Accidental movie star gets July 1 Medal for her life at the loom

(China Daily) 14:49, July 15, 2021

In the 1950s, when the textile industry in Shanghai was a pillar of the Chinese economy, a movie about textile workers became a big hit across the nation.

Titled Huang Baomei, the film was named after a textile worker and was adapted from her life story. It even starred the Shanghai woman herself.

Huang Baomei arrives at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, June 29, 2021. The awarding ceremony of the July 1 Medal was held on Tuesday morning at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

Last month, the real Huang Baomei was one of 29 people awarded the July 1 Medal, the highest honor a Communist Party of China member can receive.

The 90-year-old said being part of the movie was one of the most exciting moments of her life. "I was so nervous during filming that the scene of me walking from the door to the window had to be shot eight times."

Despite her nerves, the film was finished and was well-received. Soong Ching Ling, then one of the central government's vice-chairs, watched it when she visited Huang's factory in 1958.

"Some people said that I should become an actress after the movie was released," Huang said. "But I decided not to, as I believed my career was in the textile workshops, without which I would be nothing."

Speaking of the medal she received in June, Huang said she is happy but humble, and does not believe she has done anything out of the ordinary.

"The award honors all Shanghai Party members," she said. "I'll learn the stories of the other awardees, continue to serve the people, help those in need, and encourage the young generation to study and work harder."

Born in a village in what is today's Pudong New Area, Huang began to make salt from river water at the age of 12 to earn money for her family.

"Life was tough before the liberation of the country," she said. "It was a challenge to put enough food on the table."

When she was 13, she began working at a textile factory run by the Japanese. "We worked at least 12 hours a day and had to endure a body search whenever we entered or left the factory," Huang said.

The situation changed on May 27,1949, when Shanghai was liberated. The factory she worked at was later renamed the Shanghai No 17 National Cotton Factory, and came under local government ownership.

(Screenshot from Mango TV)

"We selected the factory head ourselves," Huang said. "We workers truly became the masters of our factory and seized control of our destiny. My gratitude to the country grew into a devotion to make more clothes."

In 1953, the then 22-year-old was recognized by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions as one of the country's first batch of Model Workers due to her record of simultaneously overseeing 1,000 spindles.

After seven days on a train to Beijing, Huang met chairman Mao Zedong at the award ceremony. In 1955, they met again when Mao visited Shanghai. "I remember him smiling and saying, 'textile workers are respectable and have the responsibility of clothing the people'," she said.

Motivated by his words, Huang went on to improve weaving operations at her factory, which ultimately led to a one-third reduction in labor costs. She also took time to impart her skills to apprentices.

After starring in the film, Huang went on to win model worker awards at the municipal and national level seven times.

(Screenshot from Mango TV)

Although she retired in 1987, she still contributes to the development of the textile industry by assisting spinning mills in Qidong, Jiangsu province, and in Shihezi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in matters such as equipment purchasing, worker selection and training. She has also volunteered as a docent at revolutionary sites in Shanghai.

"Life is much better than ever before, but history should not be forgotten," said Huang, who now lives with her son and his family.

"We cannot take happiness for granted. Hard work and dedication are always at the heart of efforts to make the country stronger."

(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Liang Jun)


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