On the 10th and 20th of every month you can still find them posted outside the No. 1 Department Store on Nanjing Lu, repairing shoes and chairs for free and offering up complimentary haircuts. They’ve been doing it since 1963, and it is just part of the honorable work that has earned the Good 8th Company on Nanjing Lu not only a place in Shanghainese hearts, but even in the textbooks of primary school morality courses.
The Good 8th Company on Nanjing Xi Lu, as seen in this video from December 2017.
The 8th Company of Shanghai Garrison, People’s Liberation Army was founded on August 6, 1947, and since 1949 it has been stationed on Nanjing Lu. In 1963, the Ministry of National Defense conferred the Company with the title ‘Good 8th Company on Nanjing Lu.’ Later that same year, Chairman Mao wrote Ode to the 8th Company, a poem celebrating the achievements that propelled the Company to national role-model status. “The word ‘good’ lies in the army’s excellence in politics, military discipline, ideology and analysis,” Mao wrote.
“Among all the companies, Chairman Mao only composed for us,” Liu Ding, a worker at the Good 8th Company’s museum in Baoshan district, said in 2011. “State and army leaders called on people to learn from the Company. Deng Xiaoping’s eulogizing was especially remarkable: ‘A model that consistently keeps glorious traditions and believes in Communism. Long live the Good 8th Company on Nanjing Lu!’ That was the first time in the history of the Party that a state leader praised a company by saying ‘Long live.’”
Images via Baidu Baike
A 1964 film, The Guard Under Neon Lights, helped secure the Good 8th Company’s legacy. Based on the early days of the Company, it ends with two soldiers risking their lives to save people in a movie theater from a bomb planted by Kuomintang spies. The film is primarily concerned with the spirit of volunteerism the soldiers exemplify; even though they are peasants and unfamiliar with big city life, they willingly help fix shoes and umbrellas for Shanghainese because they are good Communists.
A movie poster for The Guard Under Neon Lights. Image via Douban
“Premier Zhou Enlai watched it seven times, saying: ‘Well done, the whole country should learn from the Company!’ Chairman Mao only watched two dramas in the latter half of his life and one of them was The Guard Under Neon Lights,” said Liu.
After the movie was released, the Liberation Army Daily wrote about the Company: “One day when the soldiers were on duty on Nanjing Lu a stack of cash was suddenly thrown in front of them from a window. One night they encountered several seductive women who intended to harass them while they were on duty. It’s true: money and women ruined many warlords and Kuomintang officers, but this company resists wicked temptation.
“The Good 8th Company changes people. Before joining the army, many soldiers relished wasting money in KTV and ballrooms with their friends. After they join, things start to change. The first thing for each new soldier is to visit the history museum and make a solemn vow under the silk banner awarded by the Ministry of National Defense. The first lesson to learn is how to take up the spirit of arduousness. The first song to sing is Song of Arduousness. The first poem to read is Ode to the 8th Company and the first film to watch is The Guard Under Neon Lights.”
A scene from the 1964 film, The Guard Under Neon Lights
In the old days, many of the Company’s soldiers were in their late teens. Today, most are in their early 20s and serve for a couple of years. They come from all over China.
“The Company has made the ‘spirit of arduous struggle’ and public service its legacy, and continues to pass it down by equipping soldiers with toolboxes for carpentry, haircutting and shoe repair,” said Liu. “The toolboxes serve to make soldiers both self reliant and capable of helping others.”
The Goodth 8th Company sets up on Nanjing Lu in 2017. Screengrab via Kankan News/Eastday
In 2009, the Good 8th Company moved out to Baoshan district, as Shanghai police were charged with keeping the peace on Nanjing Lu. In addition to their twice-monthly visits to their old home, the Company was said to be looking for ways to expand their volunteer mission. They helped out extensively at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 and also contributed to building Metro Line 2.
The spacious first-floor museum in Baoshan houses an array of photos, illustrations and historical memorabilia. But since it’s on an army base, don’t bother visiting without making an appointment first.
The Good 8th Company is outside the No. 1 Department Store on Nanjing Lu by Xizang Lu from 7am-9am on the 10th and 20th of every month. They mend shoes and chairs and also offer haircuts. Just look for the group of soldiers with a line of civilians waiting before them.
[Cover image via Baidu Baike]
This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of That's Shanghai. It has been updated and republished on August 6, 2019.
For more This Day in History stories, click here.