One of China’s first “model workers”, Huang Baomei, witnessed and contributed to the nation’s rapid development throughout his life.
Huang was recruited as a textile worker at the age of 13. She then became a pioneer in the textile industry in Shanghai and China.
Chairman Mao Zedong asked him to take responsibility for Chinese clothing issues. She made it the mission of her life.
The 90-year-old Shanghai native recently received the “July 1 Medal” from President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Huang Baomei talks to young people from a local community.
“I never dreamed of winning such a great honor because I am just an ordinary worker who did what I had to do,” Huang said.
“This represents the recognition of the Party and the people, so I must better serve the motherland and the people.”
Huang was born into a poor family in Pudong in 1931. Her father sold tofu to make ends meet. To ease the burden on her family, she worked for a Japanese textile factory on Yangshupu Road in Yangpu District as a child laborer at the age of 13.
Huang still remembers the inhumane treatment at the factory. They had to get up at 4 a.m. and work 12 hours continuously in unventilated workshops. The meals she brought home often got sour. The monitors beat her violently. She also had to undergo body searches before entering or leaving the factory.
“This is the reason why I worked so hard after the liberation of the country in 1949,” Huang said. “We, the working class, have finally risen to become the masters of our own.”
Huang is all smiles, holding a thread in his hand, after the country’s liberation.
Huang’s talent and effort made it exceptional when the Japanese factory was taken over and became the No. 17 General Cotton Mill in Shanghai.
It has optimized the work process and doubled the efficiency to single-handedly run 800 spindles simultaneously. Due to her performance and innovations, she became a member of the Chinese Communist Party in November 1952 and heads other spinners in the factory.
Huang was selected in 1953 as China’s first generation of “model workers” from the city’s more than 300,000 spinners.
“The president said ‘being a spinner is a great honor. It is a great responsibility to let the Chinese have clothes,’” Huang recalled. She added that the president’s encouragement had pushed her to continue to work hard and innovate.
Inspired by Huang, the spinners at the local factory produced nearly half of the country’s cotton fabric in the 1950s, a manufacturing miracle at the time.
Huang was the inspiration for a movie by famous Chinese director Xie Jin in 1958. The movie “Huang Baomei” which starred Huang herself became popular all over the country.
An actor’s line “our spinners are the real fairies who weave clothes for us” was known to almost every citizen at that time.
Xie Jin’s film “Huang Baomei” stars Huang herself in 1958.
Huang rose to fame due to the popularity of the film at the age of 26. She refused to become a movie star and insisted on returning to the spinners workshop. She declined to be named a business leader.
“I still remember the president’s order,” Huang said. “Spinning is my specialty and my career in life.”
She worked as a spinner at the factory for 42 years until her retirement in 1987. She won the honorary title of “Model Worker” seven times and was invited to three international meetings on behalf of the Chinese working class.
When she traveled to Vienna to attend the World Youth Federation meeting in 1958, many Europeans greeted Huang and shouted “Long live the Chinese people,” Huang recalls.
“I felt a deep pride in my homeland and I was determined to contribute for life,” she said.
Huang worked as a spinner at the factory for 42 years.
After his retirement, Huang was invited to Qidong in neighboring Jiangsu province and to Shihezi in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to direct the construction of textile factories.
Huang offered professional suggestions and advice for factory design, recruitment and purchase of equipment without payment.
“It is my duty to help them and follow Chairman Mao’s orders to make sure every Chinese person has clothes,” Huang said.
After returning to Shanghai, Huang set up a company to help retired model workers with poor living conditions. She is also actively involved in community volunteering.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she brought her sons and grandchildren to donate and serve as community volunteers. She also received the vaccination among the first batch of local elderly.
To further inspire the younger generation, Huang often gives speeches in schools and local communities. She has also lectured live on the popular Bilibili video streaming platform nowadays.
Over one million young people have listened to more than 10,000 online and offline lectures given by Huang in the past two decades.
“Happiness is never in receiving but in giving,” Huang told the young audience at one of his latest online talks on Bilibili, which drew more than 10,000 viewers online.
In her spare time, Huang often visits the former textile factory site where she worked and lived for more than four decades. It has been converted into the Shanghai International Fashion Center along the Huangpu River.
“I am proud to witness the big changes to the Yangpu waterfront,” she said. “The riparian region contributed significantly to the country’s economy. It has now become a popular public space for the population.
During a visit to the Yangpu waterfront in November 2019, President Xi met and spoke with Huang about the riverfront area. Xi said Huang is the “witness, participant and contributor” to China’s development.
“I will continue to share stories and contribute to society as long as I can walk,” Huang said.
Huang studied hard to graduate from college in 1960.