a taxi while serving in Singapore in 1961. “The taxi driver had got out of China after the revolution,” Tom recalls. “He said: ‘Remember this, China will take over the world’.”

Tom's Little Red Book and Chairman Mao lapel badge

Tom didn’t need to be asked twice when 10 years later volunteers were being sought to take an old ship from South Africa to Shanghai for scrap.

It did mean he had to turn down a lucrative job in South Africa, but remembering the words of that taxi driver, he was keen to learn more about life under this distant and mysterious regime.

“It was also a time when there were people at home saying maybe we should become communist,” he says. “I wanted to find out what it was really like.”

He quickly realised that life was very different to in the West, and one of the first things he noticed was the obsession with security.

“We weren’t allowed to take cameras or even a radio,” he says, adding that on arrival he was handed a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s infamous ‘Little Red Book’.

“As soon as we got off the boat in Shanghai, about 100 Chinese people came down to meet us, pinning Chairman Mao badges on each one of us.”

Tom Cartwright was fed Communist propaganda throughout his visit to Shanghai

One night, some of the crew went for a night out at the Friendly Club, about a quarter of a mile down the road. As the beers flowed, and the laughter boomed, they indulged in a good old-fashioned British sing-song.

This did not go down well with their hosts.

“The Swedes were with us as well,” he says. “We were singing rugby songs, it would have been Rule Britannia and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and stuff like that.

“But when we went back the next night, signs had been put up saying ‘no imperial songs’.”

Despite this hiccup, Tom says the visitors were treated with the utmost courtesy, and given the full VIP treatment during their stay in the city. Sightseeing trips were laid on for them, with visits to the zoo, a museum, and even a memorable night at the opera.

“It was all great,” says Tom. “They took us to this opera where the four front rows had been kept empty for us.

“It was great, people would have had to pay a lot of money to see that show.

Tom Cartwright was taken to the opera during his stay in Shanghai

“It was called The White Haired Girl, and it was actually brilliant, but it was all propaganda. All countries have a certain amount of propaganda, but here it was everywhere.”

It all proved too much for the captain of the ship, who died on the flight home.

“We returned home on a British Airways Trident, we were not far out when the steward started panicking,” he says.

“I asked what was wrong, and somebody said ‘the skipper’s had a heart attack and died on the plane’.”

Tom is in no doubt that it was the pressure of their oriental adventure which caused his death.

“The stress killed him, he was a fit man. He had three kids,” he says.

“I knew him well, he was a great captain.”

Tom Cartwright was fed Communist propaganda throughout his visit to Shanghai

Almost 60 years since his conversation with the cabbie in Singapore, Tom believes China is well on its way to world domination.

“It’s been going on for years,” he says.

“The more you read about it, the more you can see it.

“You only have to look at the way they are buying up companies everywhere

“Now that the rest of the world depends on Chinese technology, it can more or less do what it likes.”

Tom also has his suspicions about the Chinese Communist Party’s role in the coronavirus outbreak.

Like Donald Trump, he believes it may have its origins in a Chinese laboratory. He points out how it has weakened the rest of the world, while China, the nation where the virus originated, has suffered relatively little.

Tom Cartwright, pictured second left, in 1963

“I’m now convinced the Chinese have targeted the US, the UK and other European countries,” he says.

“In Africa, you would expect it to spread like wildfire, but it’s hardly been affected.”

Noting the Communist regime’s fondness for for fixed-term plans and targets, he observes that the pandemic has been nicely timed to fall just before the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party next year.

Doesn’t this seem a bit odd, given that it has killed a lot of Chinese people as well?

“The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t think twice about sacrificing a few of its own people,” he says. He believed the Chinese may even have already produced their own vaccine, which of course would give them even more power in the world.

While belief in such theories probably represents a minority of opinion, he is certainly not alone.

Tom Cartwright was fed Communist propaganda throughout his visit to Shanghai

As well as Mr Trump, who claims to have seen “clear evidence” the virus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Technology, the former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove believes the virus could be man-made, although he rejects suggestions that it has been developed for malevolent purposes.

Even the prime minister of Australia Scott Morrison has called for an inquiry into the origin of the virus.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock insists their is no evidence that the virus was created in a laboratory. The World Health Organisation and the Five Eyes intelligence network have dismissed such theories, and leading scientific researchers have suggested it is unlikely coronavirus was created in a lab.

Nevertheless, Tom is still suspicious of the motives of high-ranking Chinese officials.

“The Chinese government is not answerable to anybody, unlike in the free world,” he says.

“How many films have there been where some evil power has a chemical virus to control the rest of the world?”

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