From my childhood, I learnt that ‘work is sacred’. I remember when I was in first grade, there was a popular singing play: four children respectively acted as the little bear, the little dog, the little bunny, and the little fox. The little fox exhorts the children to play with him one by one, but they ignore him, because he doesn’t like to work, he’s just a lazy guy. In our little minds, this is how the seeds of ‘sacred work’ were planted.
The idea that labor is sacred is a product of class contradictions and class struggle. Since society emerged from the stage of primitive communism, and since the appearance of private property and the division between rich and poor, society has been divided into two classes, those who work, and those who do not. The leisured classes are the upper level of society, the labouring classes are the lower level. People from the upper class live a relaxed life, while people in the lower class work hard only to get food and clothing. The upper class exploits the labour of the lower class, and the lower class support the upper class. The sense of social injustice grows increasingly stronger, until class struggle starts, the upper class is definitely overthrown, and everyone has to work, or those who don’t work can’t eat. People from the lower class are proud, and that is how labour becomes sacred. The Chinese workers and farmers were liberated in the 1950s, when they overthrew the landlords and capitalists. China evolved from a class society to a society where everyone works. This change was a first in China through thousands of years of history, and represented a major step forward for society.
The sacredness of work therefore became an important element in the progress of humanity from a class society to a classless society. Under this banner, it completely ruined the reputation of those who do not work – but taken to the extreme, it has even ruined the reputation of intellectual workers, and labour has come to be defined narrowly as manual work only. From the 1950s, intellectuals have been defined as belonging to the ‘ninth stinky category’, as if intellectual work was no work at all, and they were seen as living off the work of others, as social parasites – this is the original crime of intellectuals. The situation was only transformed after the end of the cultural revolution, when intellectuals were considered as ‘members of the working class’, and intellectual work was recognised as work. From the novels of Hrabal, we can see that all communist countries have gone through a similar absurd stage, when many books were destroyed, and intellectuals were sent to perform manual labour. Of course, 现在苏东和中国一样，全都为脑力劳动平反了。从极端回归到正常的理智后，but the sacred nature of work is still part of mainstream values.
Apart from denying the existence of intellectual labour, the belief in the sacredness of labour has another absurd and extreme manifestation: 就是王小波提到的他母亲老家山东牟平青虎山村出现的一种情况：村里世世代代都有的一百多头负重的驴子全都不见了，过去由驴干的活儿改由人来干，比如往山上送粪，过去是驴子拉车送，他在青虎山插队时是人用独轮车送。This is one of the consequences of taking the sacredness of labour to the extreme: people employ manual labour to replace animal labour, wind power and machines. 当时盛传的一段佳话是永贵大叔跟驴比劲儿，结果是永贵大叔赢了驴子。
Oscar Wilde once said: humanity works to a silly extent. The goal of human scientific and technological progress is to replace human labour with mechanic labour, and through the wisdom of these inventions, the hardest tasks can be performed by machines, so that people can just make a very easy living, or don’t need to make a living at all, and simply happily enjoy life. A German scholar drew a surprising conclusion from the study of statistical evidence: today’s Germany could produce enough to satisfy the basic needs of everyone by employing only one third of the workforce, and two thirds of people could ‘retire right after kindergarten’. But what about these two thirds of people? If labour is sacred, what about them?
The solution I can think about us as follows (and resemble the communist society as imagined by Marx): reduce labor time for everyone. Because we can’t just have one third of people work for their living and two third of people not working, simply enjoying life. So if we reduced everyone’s work-time to one third of the original, we would meet the two conditions for a classless society, that everyone is working, but nobody is too exhausted from work. For instance, everyone should work for four hours every day, and the rest of the time we could engage in all sorts of artistic and leisurely activities, such as painting, writing poetry, singing, dancing, fishing, playing majong (particularly Chines people). This way, labour would still be sacred, but people would no longer work to such a silly extent.