Letter: Rich pickings on the Peking line

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Sir: I took an international train from Peking to Moscow in June. To my astonishment it was terribly crowded. The carriages (both compartments and corridors) were totally congested with special bags (all the same colour and shape), which were stuffed with Chinese-made low-quality T-shirts, jackets and trainers.

Although I had a first-class ticket I had no space to take a rest for the whole journey. In fact, 80 per cent of the passengers were so-called 'goods-carriers'. They sold the goods mentioned above, which are considered fashionable by liberated Russian people, at every stop after the train had passed the border, the profit rate being over 100 per cent. Usually every 'goods-carrier' buys the equivalent of about pounds 5,000 worth of goods (about 14 bags) in Peking. The roubles gained along the way can then be changed back into about pounds 10,000 on the black market in Moscow.

Violence continuously broke out during the journey. The most serious event took place at Zima station. The train was assaulted by mobs there when it arrived. Windows were smashed by stones. Goods were stolen from the smashed windows. Several goods-carriers were bloodily wounded. The mob even tried to rush into carriages. I could not imagine what would have happened if they had succeeded.

The alienated demands of the Russian people for material goods make me sad. Mikhail Gorbachev used to stress that his political reform would be painful. The pain cannot be removed even after his epoch is over.

Faithfully yours,


London, N6

16 July