Xun Xiaohong, head of the Xun Xiaohong Team of Harbin Drainage Group (HDG) (in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province), is proud that she is a "child of the Communist Party of China (CPC)." Her parents are both Party members. With their support, Xun became a cleaner. She had chances to shift to other posts from the front-line work, but she chose to stay. When she reached the retirement age, in July 2020, she still chose to stay. No matter when a typhoon comes, or when the ground freezes in winter, Xun and her colleagues fulfill their duties — to clean and maintain the drain pipes — day and night in Harbin. Through their efforts, they contribute to the maintenance of the city's clean and beautiful environment.
How long would anyone be willing to stay in a confined space filled with dirty, smelly mud and garbage? Xun Xiaohong is familiar with such an environment. She has worked as a drain-pipe cleaner for 30 years. "I will do every job that is good for the Party, and the people. I will take the job as my own career, and as my ultimate mission," Xun says.
Xun grew up in her grandparents' home. Her grandparents are both retired soldiers who are loyal to the Party. The first Chinese characters Xun learned were not her name, but the characters for the slogan "serve the people wholeheartedly." Xun was told to be a useful person for the country, and for its citizens, at a young age. "I am proud that most members of my family are Party members. I believe that I am a child of the Party," Xun says.
In 1991, Xun decided to be a cleaner. Her mother asked her if she could do the hard cleaning work on the front line. Xun answered, "If others can do it, I can too!”
Xun's mother was a cleaner, when she was young, and she was honored as a model laborer several times. She told Xun, "The front-line post is often short of hand. If you work hard, you will do a good job. You should do the things that can benefit the country, and the people."
As she has kept her mother's words in mind, Xun has held firm to her post. In June 2004, she joined the Party. She took an admission oath, during which she vowed to be ready, at all times, to sacrifice all for the Party and the people.
Guardians of the City
"In 2005, our company established the women cleaners' team, which consisted of five other workers and me. The team now has more members. Our tasks include cleaning and maintaining drain pipes, repairing facilities and draining floods," Xun says. The job has become an inseparable part of her life. She has devoted herself to her work, and to the city.
"In Harbin, the lowest temperature in winter can be 32℃ below zero," Xun says. When Xun and her colleagues prepare to put on their work suits in winter, the pants often become very stiff. They have to keep their gloves warm in their pockets, and they have to put their gloves on before they enter the wells.
In summer, the workers have to bear the sultry air in the wells. They need to clean more than 140 wells, on average, every day in summer, and clean about six cubic meters of mud daily in winter. They also deal with emergent tasks, such as draining floods.
Because Harbin sits on the bank of the Songhuajiang River, Xun's team faces a tough challenge every flood season. In summer, the workers often sleep with their windows open. When they hear it begin to rain, they get up at once and check the rain. If the rain is heavy, they head out to drain away the water in flooded areas.
In August 2012, heavy rain, from a typhoon, caused serious flooding throughout parts of Harbin. To ensure the safety of both vehicles and passengers, Xun and her team worked in knee-high water — for 13 hours — until the flood receded.
On June 12, 2016, torrential rain and hail fell in Harbin. Xun's team arrived at a flood as quickly as they could. The hail caused leaves to fall from trees, and those leaves blocked the drains. People near the area had to wait in high-lying places.
Xun took the lead in walking through the cold water to open the drain covers. Her colleagues followed her. That day, 500 workers of HDG fought the floods in different parts of Harbin until midnight.
Standing on the street, with a drain cover between her legs, Xun became a road sign herself for vehicles passing by.
One passerby took a picture of Xun, in that position, and then posted the image on his social- media account. The picture went viral, making Xun an internet celebrity.
Marching Straight into Risks
The outbreak of COVID-19 in China occurred before Chinese New Year in 2020. On the 11th day of the first lunar month, the drain of a residential community in Harbin was clogged. Dirty water backed up and flowed along the ground, making it inconvenient for residents to enter and leave their community.
As there were some confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the area, it was uncertain if the water from the drain had been contaminated by the virus. Xun reported the situation to her superiors. Xun's team was sent to the community to unblock the drain.
Xun and her team members wore masks as they used the high-pressure water jet to unclog the drain, and then they cleaned the pipes in residents’ homes.
During the period when the epidemic was most serious in Harbin, Xun's team volunteered to clean the drains in the special quarantine area for medical workers. This ensured the area was a safe environment.
|Xun Xiaohong is at work.|
Team Leader, with Expertise
Although a worker does much physical work, he/she still should have good skills. Sometimes, the major drains in the city are covered or buried illegally, which makes them hard to locate. When a drain becomes blocked or broken, it requires the workers’ expertise and experience to locate and repair the issue.
Once, Xun's colleagues were unable to find a blockage. They wanted to dig a channel around the area. Xun stopped them. She checked the area, and she found the cover to the pipe. After she lifted the cover, her team discovered the pipe had become blocked by a piece of metal. All of the workers gave Xun applause.
During a period of flooding in 2015, it rained heavily and a drain became blocked. Xun's team tried many methods but failed to find the opening to the pipe. When Xun arrived, she pointed a high-pressure water jet at the place where she thought the opening was located. Then, she asked a teammate to slowly increase the water pressure. They eventually unclogged the pipe.
"A worker should accumulate experience, and keep on thinking of ways to improve his/her skills. Better techniques will help improve our efficiency, and reduce energy consumption, in work," Xun says.
During their busiest season, Xun and her team can repair as many as 70 facilities in a month.
|Xun Xiaohong and her team|
In recent years, HDG has developed and produced many types of useful equipment to help facilitate cleaners' work. To encourage employees to make innovations, the group holds a skills competition every year. Xun's team has won first prize for five consecutive years.
In September 2017, the group established a team, named after Xun. In July 2020, Xun reached the retirement age. Supported by HDG's leaders, she has continued to work as the head of the group's volunteers' team. The volunteers are all Party members. She also helps train newly recruited employees for the group.
Xun has received many awards for her outstanding performance. Those awards have included national outstanding Party member, national role model worker, and national March 8th Red-banner pacesetter. She was elected a delegate to the 19th CPC National Congress (held in 2017).
On October 1, 2019, Xun attended the grand celebration, in Beijing, to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. She was honored to have been invited to this big event.
Photos Supplied by Xun Xiaohong
(Women of China English Monthly March 2021 issue)
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