"In staid old China, it's not Hu Yu Bang (Communist Party leader) who counts, but Hu Yu Know." -- Ben Maartman

Publisher and writer Ben Maartman of Errington on Vancouver Island worked as a fisherman, logger, social worker and parole officer prior to recording his pre-Tiananmen Square visit in 1986-1987 to China in The Iron Bowl Blues (1989), an often humourous look at the favoritism, regimentation and corruption within the Chinese Communist system. "You can't have Western technology without Western ideas," he told the Nanaimo Free Press, "The genie called freedom has gotten out of the bottle and they'll have a heck of a job getting it back in." The book's title is derived from Mao Tse-Tung's decree in 1949 that "all citizens must eat out of one common iron rice bowl". Three decades later Chairman Deng advised the iron bowl must be shattered into a thousand pieces. With his wife Blanche, Maartman previously visited China in 1984 and 1986. During that latter trip he taught English for a year at Suzhou College west of Shanghai.

Born in Vancouver in 1924, Ben Maartman was raised on ranches and farms in the Caribou, the Alberta foothills and the Fraser Valley. He was one of numerous promising writers who were influenced by Earle Birney at UBC and at Birney's Deep Cove cabin known as 'Hangover House' where he met Malcolm Lowry. Maartman also knew Birney and Lowry from his visits to Einer Neilsen's "Leiben" writers colony on Bowen Island.

"Lowry was always drinking," he told Birney's biographer Elspeth Cameron. "This was the trouble. He was an extremely shy guy, but a very egocentric man, too, and when he drank he just dominated everything. He could actually talk poetry when he was drunk, and Margerie was the only lady I ever knew who could actually scream and rant all in iambic pentameter. Once my friend and I were carrying a stove down and Lowry was stuck up a bloody tree. So we climbed on the stove and got him out of the tree. Then he said he'd help us with the stove and all three of us and the bloody stove went over the bloody bank. One time we had a drunken party and I passed out and when I woke up [Earle] had put a blue ribbon on my dong. I often wondered what the hell else went on."

Maartman joined the RCN as a 'boy telegraphist' in 1941. His wartime service took him around the world and climaxed when the HMCS Ontario escorted occupation troops to Hong Kong in 1945. Following his studies at UBC where he received the Brissenden Scholarship for Creative Writing, he received his Social Work degree. He wrote radio and television scripts for the CBC, mainly on social themes.

Maartman worked for B.C. and Ontario Probations services and later recorded his experiences as a Vancouver counsellor for drug addicted criminals in The Strange Thing About Miracles (1990). The title story of this collection concerns Maartman's 18-month-long experiences with 16 male, hardcore, recidivist criminal addicts who became penitentiary parolees under his care in 1962 as part of Canada's first experimental program for criminalized heroin addicts called the Special Narcotic Addiction Project. While some of the action occurs at Main & Hastings, Maartman also describes their meetings during which "the 16 poor souls had to muster their various reluctant, hostile, apathetic, glib, hopeless, needle-pocked and booze-soaked carcasses at the same long table."

Having travelled extensively to the Far East and Australia, plus spending several months of camping on the beaches of the Mexican Baja Peninsula, Maartman also wrote Marco Polo on the O.A.S. (1998), a low-budget world travel guide for all ages, arising from his travels with his wife Blanche. His young adult novel that features Belize is entitled The Lost Treasures of Yucatan. His sophisticated memoirs and stories were all self-published by Fogducker's Press from his farmhouse home in Errington where he and his wife raised seven children.

In 2005, Maartman published and wrote the memoir of Paddy Hood who came from England's Tyneside slums to the Fairbridge Farm School for Orphans and Impoverished Children, near Duncan, B.C in A Boy's Story. The following year he self-published Boots A Bad Crossing, a novel that opens with events in an emergency ward in 1998 but chiefly concerns a teenage corvetter's view of the Battle of the Atlantic, based on Maartman's own wartime experiences, including some WW photos of ships and seamen.

Ben Maartman died of emphysema on September 16, 2008, although he had quit smoking twenty years before. He was the last living child of Ben and Hilda Maartman.


The Iron Bowl Blues and other Peeks Behind the Bamboo Curtain (1989)
The Strange Thing About Miracles & Other Stories (1990)
Marco Polo on the O.A.S. (1998, in association with Granville Island Publishing)
The Lost Treasures of Yucatan (2004)
A Boy's Story (2005)
Boots A Bad Crossing (2006)

[Fogduckers Press, Box 144, Errington, B.C. V0R 1V0]

Alan Twigg [BCBW 2009] "Travel" "China" "Humour" "Lowry" "Belize" "Fiction"