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Three Generations of Road Maintenance Workers


Yang Maosheng and his wife at the home of their next generation.

April 2005 was the charming spring season in China¡¯s hinterland, but the snowflakes still flew in the air along the section of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway in the northern plateau of Tibet.

Braving the frozen wind and snow we gathered material reports along this section, and respectfully listened to the stories of the road maintenance workers.

Yang Zhanfu,son of Ynag Maosheng,working at the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Yang Zhanfu, deputy head of the Yinshiping Road Section, said: ¡°In 1953, my father entered Tibet driving a camel. At that time, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway was just beginning to be built. After his return, he came to the Nachitai section of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway where I was born.¡±

People often say, ¡°The crow cries in the sky, and the dead camel is regarded as a road sign¡± to describe the circumstances of building the Qinghai-Tibet Highway in those years. Yang Maosheng, Yang Zhanfu¡¯s father, personally experienced such times.

One day of 1953, he left his hometown in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and set off with his camel carrying goods and materials to Tibet.

After the Qinghai-Tibet Highway was finished and open to traffic, Yang Maosheng remained in the Nachitai road maintenance team.

Yang Zhanfu recalled: ¡°What my father and his mates maintained was the sandy-soiled road, and they were walking on the road all the year round. Every road maintenance team maintained 10 km of road. However what our generation is maintaining is an asphalt road, and our workload and working conditions are much better than before. At that time, they had to open up the wasteland to plant Chinese cabbages and then preserve them in salt. In winter, they basically fed on the salted Chinese cabbage. Now, we have vehicles, and whatever vegetables we were short of, we can get by driving to the county town.¡±

Yang Zhanfu said that his father had not only worked long hours on the road but also had ground soya beans to make bean curd, and had processed the horse fodder. He had done whatever dirty and fatiguing work was needed.

Yang Maosheng nearly died three times.

Yang Maosheng of the first generation of road maintenance workers working at the Nachitai section of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway.

The first time was when carrying water for the road section, the driver of the vehicle started suddenly and Yang Maosheng was thrown off. Two ribs were broken, but he went back to work after two days rest at home.

The second time was while riding on horseback in the pasture on the opposite side of the river. A dog suddenly sprang up, frightening the horse and resulting in Yang Maosheng falling off and striking his head on a rock. The cut bled very much. He was found by the workers of road maintenance team nearby, and, in good time, carried to the Golmud Hospital where his life was just saved.

The third time was when unloading horse feed; while the others lifted one bag onto their shoulders, he lifted two. As a result he sprained his neck and fainted. Afterwards, although he was treated and recovered, he had a sequela from then on. But he made no fuss about these injuries suffered on the job until he died.

After his retirement at the age of over 60, Yang Maosheng continued to live in Tibet. However, his children insisted on sending him to a hospital in China¡¯s hinterland in October 2000 when he became seriously ill at the age of over 80. In November of that year, he passed away.

Road maintenance workers on the Qinghai-Tibet Highway.

Yang Zhanfu said that his father always asked these questions, like ¡°how was the road¡±, ¡°has the road been repaired¡±, during his time in hospital.

He said the reason, why he himself chose to be a road maintenance worker in Tibet was that it also was his father¡¯s wish.

In accordance with this, in 1978 Yang Zhanfu gave up the chance of working for the Qinghai Province Oil Company, and resolutely came to Tibet. He worked in the Nachitai road maintenance team at an altitude of over 4,000 meters.

Due to good work, two years afterwards he was sent to the Sichuan Provincial Communications School to study the technologies of road and bridge construction by the Nachitai road maintenance team. After graduation, he was assigned to work in the Yinshiping Road Section.

For health reasons, however, he was transferred back to Nachitai section, and there he experienced a life-threatening accident.

In 1996, while working on the Sancha River Bridge, he fell from a height of over 10 meters. His arms were broken and his waist was sprained. Because of work pressures, however, he insisted on resuming work without undergoing full treatment. Four years later, the arms and waist was very painful, and he went to the hospital for examination. His illness was diagnosed as ¡°the bone of arms putrescence, lumbar disturbing and sclerotic hyperplasia¡±. He couldn¡¯t do heavy work any longer.

¡°We try to maintain the road well by all means, and do our job well.¡±

It is well known that it is not easy to maintain the road and ensure it is clear of obstructions at an average altitude of over 4,000 meters, where ¡°there are four seasons in one day, and the weather is different in area of the 5 km¡± frequently.

In 2004 it snowed heavily. The accumulated snow on the surface of the road was nearly 20 cm deep. There was an 8 km-long of vehicles in the Amdo-Yinshiping road section. Yang Zhanfu and his colleagues braved the inclement weather for two days without break to assist the drivers and their feet were frostbitten seriously.

¡°Our feet were swelling with the freezing conditions, and we rubbed them with salt and soaked them in the salty water.

Mi Wensheng is Yang Zhanfu¡¯s nephew. As the third generation of road maintenance workers, now he has become the backbone of the work. Like his elders, the only reason, why he chose road maintenance, is his incomparable love for Tibet and deep emotion for the highway. Using modern machines like excavators and bulldozers, he maintains the asphalt road that connects Lhasa to his hometown, to the capital of Beijing, and to the hopes and dreams of his elders and himself.

¡°As the third generation of road maintenance workers, we feel that it is not easy to maintain the road well. Now, road maintenance also needs knowledge and technology. There is no shirking the responsibility for us to maintain the road well that our elders previously looked after.¡±

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