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yangharrylg 2012-09-05 19:47

My First Trip to China

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Simon Leys

Simon Leys, the pen-name of Pierre Ryckmans (李克曼), is a writer, sinologist, essayist, literary critic. He studied law at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Louvain), Chinese language, literature and art in Taiwan. He went to Hong Kong, before settling down in Australia in 1970. He taught Chinese literature at the Australian National University, where he supervised the honours thesis of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and later was Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, from 1987 to 1993. In 2004 he was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca.

The Hall of Uselessness
Everyone knows the usefulness of what is useful,
but few know the usefulness of what is useless.

Zhuang Zi



I was born and grew up in Brussels. I had a happy childhood. To paraphrase Tolstoy: all happy childhoods are alike – warm affection and much laughter – the recipe seems simple enough. China was in no way – nothing at all (alas!) – an element of my childhood. There was no scope to study Chinese history or politics, or the Chinese language, at school.

I first visited the People’s Republic of China with a group of students in 1955. The Chinese Government had invited a delegation of Belgian Youth (10 delegates – I was the youngest, age 19) to visit China for one month in May that year. The voyage – smoothly organized – took us to the usual famous spots, climaxing in a one-hour private audience with Zhou Enlai (周恩來).

My overwhelming impression (a conclusion to which I remained faithful for the rest of my life) was that it would be inconceivable to live in this world, in our age, without a good knowledge of Chinese language and a direct access to Chinese culture.

After completing my undergraduate degree, I started learning Chinese. Since, at that time, no scholarship was available to go to China, I went to Taiwan. I had no “career” plan whatsoever. I simply wished to know Chinese and acquire a deeper appreciation of Chinese culture.

Loving Western painting, quite naturally I became enthralled with Chinese painting (and calligraphy) and I developed a special interest for what the Chinese wrote on the subject of painting: traditionally, the greatest painters were also scholars, poets, men of letters – hence the development of an extraordinarily rich, eloquent and articulate literature on painting, philosophical, critical, historical and technical.

We are often tempted to do research on topics that are somewhat marginal and lesser-known, since, on these, it is easier to produce original work. But one of my Chinese masters gave me a most valuable advice: “Always devote yourself to the study of great works – works of fundamental importance – and your effort will never be wasted.” Thus, for my PhD thesis, I chose to translate and comment what is generally considered as a masterpiece, the treatise on painting by Shitao (石濤), a creative genius of the early 18th century; he addresses the essential questions: Why does one paint? How should one paint? Among all my books, this one, first published forty years ago, has never gone out of print – and, to my delight, it is read by painters much more than by sinologists!

The virtue and power of the Chinese literary language culminates in its classical poetry. Chinese classical poetry seems to me the purest, the most perfect and complete form of poetry one could conceive of. Better than any other poetry, it fits Auden’s definition: “memorable speech”; and indeed, it carves itself effortlessly into your memory. Furthermore, like painting, it splendidly occupies a visual space in its calligraphic incarnations. It inhabits your mind, it accompanies your life, it sustains and illuminates your daily experiences.

Traditionally, Chinese scholars, men of letters, artists would give an inspiring name to their residences, hermitages, libraries and studios. Sometimes they did not actually possess residences, hermitages, libraries or studios – not even a roof over their heads – but the existence or non-existence of a material support for a Name never appeared to them a very relevant issue. And I wonder if one of the deepest seductions of Chinese culture is not related to this conjuring power with which it vests the Written Word. I am not dealing here with esoteric abstractions, but with a living reality. Let me give you just one modest example, which hit me long ago, when I was an ignorant young student.

In Singapore, I often patronized a small movie theatre which showed old films of Peking operas. The theatre itself was a flimsy open-air structure planted in a paddock by the side of the road (at that time, Singapore still had a countryside): a wooden fence enclosed two dozen rows of seats – long planks resting on trestles. In the rainy season, towards the end of the afternoon, there was always a short heavy downpour, and when the show started, just after dark, the planks often had not yet had time to dry; thus, at the box-office, with your ticket, you received a thick old newspaper to cushion your posterior against the humidity. Everything in the theatre was shoddy and ramshackle – everything except the signpost with the theatre’s name hanging above the entrance: two characters written in a huge and generous calligraphy, Wen Guang – which could be translated as “Light of Civilisation” or “Light of the Written-Word” (it is the same thing). However, later on in the show, sitting under the starry sky and watching on screen Ma Lianliang (馬連良) give his sublime interpretation of the part of the wisest minister of the Three Kingdoms (third century AD), you realized that – after all – this “Light of Civilisation” was no hollow boast.

The Hall of Uselessness pertains to the period when I was studying and teaching at the New Asia College in Hong Kong in the early 1960s. It was a hut located in the heart of a refugee shantytown on Kowloon side (Diamond Hill). To reach it at night, one needed an electric torch, for there were no lights and no roads – only a dark maze of meandering paths across a chaos of tin and plywood shacks; there were open drains by the side of the paths, and fat rats ran under the feet of passers-by. For two years I enjoyed there the fraternal hospitality of a former schoolmate, whom I knew from Taiwan – he was an artist (calligrapher and seal-carver) sharing a place with two postgraduate students, a philologist and a historian. We slept on bunks in a single common room. This room was naturally a complete mess – anywhere else it would have resembled a dismal slum, but here all was redeemed by the work of my friend: one superb calligraphy (in seal-script style) hanging on the wall – Wu Yong Tang (無用堂), “The Hall of Uselessness.” If taken at face value, it had a touch of tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation; in fact, it contained a very cheeky double-meaning. The words (chosen by our philologist companion, who was a fine scholar) alluded to a passage from “The Book of Changes,” the most ancient, most holy (and most obscure) of all the Chinese classics, which said that “in springtime the dragon is useless.” This, in turn, according to commentaries, meant that in their youth the talents of superior men (promised to a great future) must remain hidden.

I spent two years in The Hall of Uselessness; these were intense and joyful years – when learning and living were one and the same thing. The best description of this sort of experience was given by John Henry Newman. In his classic “The Idea of a University,” he made an amazingly bold statement: he said that if he had to choose between two types of universities, one in which eminent professors teach students who come to the university only to attend lectures and sit for examinations, and the other where there are no professors, no lectures, no examinations and no degrees, but where the students live together for two or three years, he would choose the second type. He concluded, “How is this to be explained? When a multitude of young men, keen, open-hearted, sympathetic and observant as young men are, come together and freely mix with each other, they are sure to learn from one another, even if there be no one to teach them; the conversation of all is a series of lectures to each, and they gain for themselves new ideas and views, fresh matter of thought and distinct principles for judging and acting day by day.”

I hope I have remained faithful to the memory of The Hall of Uselessness – not in the meaning intended by my friends (for I am afraid I am not exactly of the dragon breed!), but at least in the more obvious meaning of Zhuang Zi, quoted above. Yet is this second aspiration more humble, or more ambitious? After all, this sort of “uselessness” is the very ground on which rest all the essential values of our common humanity.

Looking back at those some twelve years, during which I lived and worked successively in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong (plus six months in Japan), it was a happy period of intense activity – living and learning in an environment where all my friends became my teachers, and all my teachers, my friends. I am fond of a saying by Prince de Ligne (a writer I much admire): “Let each one examine what he has most desired. If he is happy, it is because his wishes have not been granted.” For some years, I had wished I could study in China; but now, in retrospect, I realize that, had I been given such a chance at that particular time (1958-1970), I would never have been allowed to enjoy in China such rich, diverse, easy and close human contacts.

I did return to the PRC twice – first, for six months in 1972, as cultural attaché at the Belgian Embassy in Peking; second, for one month in 1973, as a member of a delegation from the Australian National University – and the experience is described in “Chinese Shadows” first published in French in 1974.

My own interest, my own field of work is Chinese literature and Chinese painting. When commenting on Chinese contemporary politics, I was merely stating common sense evidence and common knowledge. But at that time, this may indeed have disturbed some fools here and there – which, in the end, did not matter very much.

Do I have any regrets? Mine include -- usually what we regret is what we did not do – sailing round Cape Horn and climbing Huangshan.

(These excerpts from Simon Leys’ recent writings and interviews were selected and edited by the editor.)

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 19:49
Robert A. Scalapino (施樂伯) [1919-2011] was Robson Research Professor of Government Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley and the founder and first Chairman of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. He passed away on November 1 at the age of 92.

At the outset of the 1960s, the newly installed Kennedy administration attempted an opening to Beijing. In early 1961, with Secretary of State Dean Rusk in command, an offer was made to exchange journalists, as I had proposed. I had talked with Rusk in the course of drafting my report [the Conlon Report] and had sent him a personal copy upon its completion. Beijing responded by asserting that the Taiwan issue had to be “settled” first, thereby postponing any forward movement. It was not until after the Ussuri River clash with the Russians in 1969 that Mao [Zedong 毛澤東] set his political and ideological proclivities aside and opted for accommodation with the United States.

Meanwhile, I had continued to seek a more sophisticated policy toward the PRC than that being pursued. I organized a conference at UC Berkeley, held on December 9, 1964, to discuss various views and options regarding Communist China. Since the participants included Henry and Clare Booth Luce on one side and Felix Greene on the other, as well as certain prominent scholars, it is not surprising that heated arguments took place, but the subject of the PRC and its current course was thoroughly explored.

During this period, I had become acquainted with Cecil Thomas, American Friends Service Committee director in the Bay Area. After the widespread attention that the Berkeley conference received, we decided to organize a second symposium in Washington, D.C., Elaborate planning followed, and the conference was held at the end of April 1965. With an emphasis upon balance, speakers representing diverse views were chosen; the audience totaled more than eight hundred, and there was widespread media coverage. Once again, the effort was to explore developments in China from various perspectives and examine U.S.-China policies, past, present and future.

Several months after the Washington conference, Cecil called me, saying he wanted to talk to me about something that he had in mind. I told him that while I would be happy to talk, I could not take on additional assignments, given my heavy schedule. Nevertheless, Cecil came to the house, accompanied by his assistant, Robert Mang. The idea was to establish an organization devoted to a continuing exploration of U.S.-China relations, including all alternatives. After an hour of conversation, I said that I would call some of my colleagues to see whether they thought the idea had merit. Shortly thereafter, I talked with several close friends including Doak Barnett [鮑大可] and Lucian Pye [白魯恂]. The consensus was that the time might be ripe for such a project. I called Cecil and said that we could go forward, exploring the possibilities. Subsequently, on December 9, a small group met in New York, spending some four hours discussing the matter. While there was strong support for the idea of an organization, the decision was to examine the details more fully before any public action.

By April 1966, after many discussions, an organizing group had been formed, and a letter of invitation, which I signed, was sent to a hundred carefully selected people, asking them to join in creating a National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Those receiving the letter had been chosen to represent various fields and points of view; the business community, labor leaders, representatives of religious groups, and academics all were on the list. We sought, however, to avoid selecting anyone from the extreme Left or Right while still preserving ample opportunity for differences of opinion. Because we wanted the committee to be nonpartisan and outside officialdom, invitations were not sent to people in public office, national or otherwise. With some sixty of those invited agreeing to participate, the National Committee was officially launched on June 9, 1966, and I was appointed chairman, with Cecil as executive director. While most of the committee members were open to some shifts in U.S. policy toward China, we had determined that the committee would avoid taking specific policy positions, serving rather as a body exploring all available facts about China and U.S.-China relations. Our task was to move the dialogue away from the McCarthy era, reaching out both to the general public and to policy leaders.

Funding was a major challenge, but ultimately sizeable grants from the Christopher Reynolds Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund, and the Ford Foundation were forthcoming. We organized meetings in a variety of places, contacted diverse Asians through trips to Japan and elsewhere, and in February 1968, eight of us, including six scholars, met with President Lyndon Johnson at the White House to discuss our China policy. Despite his preoccupation with Vietnam, the president was receptive, and urged us to keep in contact. Meetings with other national and international leaders followed.

Thus was the foundation laid for the role of the National Committee in the visit of the Chinese Ping-Pong players to the United States in 1971. At this point, China had opened the window if not the door to interaction with the United States, and the Ping-Pong team was the first card played. The State Department asked the committee to host the team, and they were accompanied throughout the country by committee representatives. Consequently, the PRC government decided to invite the National Committee board of directors as guests in 1972, with the date set in December, some months after the Nixon visit.

The trip was truly memorable. I was no longer chairman, that position being held by Alex Eckstein, an economist teaching at the University of Michigan, with Jan Berris as a very able executive. Tragically, Cecil had been killed in an automobile accident in Africa. Our group was fifteen in number with three wives, including [my wife] Dee, accompanying board members. We were to take a train from Hong Kong through the New territories to the PRC border, thence to Canton (Guangzhou). This was the only route available to Americans at that time. Our group filled half of a railroad car; the other half was occupied by a group of New York radicals who sang revolutionary songs lustily as we moved toward the border. Finally, we stopped in the middle of a tunnel and were met by uniformed and armed Red soldiers. Disembarking, we were escorted to VIP quarters, while the revolutionaries were put in the regular entry line with Hong Kong amahs and others. We heard no more songs! After a rest, we were taken to a train en route to Canton. At an early point, officials asked Alex, “What is the order of your delegation?” Somewhat startled, Alex responded, “We don’t have an order. We are all equal.” The response, “Oh, but you must have an order since we have seven cars in Canton with which to transport you.” So our visit to a proletarian state began!

Our place on the train was clearly reserved for dignitaries, with big leather chairs and ample space for one’s feet. Delicious green tea was served while we viewed the countryside from the windows. The area from the border to Canton was intensely cultivated, with a wide range of crops. This was still a premechanized era for the region. Labor was human and buffalo, with men and women working bare-legged in the fields, pulling carts, carrying large bundles of straw, and tending to such animals as cows and ducks. Certain villages gave evidence of some new structures, but most seemed run-down, with houses mad of mud, brick, and plaster. People were dressed in the familiar blue tunics or, in some cases, gray or black pants and white undershirts; much of the clothing was patched. Footwear was scarce except for simple sandals. Yet for the most part, the people looked reasonably healthy and adequately fed. Political sloganeering in the villages seemed on the wane, with most posted slogans badly faded and few fresh ones to be seen. We saw very few vehicles on the road, only an occasional truck. We saw some soldiers in the larger villages. As we approached Canton, signs of industrialization came into view along with extensive pollution, including red-dyed streams.

We had our first discussions with local Party officials shortly after reaching Canton. When we inquired about education, they told us that the university had just reopened, and everything was on an experimental basis. “Everyone wants to go into the army,” they said when we asked about youthful desires. “You learn a skill there,” our informant quickly added. “You also go out of patriotic motives.” Young men were drafted at eighteen years of age and served two years. When we went to the recently opened revolutionary museum, Mao—flanked by Marx, Lenin, and Stalin—was eulogized; those ousted during the early stages of the Cultural Revolution were nowhere to be seen. Lin Biao [林彪], Liu Shaoqi [劉少奇], and others purged had been scrubbed out of the pictures; only Zhou Enlai [周恩來], Kang Sheng [康生], Dong Biwu [董必武], and several others were pictured with the Great Leader.

During the first evening’s dinner, I overstepped the bounds of permissible political discussion. I first commented that parading those accused of misconduct through the streets in dunce caps was likely to create permanent wounds, especially with reports that some of those accused were later exonerated. The host at our table said that cadres learned from the errors committed, and it was a cardinal principle of the Party to accept criticism from the people. I continued by saying that in the united States, “the people” were all citizens irrespective of their views, whereas in China, it appeared that the masses were divided into “the people” and “enemies of the people.” Who determined those who were expressing the voice of the people? My respondent answered quickly, “The Central Committee makes that determination.” I responded that the top could be wrong. Even Chairman Mao had evidently made mistakes such as in the selection of Lin Biao as his successor.

That overstepped the bounds of permissible discussion, and the Beijing Foreign Affairs Institute representative with whom I had been conversing abruptly rose to toast the guests at the next table. Later, I proposed my own toast, stating that the American and Chinese people had been separated from each other too long, that in our country, frank and open discussion was a mark of friendship, and while our opinions would differ with our Chinese friends on certain matters, I and others looked forward to the widening of our mutual dialogue. However, the evening gave me a fairly clear idea of what boundaries should not be overstepped if one wished to continue a political dialogue.

The next day, we toured the Canton Fair and various other sites in the city, and in the afternoon, we took a lengthy walk. Though seemingly adequately fed and provided for, the great majority of people wore drab blue or dark clothes. Tremendous curiosity greeted us as we walked, with crowds gathering around us on occasions. At this point, foreigners of any type were extremely rare. We were treated not in hostile or friendly fashion but with intense curiosity, as if we had come from Mars.

I had started to take down prices in stores and compare them with wages, concerning which I queried our escorts. My general conclusion after a few days was that the urban worker could manage insofar as the necessities were concerned, with two products—grain and cloth—rationed, and rents reasonably low. Affluence, however, was not to be seen. Moreover, the contrast between Canton and Hong Kong was dramatic. Hong Kong had hustle and bustle, neon lights, and extensive traffic. In contrast, Canton symbolized quietude, drabness, and aloofness from others, especially outsiders.

It was on to Beijing via air. As a Soviet-built plane arrived at the Canton airport, I asked Han, who was accompanying us, whether there was any difficulty in obtaining parts, and he responded, “Yes, and that is why we are determined upon the course of self-reliance.” When we arrived in Beijing, we were met by a sizeable group from the People’s Institute and People’s Friendship Association, headed by the vice president of Peking University, Zhou Peiyuan [周培源], and his wife. Zhou, a 1928 graduate of Cal Tech and a physicist by training, had thus far weathered the storm. Early the next morning, five of us took a walk along the wide main streets and one of Beijing’s numerous hutong, a traditional alley bounded on either side by ancient gates and walls. Again, I sought to compare prices and wages. This being winter, some items such as vegetables were not cheap. Later, after breakfast, we took a tour of Beijing’s monumental Tiananmen Square and the magnificent Temple of heaven. In contrast, the new Russian buildings were strikingly unattractive.

We were also taken to a show factory that specialized in making artifacts of doverse types. We were briefed on the nature of the plant’s Revolutionary Committee and the political meetings held three times a week for workers. Posters, loudspeakers, meetings—what do they mean for the individual worker: enthusiasm? Boredom? If we must, we must? I could not determine.

The following day, we climbed the Great Wall and ended with a dinner hosted by some of the Ping-Pong players who had visited the United States. After a delicious meal and mao tai unlimited, I returned to the hotel, took two Alka Seltzer, and went to bed. On our next day in Beijing, we began with a tour of Tsinghua University, which included discussions with faculty and a quick examination of facilities, including the library. It developed that the university had ceased enrolling students in the opening years of the Cultural Revolution (“the educational methods employed were antiquated”), and started to enroll students again only in 1970.

At the library, I asked “What happens to the writings of someone like Liu Shaoqi when he is declared a revisionist and ousted from the Party?” The answer: “His works are not taken out of the library, but his card file is removed.” In the library, I saw a small stand containing a display of Western works, possibly set up for our visit. It included “The Tale of Marco Polo” as well as works by Jack Belden, Edgar Snow, Owen Lattimore, and Anna Louise Strong—a collection scarely representative of American writing on modern China!

Shortly thereafter, we were taken to Shenyang and Anshan in Manchuria. It was intensely cold, but the inhabitants seemed amply dressed for the weather. Again, the curiosity regarding foreigners was intense. On the morning after our arrival in Anshan, I left the guest house alone to go into a nearby store to take down prices. When I entered, there were no customers. Suddenly, people began to pour in—to look at me. After scores had entered, I fled, moving rapidly up a hill until I had lost everyone except one young man. Finally, I stopped, and in my rudimentary Chinese, asked, “Do you know who I am?” Silence, then “Albanian?” Never before nor since have I been confused with an Albanian, but Albania was China’s only friend at the time.

Visiting an Anshan factory, we were told that the Kuomintang had destroyed many plants in the region, with no mention of the oft-repeated assertion that the Russians had taken away much industrial equipment. When confronted with this matter, our informant insisted that the Kuomintang had destroyed this factory, but he acknowledged that the Russians had removed equipment from the area. Moreover, when I called his attention to a toy aircraft hoisted above the roof, I laughingly asked, “Who is the enemy—the United States, the USSR, or Japan?” I then said that because the plane was headed northeast, it must be Japan. He quickly stated, “The Japanese are not our immediate problem.” I then said, “The Russians?” He replied, “It is a fact that the Russians have large numbers of troops on our borders. That fact cannot be denied.” This was but one indication among many that the Chinese were deeply concerned about the post-Stalin USSR, especially after the Ussuri River clash.

We bantered about the slogans hung high over the main factory floor: Continue the Revolutionary Struggle; Liberate Taiwan; and People of the World Unite! I told him that I could at least support the latter slogan providing I was allowed to interpret it. In touring the factories, I was impressed with the diligence of the workers but distressed over the lack of safety equipment and the grim conditions. Throughout our visit to Manchuria, we continued a dialogue with various guides and mentors, covering a wide range of subjects—from economic conditions in the region to domestic politics and foreign relations. Knowledge and ignorance abetted by ideological considerations were intertwined. For example, it was asserted that Moscow hoped to see a pro-Soviet faction emerge after Mao’s death. With respect to Taiwan, one of our hosts insisted that China could help Taiwan develop and that the Taiwanese were yearning for liberation.

On December 19, we returned to Beijing. The following day, after another morning visiting historic sites, we had a detailed briefing on the current status of Chinese commerce and agriculture—informative and misinformative, especially with respect to the impact of the Cultural Revolution on the PRC economy. The following day, we met with Wu Yushen, vice president of the Academy of Sciences. A day later, we had a lengthy meeting with the Central Institute of National Minorities. Yet the most revealing meeting was one at Peking University on December 23. A number of professors were seated around the table, but the person who gave the briefing was a young man with Party rather than academic credentials. We received an unequivocal message of support for the Cultural Revolution and its impact o the university. Our informant asserted that the purpose of the Cultural Revolution was to unite, educate, and remold the teaching staff. Previously, the faculty had been separated from the workers, the peasant masses, and working conditions. To change this, they were sent down to the countryside and into factories to take part in productive labor.

At one point, I had been sufficiently disturbed by this account to raise a question. “You closed the university for four years at a time when China needed people trained in such fields as science and technology, and for the most part, research was stopped. Did not this action cause grave damage to China’s forward economic development and also cause the people who were left out of the educational process for those years to feel cheated?” The answer was stern: “The word ‘cheat’ is a bad word. The university in the New China does not cheat people. Those faculty and students involved in that period received a political education. If it had not been for the Cultural Revolution, we would have become revisionists like those in the USSR.” Then, for the first time, he turned to one of the professors and said, “Don’t you agree, Professor Zhou?” Zhou said, “Yes, of course.” Some years later, I was told that my remarks had circulated on campus, much to different people’s amusement—and support.

In the afternoon, we met with Vice Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua [喬冠華]. We had been scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, but the U.S. bombing of the Hanoi vicinity caused that meeting to be cancelled, although a different excuse was given. Qiao expressed hope for an expansion of unofficial contacts, but ruled out official relations or Chinese studying in the United States as long as Washington recognized the ROC. He also expressed opposition to the partial test ban treaty with the Soviet Union and asked why only the United States, the USSR, and Great Britain should be allowed to possess nuclear weapons? Then, he expressed the hope that PRC-Japan relations would improve, given the recent establishment of diplomatic relations, but he was less hopeful regarding relations with the Soviet Union, indicating that no progress had been achieved in recent talks. Indeed, throughout his remarks, he recurrently voiced a distrust of Russia, including the statement that China owed Khrushchev a debt “because he forced us to seek self-reliance.” With regard to Party politics, he insisted that a person would not be expelled from the Party for differing on a single issue, as in the case of Liu Shaoqi. In general, Qiao set forth in clear fashion the PRC’s current position with respect to both domestic and international politics.

That evening, Qiao attended the dinner hosted by Peking University Vice President Zhou, and we continued our conversation. I remember one memorable remark. Qiao was strong in his praise for President Nixon and his efforts to improve Sino-American relations. I commented that although Nixon should be given full credit for his policies, earlier, at the beginning of President Kennedy’s administration, the United States had made overtures to China such as suggesting the exchange of journalists. Qiao’s response astonished us. “I don’t like any of the Kennedys,” he asserted. “They didn’t understand Asia. They have just tried to use it for their own political purposes.” At the time, I was puzzled. Later, I decided that Qiao’s wrath was directed at Ted Kennedy, who had supported India in the China-India conflict that had erupted a few years earlier.

On Christmas day, we flew to Nanking. Our stay there involved a one-hour trip from the city to the October People’s Commune. We had an interesting discussion with the chairman of the Commune Revolutionary Committee and some associates. He told us that the commune had some 3,500 households with more than 16,000 people. The chairman had numerous statistics, the gist of which was that crop production had greatly improved, with living standards rising; mechanization had increased; and work points were based on the quality as well as the volume of work, with one-half of the allotment as compensation for labor in grain and other products, one-half in money. Private plots now accounted for only 5-7 percent of the total cultivated area. This was clearly a Commune selected for visitors. In several private conversations, however, we were told that even in this showplace, the average yearly income was only 130 yuan per capita, although the official figure that had been given us was three times that amount. In Nanking as elsewhere, concern about the Russians was clear. Repeatedly, we were asked, “Do you think that they will attack us?”

Soon, it was off to Shanghai. Here, we were introduced to China’s ongoing efforts to advance industrial production, visiting several large factories. Later, we went to Fudan University where once again the briefing was given by a young man whose title was vice chairman of the University Revolutionary Committee but who was oblivious to meaningful higher education and who had all the grace of a boar. The key theme was one that we had heard a number of times before: in former times, students learned only from books; now they and the faculty were sent to factories, to the countryside, to commercial shops so that they could come back to the university with enlarged practical knowledge.

In the English class, while a dialogue was taking place, I borrowed the English-language book that had been prepared for practice from one of the students. The contents were shocking. Two themes were prominent: total sacrifice for the “fatherland” and hatred for “the enemy.” As I read on, the chief enemy was the Soviet Union, but there were negative sections about Great Britain, Japan, and the United States, the latter being blamed for the Vietnam War (this might not have been the complaint a few years later, when China invaded that nation!).

I left Fudan University in a state of deep depression. That evening, after dinner, we were taken to an opera, Song of the Dragon River. In it, the “good guys” and the “bad guys” were presented in totally white and black dimensions. On the way back to our quarters, I pondered a central question. What we had seen and heard centered on pure ideology; on the other hand, much that was going on in China was infinitely more complex, containing diverse motivations—personal, economic, and political. How would the contrasts be reconciled?

On December 29, we were taken to another model commune, about twenty-five miles from the city. In the detailed briefing, we were told that twelve successive years of bumper harvests had greatly increased grain production. Further, a hospital had been set up and new schools built, with eighteen middle and primary schools now in operation. Only about 5 percent of the cultivated land was private property. Moreover, yearly income was only 170 yuan per capita. The following day, we were given a detailed briefing on Shanghai’s role in the Cultural Revolution from its beginnings to the current scene. Included were supportive remarks about the role of Jiang Qing ([江青] Mao’s wife) and her compatriots, who were later to be known as the Gang of Four. Their primary effort had been to oust the moderates, starting with Deng Xiaoping, with considerable initial success.

One January 1, we were taken by air to Hangzhou, where we had a chance to see some beautiful scenery. Our stay here was mainly sightseeing; a few days later, we left for Canton. Once again, on the day following our arrival, we were taken to a rural commune, and in the days that followed, we visited factories and Zhongshan University. Little new was revealed in the various conversations that took place. At the university, the theme was praise for the Cultural Revolution, which had out teaching “on the right track” and repudiated the “counter-revolutionary line” of Liu Shaoqi. It was acknowledged that at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, a few students were killed or injured and much property had been damaged, but after the students “received education from Chairman Mao’s line,” violence ceased. The university had closed down in June 1966, and although a workers’ team came in mid-1968, the first graduates, few in number, did not emerge until 1970. At that time, the Philosophy Department had added politics to its discipline. As the chair of the department said, “During the past two years, we have persisted in implementing the principle of putting politics in command of knowledge, and also of uniting theory and practice.” Hence, a student had to spend one-third of the time in work off campus.

On January 6, we departed by train for Hong Kong. When we arrived, we knew we were back in an open society—the noise, confusion, and color were almost frightening. We scrambled with others to get a taxi, and finally climbed into one. The driver immediately asked, “What did you think of China?” We merely said that it was very interesting, whereupon he said, “I was born in Shanghai, but I will never go back. It is all right for tourists, yet they want everyone to think like them and support Chairman Mao, but we don’t. Everyone in Hong Kong feels that way.” Probably “everyone” was an exaggeration, but it was easy to see why a majority would prefer leaving the PRC at this point to foreign tourists.

[Editor’s note: Prof. Scalapino accepted the invitation to join our series “My First Trip to China” in early October this year. Unfortunately, he passed away on November 1 at age 92. This is adapted from his memoirs “From Leavenworth to Lhasa – Living in a Revolutionary Era” (Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, 2008).]

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 19:53
Gregory Clark joined the Australian diplomatic service in 1956 and was stationed in Hong Kong from 1959-62 and Moscow 1963-65. He left the diplomatic service and after ANU post-graduate studies on the Japanese economy became Tokyo correspondent for The Australian in 1969. From 1974-76 he was consultant, assistant-secretary level, in the policy coordination unit of Canberra's Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Then after almost two decades at Tokyo's Jochi (Sophia) University as professor of Economics and Comparative Culture he was made president of Tama University before being made vice-president of Akita International University where he remains as trustee. He is the author of “In Fear of China” (1967) and “The Japanese Tribe - Origins of a Nation's Uniqueness” ( in Japanese 1978). His website is www.gregoryclark.net

It is 1971. The moderates in China led by Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) have been able to stage something of a comeback against the Cultural Revolution fanatics. Zhou was searching for a way to open ties to the outside world without inviting reprisals from the still active Gang of Four radicals. Inviting ping-pong players from around the world to visit China was his solution, and it succeeded. One result was to put an end to the decades of harmful isolation policies imposed on China by the US, Japan, Australia and a host of other Cold War worthies. Another was that after a decade of futile China-watching from a very long distance, I would suddenly be propelled into China - a China that was still struggling to overcome the harm caused by bouts of insane domestic policies.

And yet another would be to open the path for Australian diplomatic relations with China. Emboldened by our ping-pong visit the leader of the Labor opposition party in Australia, Gough Whitlam, would lead a party delegation to Beijing later that year. The ruling and anti-China Liberal-Country Party coalition would be defeated in the 1972 elections soon after. One of Whitlam's first moves in power would be to offer diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

How to get to China, in six easy steps.

My story begins with me in Tokyo in the cold, wet spring of that fateful year. We have already had wind that something involving China will happen at the world table tennis championships being held in Nagoya in April. The championships get underway and we are told that all participating teams will be invited to visit China after the championships have ended. Even the Americans have been invited. But for some reason there is no word of an Australian team being invited.

I contact the Australian team leader, a Dr. (medical) Jackson by phone in Nagoya. No, for some reason we were off the invitation list, he insists. Besides, the team plans a visit to Taiwan after some travel in Japan. I suggest that he contact me if he comes to Tokyo, which he does and he ends up staying in my apartment (he does not like Japanese inns). There I am able to show him the glowing newspaper reports of how the US team is being feted in China. What a pity he was not invited, I persist. Finally he admits that he was invited but Canberra, which in those days was bitterly anti-China, had insisted that he refuse and take his team on a pre-arranged ping-pong tour of Taiwan instead.

I tell him I can arrange a China tour instead, if he wants, and he agrees. I send a cable to Beijing saying he is now ready to accept the invitation offered him in Nagaoya. I add that he wants one, Gregory Clark, to accompany the team. Just twelve hours later I get a reply inviting the team to come, and to bring one Gregory Clark also.

I was euphoric. As a young diplomatic recruit in Canberra during the late 1950's I had responded to a call for volunteers to take a two year course in Chinese, first in Australia and then at the University of Hong Kong. It was Canberra's first move to train Chinese speakers following the 1949 break in relations, and since I was the only respondee I got to spend two highly educative years in Hong Kong in the early sixties, partly working in the Australian consulate there, followed by a year on the China desk back in Canberra. But because Canberra was still refusing diplomatic relations with China I was then sent to Moscow instead (I had been one of the post-Sputnik dabblers in Russian). Meanwhile and to my great envy all my UK Foreign Office colleagues on the Hong Kong language course were being posted to Beijing, eventually ending up as heads of mission, governors of Hong Kong etc.

In 1965, with Canberra insisting that the war in Vietnam was 'Chinese aggression relying in the first instance on their north Vietnamese puppets', and that I should pass this astounding revelation on to the Soviet foreign ministry together with our regret that the Soviets had not realised this sinister danger, I decided there were better things to do in life. So after a four year post-graduate spell at the Australian National University I had ended up as Tokyo correspondent for an Australian newspaper. Which is why, after ten years circling China and trying vainly to visit the place, I suddenly had my chance to get there on the coat-tails of a ping-pong team.

For the record I contact the Australian Embassy in Tokyo to see whether Canberra, which had tried to head off a China visit by arranging that visit to Taiwan, would oppose our visit. The Embassy remains studiously neutral. After all, by this time half the world's ping-pong teams already seem headed in the China direction.

The only other problem was that we did not have a team. They were scattered around various training sites in Japan, they did not have the funds to get to Hong Kong, and some did not even want to go to China. Eventually we managed to get just enough volunteers - two men and a 16 year old girl - to call ourselves a team. My newspaper offered to pay the fares to Hong Kong in exchange for the scoop I was going to give them. And so, just 24 hours later, I found myself standing with Dr. Jackson, three bleary eyed Australian table tennis players, their manager and one other Australian journalist at the Lo Wu crossing, waiting to get into China.

At the Lo Wu crossing

We have handed over our passports. But for some reason we are all left standing in the hot sun. Why? Eventually a stern-faced guard emerges to tell us that we cannot go to China. The players all have unused Taiwan visas in their passports. Worse, I have a used visa. Taiwan is the enemy of the Chinese people. People with visas to visit the territory of that enemy regime cannot be allowed into China. Only Vince Matthews, the other journalist (from the Melbourne Herald - Melbourne is the home of Australia's only pro-Beijing communist party), can be allowed in. He does not have the offending Taiwan visa. I invent some excuse for the visas, and emphasise the importance of our mission. Eventually after calls to and from the Beijing office back in Hong Kong, we are allowed in. As we board the train for Canton (as it used to be called in English in those politically non-correct days; today it has its proper name of Guangzhou) I do not even try to contain the excitement.

True, as we are waiting to board the train we meet some dazed Latin Americans coming out of China. Their impression of China? ‘Six weeks, one song’ one of them says unhappily. But even this does not worry me. After a decade of flitting around the periphery of China - the nation whose language I have studied with such difficulty, and whose foreign policies I have researched and defended in a book (In Fear of China, 1967) - I am finally being allowed to board a slow train headed for the Middle Kingdom.

Into Canton

At Canton we are met by a small delegation of boiler-plate communist officials. Fortunately, it includes a Mr. Yu (the ‘Yu’ means ‘fish’) - a youngish, sophisticated official sent down from Beijing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to look after us. We are taken to the Dongfang Hotel - the main hotel in Canton for welcoming foreign guests (the hotel lodges most of the thousands of foreigners who pour into the town each year for the Canton Fair, China’s one point of commercial contact with the outside world). Being put in such a prestigious hotel means the Chinese realise the political importance of our visit, I tell myself.

But the self-satisfaction will not last long. At the hotel post office we find that Beijing has not yet organized press accreditation for myself and Vince. So if I want to cable the story my newspaper wants so badly — “First Australian Journalist into China since 1949” - it will cost one US dollar a word, and I will have to pay before midnight.

It is too late to go to the bank. So I can do no more than file a brief story saying that we are all in China, that we are part of the historic ping-pong diplomacy, and that the first breach in the wall of traditional Australian hostility to China has been made. But Vince is much more aggressive. His first story out of China is a 3,000 word opus on the welcome we have been receiving, and saying that the girls look nice beneath their Mao costumes, that the food is splendid, and that the beer tastes good. Unfortunately, he does not have the 3,000 dollars needed to send this opus back to Melbourne. He tells the cable office he will pay later, and heads for the bedroom I have to share with him. We are both exhausted. I have hardly slept for the past three days.

Red Guards

As we lie prostrate in the sticky south China heat, I hear a frantic knocking on the door. It is exactly midnight. A group of angry Red Guards pour in through the unlocked door. Vince still has not paid his bill, and they want to know why. Needless to say, the Red Guards are speaking in Chinese, and very rapid Chinese at that. It all passes over Vince's Chinese-illiterate head. The Red Guards get even angrier, and try to pull him out of bed. I have to intervene.

I say that it is not Vince's fault he cannot pay his bills since Beijing has still not arranged the Press cards that guarantee our newspapers will pay bills. Besides, Chairman Mao (毛澤東) has instructed the Red Guards to serve the people, and they clearly are not doing anything to serve Vince. The Red Guards are not impressed, especially by my attempt to drag Chairman Mao into the argument. But they realize there is nothing they can do about the semi-comatose, Vince. They leave, swearing vengeance.

Expulsion from Canton?

The next morning when I go down to breakfast I can sense that the meet-and-greet friendliness of the night before has evaporated. Indeed, the officials of the night before are now viewing me with intense loathing and silence. With them is Mr. Fish, and he is looking very worried. Yu takes me aside. In a low and serious voice he says that he and the officials have been up all night dealing with those Red Guards. The Guards have been demanding my immediate expulsion from China for unacceptable behavior – the defamation of Chairman Mao especially (no mention of the true culprit, Vince). Only after six hours of intense all-night debate was Yu, the diplomat as ever, able finally to persuade the Red Guard fanatics to allow me to stay. But only if I make an apology.

I try to take stock. I have spent much of my adult life learning Chinese, writing a book explaining Chinese foreign policies, defending China from insults, and in particular trying point out that China was not responsible for the Vietnam War. What’s more I have defied my own government and single-handedly organized the ping-pong team China wants so badly to have visit. And then when I finally get to China, I discover there are some people there who want me expelled on my first evening. Just brilliant. But I stomach my pride and do what Mr. Yu says. I am allowed to stay in China.

After an exhibition table tennis match in Canton we set out for Shanghai. On the plane is a delegation of American women led by Shirley MacLaine. They have come to learn about the liberation of Chinese women. The first Chinese woman they meet is a timid stewardess on the plane. They beg her to tell them about her liberation. She does not have much to say. In fact, she does not want to say anything. She is clearly terrified by these large, dominating, liberated American females

Dateline Beijing

Arriving in Beijing, we are given the welcome usually reserved for African potentates. There is a large official banquet, with Dr. Jackson as the chief guest. The next day we are taken to the Great Hall of the People to meet none other than Premier Zhou Enlai. I still have a photo of the little-known doctor from South Australia being welcomed by the prime minister of the world’s largest nation. I also have a photo of myself meeting Zhou. He is looking straight at me. I am bowing slightly, Japanese style.

I come away from the meeting with two lasting impressions. One is the cracks in the wall of the hastily built Great Hall. The other is something others have written about - Zhou's extraordinarily magnetic presence. You have the feeling that this is a man of depth and intelligence, who has known power, and suffering, and has had to come to terms with both.

More Problems

Meeting Zhou is one thing. Dealing with his citizens in those frantic Cultural Revolution days is another. I move quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous. It begins the next day, when our little band of news-people (by now some Australian TV people have also arrived) head for the main Peking table tennis stadium to see a match with the Chinese national team. It is an important match, and we assume we do not need tickets to see it – that our journalist credentials are enough. But a very determined guard says no tickets, no entry. Once again it is left to me as the sole Chinese speaker to sort things out.

I ask the guard his name - it is Zhang. I tell him that we have come all the way from Australia to see this match, and now we will have to go all the way back, empty handed. And when we get back we will all write stories about how a Mr. Zhang stopped us from reporting on this great and historic match. Does he realise the terrible damage that will be done to good relations between the great Chinese people and the great Australian people? Does he realize he will be directly responsible for that damage? Mr. Zhang lets us in, reluctantly. But there will soon be repercussions.

The match over (I forget who won, but the Chinese are usually doing all they can to make sure the Australians win sometimes), I am in a taxi with Max Suich, an Australian journalist from the Fairfax media group, who had joined us subsequently (he had been badly scooped by my arranging the visit), heading for the Chinese Foreign Ministry for a formal visit to present our credentials. Suich stops the car to photograph some Chinese slum children (the Fairfax papers love that kind of photo). In those days photographing slum scenes was tantamount to slandering the great Chinese people. An angry policeman emerges to demand that Suich hand over the camera and that he go to a nearby police station for questioning. Once again it is left to me to do the explaining. I rehash much of the same indignation I had given Mr. Zhang earlier. Eventually we are allowed to go, but again there will be repercussions, and soon.

At the Chinese Foreign Ministry

Arriving at the Ministry we are ushered into an impressive room and told to wait. The official handling Australian affairs will greet us. Meanwhile I am imagining how the official will soon enter the room, and single me out for a special greeting as the one Australian in the group who has learned the Chinese language, who has tried to explain Chinese foreign policies in the past, who has done so much to get the team to China, and who has defied a virulently anti-Beijing Canberra in the process. The Chinese authorities must know about all that, and be grateful. How wrong can you be.

Eventually a very stern-faced official does enter the room and he does single me out. But it is not to offer praise or thanks. He says the Ministry has just received reports from a Mr. Zhang and an unnamed policeman stating that a Chinese-speaking Australian journalist has been behaving in ways insulting to the great Chinese people. Is that person you, Mr. Clark? I mumble something about being misunderstood, and watch on as the official turns to welcome all the other journalists, warmly. He congratulates them on having opened the door between China and Australia. I am left standing in a corner. It was my first lesson in how narrow and self-centered Chinese attitudes to the outside world can be.

But the outside world can be equally narrow, as I discover on four subsequent visits to China in the CR seventies - first in early 1973 to mark the opening of Australian diplomatic relations with China, then with a trade delegation headed by Australia's trade minister and later deputy prime minister, Jim Cairns, then in November 1973 with prime minister Gough Whitlam, and finally for a 1974 trade exhibition headed by Cairns again. Wandering around China with groups of Australian businessmen, journalists and officials still deeply suspicious of China, and of anyone who can speak Chinese, is not an edifying experience. I got a minor scoop when I discover that the Chinese are so unimpressed with Cairns' and the Embassy's efforts to cement trade relations that they demand all exhibits be returned to Australia, though maybe China will accept some of them for free. Neither Cairns nor the Embassy was impressed by the scoop, even if it did show the fragility and superficiality of some Chinese efforts to open up to the world.

Deng Xiaoping and other Non-Scoops

During the 1971 visit I was able to use a Tokyo contact to get to interview Sihanouk, then in semi-exile in Beijing. My main impression was the lavish attention he was receiving from his Beijing handlers, and a documentary on the young dedicated Khmer Rouge fighters, male and female, he said would recover his nation for him (as he sat in pomp in Beijing). But back in Sydney few were interested in that mini-scoop. And no doubt most of those I had seen in the documentary would be either wiped out or radicalised into killing madness by those secret B52 bombers (which I also got to see later in Guam. "Just bombing pretty green fields and trying to finish the 12 hour mission in time to get back for the steak dinner and the Filipino band" is how one Anderson Base crew member put it to me).

But on the 1973 visit with Cairns I was able to arrange a meeting with Penn Nouth, the then Cambodian prime minister in exile. I even managed to get a polaroid photo on the front pages. But Canberra was still following the US pro-Lon Nol line. Cairns was officially reprimanded.

Then there was day during the Whitlam 1973 visit when we all went off to see the famous Coal Hill gardens on the northern outskirts of Beijing. A small man wearing a cloth cap and a happy smile was showing us round. Everyone thought he was the head gardener. I looked a bit harder and realised it was none other than Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), on yet another of his attempted comebacks from Cultural Revolution exile.

I asked him just that: "Are you Deng Xiaoping?" He giggled agreement. I felt certain I had quite a nice story to report for my paper, and maybe a worldwide scoop as well. China-watchers around the globe were using Deng’s return to grace as a measure of China’s return to sanity after the Cultural Revolution madness. Sadly my story was cut to pieces by sub-editors in Sydney who, like that large group of Australian media people on Coal Hill, did not have the slightest idea who Deng was.

I had long been aware of Deng when he made that sudden but little-noted visit to Moscow in the early sixties in a bid to patch up the dispute with the USSR. He had also been prominent in the mid-sixties when, together with Zhou Enlai, he had tried to move China to more moderate policies. But if none of this was of great interest to my Coal Hill colleagues, it was of even less interest to editors back in Sydney.

Cultural Revolution Realities

My 1971 visit and two 1973 visits coincided with the beginning of the CR run-down (one 1973 hint was the way the ubiquitous pro-CR slogans were gradually being toned down, under pressure from the military we were told). But the legacy of that madness was on every side to see: Factories more interested in producing Maoist slogans than goods; demoralised, poorly fed, badly dressed crowds gaping suspiciously at any foreigner in sight; constant stories of Red Guard idiocies and brawls; the persecution of technicians who had studied abroad and had wanted to bring their skills back to China; gory reports of the civil war between rival factions at the Tsinghua university I visited.... As someone who had long respected the intelligence with which the Chinese ran their foreign policies (including the dispute with Moscow which few seemed to realise was over the all-important question of Taiwan) I could not understand why they could be so crazy in their domestic policies.

At the annual trade fair in Canton I was shown a rather primitive machine for making zippers. It had been developed by the workers at XX factory, I was told proudly by two cheery young ladies trying vainly to sell it to the world outside. I asked where it was being sold in China, only to be told that Chairman Mao had decreed self-reliance, that the machine had been developed solely for use in XX factory, and that other factories would be inventing and producing their own zipper machines. (To anyone who knows anything about production scale economies, the insanity of this approach should have been obvious. Yet back in Australia some were very willing to praise this sturdy emphasis on independent local initiative. Fortunately the China of today has got rid of that nonsense.)

In the countryside I had seen even worse - decrepit factory-shacks that were supposed to be producing independently the chemical fertilizers needed for each commune; the debris of the Great Leap Forward backyard steel furnaces which had to be fed by valuable pots, pans and needed farm implements. China in those days was also determined to impress us with its medical skills. The highlight was being taken to see a badly-burned Shanghai worker receiving acupuncture while shouting long live Chairman Mao.

Sometimes the nonsense could turn sinister. On a walk through the Shanghai slums a large crowd gathered behind me. Someone started shouting that I was a capitalist intruder. Fortunately, and just as the mood was turning ugly I turned a corner bringing me onto the main Nanjing Road thoroughfare. The relief was considerable. Elsewhere I was to see similar Cultural Revolution degradation of Chinese society, though not as dangerously as in Shanghai. I assume the journalistic China-glorifiers at the time had little of that experience, staying as they did in their comfortable cars and hotels.

Western China-watching

Collective idiocy in those days was not confined to China. For years the Western media had portrayed China as an evil dragon breathing fire and fear over Asia. Now thanks to ping-pong diplomacy and the frantic rush by Western journalists to get visas, China had overnight become a model of peace and contentment.

One writer - a Tokyo-based colleague unable to speak a word of Chinese but who had been able to persuade the world that a brief meeting with Mao in 1943 made him an expert on all things Chinese - spoke gushingly about the amazing honesty of the Chinese under Communism. Little did he realise that the hotel employees trying to return discarded razor blades whom he and others had praised so highly were under strict instructions to do so. If they wanted to know something about Chinese honesty, all they had to do was look at the bicycles parked outside their hotel, all carefully locked by owners. In several weeks traveling China in 1973 I did not see a single construction crane. At a factory making transformers outside Shanghai the workers had been too busy even to glance at us as we strolled through. When I went back half an hour later the place was deseerted. It was pure Potenkim. And I wrote that.

Meanwhile my colleagues from the US and elsewhere were writing happy reports about China's great economic progress. Few seemed to realize that the steel mills we were shown in Beijing and Anshan were parodies of steel mills, certainly compared with the steel mills I had been visiting in Japan just a few weeks earlier. (Some of them seemed never to have seen steel mills before.) Trying to report for my newspaper on the still very backward state of China’s economy without seeming to want to encourage the anti-China crowd back in Australia was not easy. But it had to be done.

I suspect that to this day I am still on some kind of Beijing warning list as a result. Certainly the Chinese authorities have never gone out of their way to be as welcoming to me as they have been to a quite a few journalists happy to write glad stories at the time. Ironically, the same media were later to turn anti-China again, as we were to see with the Tiananmen Square massacre myth.

The Causes of Chaos

After the first 1973 visit myself and two ABC correspondents had six weeks to wait before the trade delegation visit got underway and we were allowed to travel around China to fill in the gap. We got to see much – across to Xian in the west, by train then to Loyang and then down to Shanghai before returning to Beijing. Once again it was the same pattern of poverty, squalor and inefficiency smothered with Cultural Revolution propaganda.

I tried to find the logic behind it all. Helping me were our two minders - she, an intense CR devotee from Shanghai which had always been in the forefront of revolution in China; he, an easy-going fellow from Beijing willing to admit there had been mistakes. As our train wandered over the Chinese countryside I could eavesdrop on their constant debates. Clearly both took their politics very seriously. And so too did the rest of China. Almost at every visit we would be told how this CR faction had attacked yet another CR faction. In short, there clearly was some kind of ideological dispute in progress. But over what? No one seemed to know for sure. But ‘being struggled against’ had been the order of the day for anyone who seemed in any way to deviate from the official line.

Returning to Tokyo, I tried to regain perspective. The Chinese were not a stupid people. Many of the officials I had met in Beijing were intellectually more supple than most of their Japanese or Australian equivalents. Our minders were unusually smart, intelligent, caring people. Yet even they had been overcome to some extent by the fanaticism and obscurantism imposed on them. It was my first real lesson in the power of ideology to warp a nation and a people.

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 19:56
Richard Baum (包嘉瑞) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at UCLA. A long-time director of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, his books include "Burying Mao: Chinese Politics in the Age of Deng Xiaoping" (Princeton, 1996) and, most recently, the personal memoir, "China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom." His 48-part lecture series,“The Fall and Rise of China,”was produced in 2010 by The Teaching Company as part of its award-winning Great Courses™ audio/video collection. He is the founder and list manager of Chinapol, an online discussion forum serving the global China-watching community

My maiden journey to the PRC was a direct outgrowth of ping-pong diplomacy and Richard Nixon’s subsequent visit to China in February 1972. In the aftermath of those game-changing initiatives, unofficial Sino-American diplomatic, cultural, and scientific exchanges commenced in the latter half of 1972.

Within China, the opening to the United States proved highly contentious. Lin Biao (林彪) and Jiang Qing (江青) strongly opposed “sleeping with the enemy.” Although Lin’s sudden death in September 1971 cleared a path for Zhou Enlai’s (周恩來) diplomatic breakthrough with Nixon, Jiang Qing did her best to derail the new détente.

On the eve of Nixon’s historic trip, Jiang Qing and her fellow leftists attempted to sabotage the visit of an advance team of U.S. Government officials led by Deputy National Security Advisor Alexander Haig, sending them out on Hangzhou’s freezing cold West Lake on a bare-bones tour boat with no heating and no refreshments. Only a last-minute intervention by Premier Zhou -- who personally ordered up a new boat, suitably heated and provisioned -- prevented an embarrassing diplomatic dust-up.

Signs of left-wing defiance became even stronger as the political infighting in China heated up in 1974-75. By that time, with Mao’s blessing, cultural exchanges between China and the United States were a regular occurrence. In addition to ping-pong and basketball teams, the U.S. had sent to China a variety of delegations, including a symphony orchestra, university presidents, secondary educators, world affairs specialists and swimming and diving teams; China had reciprocated with acrobats, martial arts specialists, ping-pong and basketball teams. Two Chinese pandas -- Lingling (玲玲) and Xingxing (興興) -– now resided in the Washington D.C. Zoo. In exchange, the U.S. side sent two rare white musk oxen to Beijing. Unfortunately, these latter ambassadors of good will failed to flourish in the confines of the Beijing Zoo. Suffering from a debilitating skin disease, the two oxen – Matilda and Milton—soon lost their hair.

Since there were as yet no official government-to-government relations between the two countries, all bilateral exchanges between 1972 and 1978 had to be arranged informally by non-governmental (“people to people”) organizations. On the American side, there were two facilitating bodies: the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the PRC (CSCPRC), an offshoot of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, set up to coordinate scientific and technical exchanges, and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, which handled cultural exchanges. The National Committee was a non-profit NGO established in 1966 to educate American opinion leaders about the PRC. My U.C. Berkeley mentor, Bob Scalapino (施樂伯), was its first president; and he invited me to join the organization’s board of directors in the early 1970s. By mutual agreement, all bilateral exchanges were to be strictly apolitical-- without ideological or political content.

As a recent appointee to the National Committee’s board of directors, I was eligible to serve as a scholar-escort for an outgoing U.S. exchange delegation; but being a relative newcomer to the board I was nowhere near the top of the pecking order.

My number came up unexpectedly in the spring of 1975, when I received a phone call from Jan Berris at the National Committee headquarters inviting me to accompany a delegation of American municipal mayors who were scheduled to visit China in September of that year. I was ecstatic. I renewed my passport, read John Lewis’s book, “The City in Communist China,” and hired a tutor to help polish my spoken Chinese, badly neglected since my graduate student days in Hong Kong in the late 1960s.

All too soon my ecstasy turned to agony. In late March 1975 Jiang Qing struck again. Violating the ban on political content, the Chinese side at the last-minute informed the National Committee of its intention to change the scheduled repertory of a Chinese performing arts troupe on its upcoming U.S. tour. In place of an innocuous pastoral folk song, a new choral piece was being inserted into the program. Entitled “Taiwan tongbao, wo gurou xiongdi” (“Taiwan compatriots: our own brothers”), the new song contained the inflammatory lyric: “Women yiding yao jiefangTaiwan!” – “We shall certainly liberate Taiwan!” After hastily conferring with the State Department, the National Committee informed the Chinese side that the proposed program change violated the “no politics” rule, and was hence unacceptable. The Chinese responded by canceling the tour. I panicked. September was close at hand. Would there be further repercussions? Retaliation in kind? I picked up the phone and called Jan Berris. “When does the next exchange delegation leave for China?” I asked urgently. “In two months,” came the reply, “the AAU national track and field team.” Without a moment’s hesitation, I offered to swap my September mayors’ delegation for the upcoming athletic team. The National Committee approved my request.

As it turned out, my fears were well-founded. In mid-September the Chinese side, in an ostensible display of solidarity with a small but vocal Puerto Rican independence movement (who knew?), refused permission for the “colonialist” mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, to be included in the U.S. mayors’ delegation. The National Committee retaliated by canceling the mayors’ visit. Encouraged by this disruption, Jiang Qing redoubled her efforts to sabotage the U.S.-China relationship.

Her efforts peaked in February 1976, when Richard Nixon--by now in deep disgrace in his own country--paid a second visit to China on the fourth anniversary of his 1972 triumph. He and his wife Pat were invited by the irrepressible Mme. Mao to an evening of musical entertainment in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. At one point during the performance Jiang Qing suddenly jumped to her feet, loudly applauding a young tenor’s bravura solo number. Emulating their hostess, the Nixons rose up from their seats to clap, only to be sharply but tactfully restrained by an alert U.S. Government official, who had recognized the title of the tenor’s song: “Taiwan tongbao: wo gurou xiongsi,” with its inflammatory lyric, “We shall certainly liberate Taiwan!” The Nixons quickly sat back down in their seats, refraining from joining in the ovation. Thus did Jiang Qing narrowly fail in her attempt to sandbag the former U.S. president into openly cheering for Taiwan’s liberation.

And so it came about that, alarmed by Jiang Qing’s proven capacity for disruptive mischief, in May of 1975 I approached the “Friendship Bridge” at Hong Kong’s Lowu border crossing along with 98 of the very best athletes America had to offer. I could barely contain my excitement: After a decade of watching China from afar, I was on the through train to Canton. Well, not quite the through train. In those days, the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) had its terminus at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui, across from the Peninsula Hotel, near the clock tower where the Hong Kong Cultural Center now stands. Belying its name, the KCR did not actually cross into China. It stopped at Lowu, where passengers were offloaded and required to cross the railroad bridge on foot.

At the far side of the bridge, PLA border guards carefully inspected our travel documents. After a brief delay we boarded a Chinese train for the trip to Guangzhou (Canton), sixty miles to the northwest. Passing by Shumchun (the Cantonese name for Shenzhen), the train slowed. The day was warm and humid. I leaned out the window to take a photo of a barefoot toddler of two or three, standing in the shade of a protective parasol on a path leading to an austere, tile-roofed farmhouse. No one else was in sight; time seemed to be standing still. There was no hint whatever of Shenzhen’s staggering metamorphosis to come.

Stepping off the train onto the station platform in Guangzhou, I was exhilarated -- a kid in a candy store. For more than a decade I had been watching China through the wrong end of a very cloudy telescope, from Taiwan and Hong Kong, in print and on film, unable directly to experience the elusive Middle Kingdom. Viewed at a distance China seemed enigmatic and inscrutable, a fantasyland of surreal political stereotypes and extreme ideological clichés, but lacking in living, breathing human beings. Until that day, my most vivid image of contemporary China was the all-too-familiar celluloid scene of frenzied Red Guards waving Mao’s “Little Red Book.” As I walked through the railroad station, I found myself scrutinizing the people around me. The mass insanity of the Cultural Revolution seemed light years removed from this very unremarkable, quotidian scene. Observing a group of middle-school students on an outing, I wondered idly if their older brothers and sisters had participated in beating up teachers or informing on parents.

Up close, the Chinese people seemed so . . . normal. With some surprise, I noted the ordinariness of their appearance, their clothes and their mannerisms. What do they talk about at dinner? I wondered. How do they react when they see an American? Feeling conspicuous and self-conscious, I was oblique and indirect in my gaze, reluctant to initiate eye contact. The objects of my attention were not nearly so discreet, however. They stared right at me, boldly, without the slightest hint of shame or embarrassment. On one occasion a passing bicyclist stared at me so intently he crashed into a lightpost. I found this combination of curiosity and brazenness off-putting at first, but endearing later on, as my Chinese friends and acquaintances exhibited no qualms whatever about grilling me as to the cost of my clothes, or the amount of my monthly income, or whether I had a Chinese girlfriend. I recalled from my Berkeley language training that the concept of “privacy” was not translatable into Chinese. One Chinese dictionary had defined it as “a Westerner’s liking for loneliness.”

The Guangzhou train station was crowded. Hundreds of people were in motion, though few seemed to be hurrying. Many others were simply waiting – for what? I wondered. Several squatted on their haunches– a posture few Westerners are able comfortably to sustain. Others clustered in small groups, smoking and chatting among themselves. Most of them– men and women alike – wore plain, unisex cotton pants and shirts in three basic colors: gray, blue and olive drab. There was a smattering of white shirts in the crowd. Women wore their hair either in short pigtails or simple pageboy cuts; there was no jewelry and no makeup – depressing evidence of Jiang Qing’s lingering influence as chief arbiter of cultural taste and fashion.

On our first evening in Guangzhou I went out for dinner with two National Committee staff members who had also accompanied the AAU track team, Arne de Keijzer and Peggy Blumenthal, along with our unofficial State Department escort, Neal Donnelly. We went to what was, by reputation, one of Guangzhou’s finest restaurants, the Beiyuan. Later that night I wrote in my trip notes:

"Restaurant lavish and decadent. Built as large rectangular courtyard house ('siheyuan'). A dozen banquet rooms on four sides, surrounding traditional Chinese garden. Stained glass panels in each room, richly hued in deep blues and reds. Exquisite wooden furniture, hand carved. Excellent food; incredible service."

The meal cost Ұ54 for the five of us (approximately US$6 apiece-- an amount equivalent to roughly ten days’ wages for the average Chinese industrial worker). Small wonder most of the restaurant’s patrons were Westerners, in town for the recently-concluded annual Canton Trade Fair. This was most definitely a haut bourgeois dining experience, far removed from the egalitarian hype of Maoist publicity.

What happened after dinner left an even deeper impression. I had often heard that Chinese went to extraordinary lengths to return personal items that had been misplaced, or deliberately discarded, by foreign guests. To test this, at the end of our meal at the Beiyuan I attached a small AAU lapel pin to a pack of Chinese cigarettes and left it in a darkened corner of our banquet room. We then took a cab back to the hotel, where I began writing up my notes on the day’s activities. An hour or so later the hotel’s floor attendant walked in without knocking, completely oblivious to my obvious annoyance. (One quickly learns to give up one’s expectations of personal privacy in Mao’s China.) His eyes bright with triumph, the attendant proudly displayed my cigarette pack in his hand, the lapel pin still attached. It was an impressive piece of detective work. We had not made an advance booking at the restaurant; we had not given anyone our names; and after dinner we had hailed our own taxi, some distance away from the restaurant. How did they find us so quickly? Somewhere in this experience lay a cautionary tale: Big Brother is watching!

Guangzhou’s taxi fleet was something to behold. The majority of taxis were exact copies of 1946 De Soto-Plymouth four-door sedans. When I asked how this curious situation came about, I was told that at some point in the past China had purchased the entire tool and die works from an obsolescent Chrysler Corporation assembly line in Detroit. Whatever their source, these thirty-year-old behemoths were amazing to behold. Considering their age, their bodies were in reasonably good shape; but the engines were something else again.

A mechanical breakdown en route to our hotel gave me the opportunity to peek under the hood of one of these beasts. As our driver labored with his tool kit to nurse the wheezing, sputtering engine back to life, I looked over his shoulder. What I saw was startling. Lacking spare engine parts, the cab had been kept in running order through ad-hoc patches and engineering improvisations. A bulky, jerry-built replacement carburetor, distributor, and starter motor had long ago replaced the original factory equipment on our taxi, and a profusion of home-made belts, bolts and cables now protruded at odd angles from the engine block, fastened together with a considerable amount of baling wire and electrical tape. The overall effect was that of a homemade Rube Goldberg device. I had to admire the considerable ingenuity that went into keeping the aging Guangzhou taxi fleet in service.

The U.S. Track and Field Delegation spent three days in Guangzhou, three in Shanghai, and four in Beijing. In each city a two-day track meet was held, matching the American athletes – who included several past and present world champions – against seriously outmanned Chinese provincial teams. Considering that track and field was in its infancy in China, the crowds were impressive, ranging from 15,000 in Guangzhou to over 70,000 in Beijing. Though most in attendance had clearly never seen a track meet before, the spectators were generally polite and attentive, dutifully applauding winning performances.

Fortunately for all concerned, our delegation’s visit had been organized under the slogan, “Friendship first, competition second” (“Youyi diyi, bisai di’er”). It was fortunate because the track meets themselves were anything but competitive; and the results were anything but pretty, at least from a Chinese perspective. With thirty individual events held in each city, including both men’s and women’s competition, a total of ninety first-place medals were awarded. The US athletes captured 89 of them. Then, in one of the final events of the final meet in Beijing, a Chinese middle-distance runner caught -- and passed -- the lead American runner with less than 400 meters to go. Suddenly the previously inert crowd came alive. “Jia you! Jia you!” they began to chant in unison – “Pour it on! Pour it on!” When the Chinese runner built an insurmountable lead with less than 200 meters remaining, the chanting turned to screaming: “JIA YOU ! JIA YOU!” More pure adrenalin was pumped out during that brief outburst than had been displayed in five full days of prior athletic competition. Notwithstanding the debilitating traumas of the Cultural Revolution and other Maoist excesses, Chinese national pride and patriotism were evidently still alive and well, lying dormant, awaiting only a superb performance by a gutsy Chinese athlete to be re-awakened.

Several years later I discovered that the ubiquitous “friendship first” motif, displayed so prominently throughout our three-city track and field tour, did not long outlive the death of Mao and the advent of Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) market reform and “opening up” policies. Attending a Chinese intra-league basketball game in Shanghai in the early 1980s, I was both startled and slightly amused to discover that local fans, apparently emulating their NBA counterparts in the United States, delighted in heaping abuse upon visiting players, chanting “yang-wei” (“can’t get it up”) whenever an opponent missed a shot, and “xiong-qi” (“erection”) whenever the home team scored. I took such trash-talk as tangible evidence of the two-edged nature of China’s “opening up.”

Toward the end of our trip, on a sightseeing visit to the Great Wall north of Beijing, I got into a rather heated discussion about photography with one of our local guides, a Ms. Li. I was an avid amateur photographer, and had been taking quite a few pictures from the window of our bus – mostly focusing on peasants working in the fields, or balancing heavy loads on shoulder poles, or sleeping by the side of the road, or riding on horse-drawn wooden carts. After a while Ms. Li tapped me on the shoulder. “You must like old carts,” she said. “Why don’t you take pictures of our modern buildings?” I responded that in America we have lots of modern buildings, but not so many horse carts or shoulder poles. Obviously annoyed, she proceeded to deliver an impromptu lecture on the dangers of “lying with your camera.” I asked her what she meant. She told me that the Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni had made a film in China two years earlier that lied about China. “He filmed only poor rural villages, old houses, and shabbily dressed peasants,” she scolded. “He lied with his camera, just as you are doing now.” I protested that Antonioni merely filmed what he saw, and that what he saw was real. Dissatisfied, but not wishing to offend a foreign guest, she abruptly terminated the conversation. “We have a different viewpoint than you do,” she said dismissively. A few years later, after Jiang Qing was toppled, the Chinese government apologized to Antonioni and invited him back.

There were other surprising encounters as well. One of the more memorable of these occurred during an evening stroll along the famous Bund in Shanghai. Situated on a quay alongside the Huangpu River, near the mouth of the Yangzi, the Bund (the word is Urdu for “embankment”) was built by Europeans shortly after the turn of the 20th Century. With its monumental mix of Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architecture, the thirty or so massive concrete buildings along the Bund formed the financial and diplomatic hub of Shanghai’s pre-WWII international settlement, its famous skyline a trope signifying the city’s modern history of Western domination.

I was walking along the northern bank of the Bund with Neal Donnelly when we heard the sound of whispered voices coming from a nearby, darkened bridge. It was a moonless night, and there was no illumination on this particular stretch of riverbank, where the Huangpu joins the Suzhou Creek. Strolling onto the darkened bridge we could make out shadowy forms lining the railings on either side. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we saw dozens of young couples, crowded together along the bridge railings, in various stages of sexual intimacy. All were more-or-less fully clothed; and all were vertically upright. But there was clearly a good deal of body heat being generated.

At one point two young men approached us, speaking to each other, weighing the costs and benefits of confrontation. One said, “Let’s hassle the foreigners a bit.” The other replied, “Are you crazy? We’ll be shot on sight.” Self-preservation prevailed over bravado, and the youths retreated without incident. In point of fact, the penalty for crimes committed against foreigners in those days was extremely harsh; for physical assault, the penalty was death. We felt very safe on China’s streets. On the other hand, we now had clear evidence that despite decades of puritanical moral education and a constant stream of Communist Party propaganda claiming that China’s young people routinely sublimated their sexual urges to higher ideological principles, hanky-panky was very much alive and well in Shanghai--albeit only in a few designated sanctuaries. (Public parks were another favored venue for youthful heavy breathing.)

Earlier that same evening, Neal and I had visited the Foreign Seamen’s Club on the Shanghai Bund. I had been told by one of our Chinese guides that duty-free goods were available there for merchant sailors at rock bottom prices. We decided to check it out for ourselves. Inside the front entrance, a clerk in the anteroom asked for the name of our ship and pushed a register in front of us. I signed the book in English, nervously scrawling, “Dick Deadeye, HMS Lollipop.” The clerk looked at the signature, shrugged, and motioned us inside. There we saw three or four large display cases filled with foreign cigarettes, perfume and liquor of every description– including half a dozen top-quality brands of single malt Scotch, various exotic brandies, and nine or ten Russian and East European vodkas. I pointed to a one-liter bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label and asked the clerk, “Duoshaoqian?” (“How much?”). “Shisankuai,” came the response – about US$7, roughly half the usual U.S.retail price. From then on, until the Foreign Seaman’s Club moved to new headquarters under a tightened security regime in the early 1980s, each time the Good Ship Lollipop dropped anchor in Shanghai, Able Seaman Dick Deadeye showed up to claim two bottles of Black Label.

One of the U.S. male track athletes had a rather chilling encounter with the local public security police in Shanghai. On the first day of our two-day track meet there, after winning his event he got caught up in the spirit of “friendship first” and ran up into the grandstand waving a small Chinese flag and shaking hands with a number of enthusiastic spectators. It was a spontaneous display of inter-cultural good will. Later that evening, as I was dressing for dinner, he knocked on my door. He told me that during his jaunt into the stands that afternoon a Chinese spectator had discreetly shoved a note into his hand. After glancing uncomprehendingly at the Chinese characters, he shoved the note in the pocket of his warm-up jacket, where he soon forgot about it. Some time later, two plainclothes Chinese security police visited him in his hotel room, inquiring about the note and its author. Did he still have the note? Did he recall who handed it to him? His suspicions aroused, he told them he had thrown the note away and couldn’t remember who gave it to him. After his visitors left he waited a half an hour or so, then knocked on my door. He handed me the note and asked me to translate it. “Long live the friendship of the Chinese and American people,” it said, in hastily scrawled characters. He asked me what he should do if the police came back again. I told him that if he wanted to keep the note as a souvenir he should stuff it in the toe of one of his shoes inside his duffle bag, and then make a mental note of where things were positioned in his room and in his bag before he went out for the evening. Later that night, after dinner, he knocked on my door once again. His room had been searched, and a few personal items were now out of place. But they hadn’t found the note. It was another small but sobering reminder that China remained firmly in the grip of xenophobic autocrats.

On our last full day in Shanghai we were taken on a tour of a Chinese factory, the Shanghai Turbine Plant, one of the largest and most modern in China. The plant produced giant turbine engines, used to generate hydroelectric power. In the reception room, the plant’s public relations director gave us the standard, obligatory “Brief Introduction” (BI) to the factory and its history. Before the Cultural Revolution, he told us, the plant’s managers and engineers had oppressed the workers, forcing them to comply with hundreds of detailed rules, and docking their pay if they violated any regulations. Managers had also shown favoritism to better-educated workers, looking down on the uneducated and the unskilled. Consequently, plant morale had suffered and productivity had lagged badly. After the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, he said, things changed. The workers became “masters of the house” as the plant introduced participatory management. The old managers, along with administrative staff, engineers and technicians, were criticized for their arrogant bourgeois attitudes and work styles and were forced to scrub toilets and do menial work on the factory floor. Morale improved greatly, and the plant registered outstanding improvements in both the quantity and quality of turbine production. It was a typical Cultural Revolution morality tale–stereotyped, melodramatic, and almost certainly untrue.

This particular vignette bears repeating only because some three years later, in the summer of 1978, after the overthrow of the “gang of four” and at the onset of Deng Xiaoping’s second political comeback, as chance would have it I returned to the same Shanghai Turbine Plant. By this time the worm had turned and many of the “revolutionary virtues” celebrated during the Cultural Revolution were being decried as “ultra-leftist poison” spread by the “gang of four.” Not surprisingly, this new morality was incorporated into a revised BI at the turbine plant. Curiously, the narrative on this occasion was given by the very same public relations flack who had addressed the U.S. track and field athletes three years earlier. But this time his story line was quite different. During the Cultural Revolution, he said, agents of the “gang of four” had sabotaged production in the plant. Overthrowing the management, they spread anarchy on the factory floor. Workers played cards during working hours, while managers were ruthlessly “struggled.” Engineers and technicians stayed home, unwilling to risk criticism as “bourgeois authorities” if they dared to display initiative in solving technical problems. Consequently both the quantity and quality of output suffered badly. Over 70 percent of all the turbine engines produced at the plant between 1967 and 1976 were rejected as substandard. However, in the past two years, he continued, things had begun to turn around. The workers came to understand that their thoughts had been poisoned by the “gang”; and managers, engineers and technicians were rehabilitated and permitted to do their jobs. Piece rates were introduced, along with monthly bonuses for over-fulfillment of quotas, and production consequently rebounded. They were now well on their way to breaking previous records for productivity, innovation, and quality. It was an inspiring story. At the end of his spiel he looked around the room and asked for questions. I raised my hand.

“Three years ago,” I reminded him, “you stood in this same room and gave a very different Brief Introduction to another group of foreign guests.” I then highlighted the contrasting elements in his past and present narratives, asking him how he could reconcile such strikingly different stories. He stammered and sputtered for a moment before blurting out the only possible explanation under the circumstances: “My thinking was poisoned by the gang of four.” This anodyne phrase became China’s unique and ubiquitous national mantra in the late 1970s, as 800 million people struggled to reconcile their recent “revolutionary” words and deeds with the new, more pragmatic requirements of political correctness in the age of Deng Xiaoping. The ability to turn on an ideological dime, rationalizing one’s previous attitudes and behavior in order to minimize personal culpability, shame and opprobrium had become an essential survival skill.

On our final evening in China, after the track and field team had finished its last day of competition in Beijing, a lavish farewell banquet was laid on for us at Beijing’s International Club. The event was organized by the U.S. Liaison Office, whose Chef de Mission, Ambassador George H. W. Bush, and his wife Barbara, served as hosts for the evening. Approximately 200 people were there, including, in addition to our delegation, a number of Chinese government officials, leading members of the All-China Sports Federation, and various other VIPs. The American athletes had been in training for two full weeks, on a strict dietary and recreational regimen that excluded alcohol, drugs and late night revelry. They were young, they were energetic; and they had been tightly wound. Now, with the rigors of competition at an end, they were ready to break loose.

At each table, small glasses of “Maotai,” a potent Chinese barley liquor closely related to “Gaoliang,” were refilled at frequent intervals during the banquet, as were larger glasses of sweet red “Shaoxing” rice wine. Glasses of luke-warm beer were also constantly refreshed throughout the evening. Three or four courses into the meal the decibel level in the banquet hall rose noticeably, as the athletes’ inhibitions began to melt away. By the fifth or sixth course, raucous laughter echoed through the room. By the time soup was served after the eighth course, my well-trained olfactory sense detected a familiar, sticky-sweet scent wafting through the room.

As waiters cleared the dishes prior to serving dessert, Ambassador Bush stood up to speak, and the ambient noise level in the room dropped a bit. After making a few introductory remarks, Bush raised his wine glass in the direction of the Chinese officials sitting at the head table, intending to propose a toast. Before he could say “ganbei,” however, a commotion broke out at the back of the banquet hall. I looked up in time to see a tall, lanky pole-vaulter from Texas rushing drunkenly up the center aisle, heading toward Ambassador Bush, calling out, “I’m gonna kill that sonofabitch.” Just before he reached Bush, a heavily muscled American discuss thrower jumped up and tackled him. It was no contest. The pole-vaulter was quickly subdued and carried bodily out of the banquet hall, whereupon Mr. Bush, seemingly unfazed, resumed his toast. Later, I was told that the offending athlete had been drinking and smoking pot since late that afternoon. Evidently, “Maotai” was the coup de grace that sent him over the edge. After being carried from the hall, he was taken to the team bus where a couple of his teammates sobered him up.

On the afternoon preceding that final bacchanalian banquet, I sat next to a dour, unsmiling Chinese government official in the VIP section of Beijing’s 70,000-seat Workers’ Stadium. He had arrived late. The track meet was already underway, and we introduced ourselves hastily. I didn’t quite catch his name, but it didn’t sound familiar. (Full disclosure: I have always had a poor memory for Chinese names.) I recall feeling vaguely disappointed, as I had been hoping to meet someone really important. In the course of the day’s competition I made several attempts to draw the fellow into conversation, but he didn’t seem interested in chatting. Nor did he appear to be enjoying the track meet. After a while I stopped making any effort to engage him.

Fast-forward eight months to January 1976. The international China-watching community was abuzz with rumors about the succession to Premier Zhou Enlai, who had succumbed to bladder cancer on January 8. Although First Deputy Premier Deng Xiaoping was next in line to succeed Zhou, there had been no formal announcement of the succession. Rumor had it that the Party Politburo was deadlocked between Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Qing’s preferred candidate, Zhang Chunqiao (張春橋). Then, on January 28, the Chinese press agency Xinhua issued an otherwise routine report about the arrival in Beijing of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Accompanying the report was a photo of the airport reception for the visiting German leader, with the following caption: “Acting Premier Hua Guofeng greets Chancellor Helmut Schmidt.” Immediately, China watchers everywhere picked up their telephones and started calling each other: “Hua GuoWHO?” we asked. A frantic search of “Who’s Who in Communist China” yielded the information that Hua Guofeng (華國鋒) was a provincial party secretary from Hunan (Mao’s native province) who had been brought to Beijing late in 1971 to serve on the commission of inquiry investigating Lin Biao’s conspiracy and death. Hua had evidently impressed Mao with his performance on the commission, for in 1974 he was promoted to the important post of Minister of Public Security—China’s top cop. Looking at the Xinhua photo, I thought that Hua Guofeng looked vaguely familiar. Though I didn’t recognize the name, I felt sure I had seen the face before.

On a hunch, I began sifting through the hundreds of photographs and other memorabilia from my visit to China the previous May. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. There, in grainy black-and-white, was China’s mystery man, Hua Guofeng, sitting next to me at Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium. I could have kicked myself. Why hadn’t I recognized his name? Why hadn’t I persisted in trying to chat him up at the track meet? For years afterward I kept that photo, now badly faded, pinned to a bulletin board in my UCLA office as a memento of my close encounter, and a reminder to work harder on my retention of Chinese names. With the exception of two brief viewings of Mao’s embalmed corpse, a National Committee-sponsored encounter with Deng Xiaoping, and a five-minute photo-op with Jiang Zemin (江澤民), that was as close as I ever got to a Chinese Communist Supremo.

[Adapted from "China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom" (University of Washington Press, 2010).]

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 19:58
Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (傅立民),USFS, Ret., was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon’s pathbreaking 1972 visit to China. Two of his children have continued the family tradition of sinology. His daughter, Carla (傅瑞真)is the Associate Director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. His oldest son, Charles III (傅瑞偉)holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

On a chill, gray Monday morning -- on February 21, 1972 -- I stood on the steps of the old Hongqiao Airport terminal. I had arrived in Shanghai twenty minutes in advance of President Nixon. I was on the backup plane, which arrived first, so I actually saw the arrival of Air Force One in Shanghai. I had studied Chinese in Taiwan, but this was, of course, my first encounter with the Chinese mainland. My eye was drawn to a billboard that defiantly proclaimed, much as those at the airport in Taipei did at the time (with seven of the same eight ideograms), "we have friends all over the world." As Air Force One pulled up and cut its engines to refuel and take on a Chinese navigator before flying onward to Beijing, I heard a bird sing. Judging from the presence of birds but the absence of aircraft at Hongqiao, I deduced, all those foreign friends of China couldn't be conducting their comradely visits by air.

As our president and his wife deplaned for an off-camera cup of tea, I was reminded that I had written some advice for Mrs. Nixon, which was not to wear red, a color associated in China with weddings or prostitutes. Of course, she got off in a brilliant red overcoat. So much for that advice. But it was photogenic, which was obviously the main concern.

I struck up a conversation with a Chinese foreign ministry official, the first I had ever met. I was, it turned out, also the first American official with whom he had ever spoken. That day culminated in President Nixon's meeting with Chairman Mao (毛澤東) and dinner with much of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee in Beijing. It was a day of mutual discovery for many Chinese and Americans. Not just for me and others who took part in some or all of its events, but for all whose stereotypes were blown away by the images on television.

We went from the airport arrival ceremony to the Diaoyutai guesthouse. There were three interpreters: myself, as the senior interpreter; Cal Maehlert, who had excellent Chinese, who had been pulled out of Saigon for this purpose; and Paul Kovenach, who had been recruited by somebody or other for the purpose. We were an odd group, because Cal Maehlert was rabidly pro-Kuomintang and in fact a great personal friend of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). And right after the trip, he went off on a hunting trip in Taiwan with Chiang Ching-kuo and probably told him everything. He also lost his entire, I believe, at least he couldn't account for, his copy of all the briefing papers. Paul Kovenach was as close as you could get then to a Taiwan-independence advocate. Paul and I rode in together from the airport. I still didn't know what I was to do. There was a brief preliminary meeting with the Chinese at the guesthouse, where essentially they did the interpreting.

It wasn't until later that I was suddenly called over to the president's villa in the Diaoyutai guesthouse, with the assurance I would be told what I was to do. Cal and Paul came along, and we were all put into a side room. The president came out, and I noticed he was wearing pancake makeup, and there was a large glob of Max Factor hanging from a hair in the middle of the groove at the end of his nose. But all he did was shake hands, say he was pleased to meet us, and not tell us anything about what we were to do. So we went back to our villa, on hold.

There was to have been a banquet early in the evening, but Nixon went off unexpectedly to see Mao, excluding Secretary of State William (“Bill”) Rogers and everyone from the State Department.

Suddenly, a little after eight o'clock in the evening, the banquet having been moved down to about nine-thirty, I was called over to the president's villa again. There was a bunch of people milling around, a couple of Chinese interpreters, Ji Chaozhu (冀朝鑄) and Tang Wensheng ("Nancy" Tang 唐聞生), and a number of other protocol people, including some I've since gotten to know very well on the Chinese side.

Dwight Chapin, the appointments secretary for the president, came out and said, "The president would like you to interpret the banquet toast tonight."

And I said, "Fine. Could I have the text, please, so that I can work it over?"

He said, "Well, I don't know. There may not be a text."

I said, "Well, I know there's a text. And Chinese is not French or Spanish. One has to consider carefully how this is done, if it's to be done well. I'm sure there's a text, and I'd appreciate your getting it for me."

He went into the president's office, and came out and said, "There is no text, and the president would like you to interpret."

I said, "Well, I happen to know that there is a text. And really I must insist on having that text. I have something approaching a photographic memory; I just need to read it once."

At any rate, he went back in again, and he came out, and he said, "There is no text, and the president orders you to interpret."

And I said, "Well, it might interest you to know that I did the first draft of the toast tonight, and while I don't know what was done to it, in detail, at the NSC and by the speech writers, I do know that some of Chairman Mao's poetry was inserted into it. And if you think I'm going to get up in front of the entire Chinese politburo and ad lib Chairman Mao's poetry back into Chinese, you're nuts. So, either..."

He said, "All right." And he took the text out of his pocket and gave it to the Chinese. And so they had it. Later, Ji Chaozhu, who did the interpreting, consulted with me on a number of points before he did it. Indeed it did contain some of Chairman Mao's poetry, and it would have been catastrophic for me to try to interpret it back into Chinese.

So my first act as interpreter of Chinese (this was my debut as interpreter; I had never interpreted except in a classroom) was to refuse to interpret.

As we sat through the banquet, I was at the head table with Nixon and Zhou En-lai (周恩來) and Kissinger and Ji Pengfei (姬鵬飛) and Li Xiannian (李先念), later president of China, and, I think, Qiao Guanhua (喬冠華), who was, in fact, the brains in the Foreign Ministry, and Bill Rogers, of course, and Mrs. Nixon. Interpreting for them, I could see the president glaring at me across the table, with his jowls wobbling and a grim expression on his face, obviously mighty annoyed that I had pulled this stunt.

I have thought a lot about why he might have wished to conceal the fact that there was a text. The fact is that he had a habit of memorizing speeches, and he liked to appear to be ad-libbing them, giving them extemporaneously, which is what Dwight Chapin had told me he planned to do. And I think he was afraid I would stand up there with the text, which I wouldn't have done, of course. In any event, he also had a predilection for using the other side's interpreters, because they wouldn't leak to the U.S. press and Congress. So all these things came together.

Two days later, after some other things had happened, he apologized to me. He called me over and said, "I'm sorry. I made a mistake. That was wrong. I shouldn't have done that." And there were tears in his eyes. Then he did some other things that were by way of making amends. It was odd.

I did not smoke at that time. I had given it up nine years previously, when I was in law school. But right after I had refused to interpret the president’s toast, I remember, Li Xiannian, then sort of the chief economic planner of China, later the president, offering me a cigarette. I took it, and I smoked for the next thirty years. I was terribly nervous. I was both proud of what I'd done and vindicated by the nature of the toast, and also numb with shock at what I'd done, figuring that my career was over and that that was it.

The president and Zhou En-lai hardly talked at all. Nancy Tang was covering them, and I was covering the others. As the evening went on, since there was no discussion going on, I started talking with Qiao Guanhua and several of the Chinese, in Chinese. We were just chatting about various things; I asked some questions about the schedule and this kind of thing. It wasn't a very substantive conversation.

As it turned out, I did all of the interpreting for the meetings between the foreign ministers, which very much fit the mode. I think Ambassador Averell Harriman remarked once that the diatribe is left to the foreign ministers, while the chiefs of state have a pleasant conversation. We had several such lengthy sessions with the acting foreign minister while the president communed with Zhou Enlai.

Of course, I was fatigued out of my mind. It was such an intense experience that, for probably a year after, I could have replayed all of those conversations verbatim. I could also read the Chinese briefing book upside down across the table, since I had taught myself to read Chinese upside down, thinking it might be useful someday. And that helped a bit.

Those discussions were essentially on the level of detail and exchanging complaints and interpretations of history and the like, some of which I think astonished Bill Rogers, as it turned out that he wasn't terribly familiar with the details of history, such as the precise origins and course of the Korean War and various U.S. statements on foreign policy matters. The Chinese pulled out a whole series of news articles, to try to show that the United States was hegemonic. And we got into great arguments, their interpreter and I, over the translation of a few key concepts, like deterrence, which they had translated as intimidation, a rendering to which I took exception. Of course, they had their own highly prejudicial vocabulary. They had not been subjected to the influence of positivism. They saw nothing wrong with making statements that were value laden, and they did so. In fact, they used language prescriptively, rather than descriptively, much unlike us. So it was a lively, but rather inconsequential, venting of views.

My impression about Mao Zedong was very little. He was so heavily screened from his own people that he was quite a mysterious figure. Zhou En-lai was always the urbane, loyal implementer of Mao's policies - implementer in the best sense: he would take broad concepts and translate them into something that could work. I had, of course, read much about him. I remembered a remark that former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold had made, to the effect that, when he first met Zhou En-lai, as he did, I believe, during the effort to compose a truce in Korea, for the first time in his life he felt uncivilized in the presence of a civilized man. There was this enormous grace and charm about him. Indeed, at one of the dinner conversations on the second night, Zhou En-lai engaged me in conversation across the table, asking about my background, where I had learned Chinese, what I thought about this trip, and so forth, with the Chinese interpreter interpreting our conversation for the president.

I can't remember the exact day, but I snuck out (snuck out is the wrong word, because one couldn't sneak anywhere in China) but, with Chinese connivance, I got out to the New China Bookstore on Wang Fujing Street in Beijing. I was looking for a copy of the “Twenty-four Dynastic Histories” (《二十四史》). Each dynasty in China writes the history of its predecessor. And there is a tradition of considerable objectivity and really great professionalism in the writing of these things. They go back well over two thousand years, and they are the most complete record of any human civilization that exists. They contain information on everything from the amount of rainfall in a given year to the court dress to events in foreign relations to domestic political and economic policy changes to the life of the court and so forth. I wanted to see if I could buy these, and I had brought a pile of money with me. I had read, actually, in an intelligence report, that they had been published. The book store told me that scholars were still busily preparing these. I was told that they were not published yet.

Zhou En-lai, obviously well briefed by his staff, on our last day in Beijing, at lunch, spoke to me across the table and said, "I understand you're interested in the “Twenty-Five Histories.” I didn't know that they had written the history of the Republic of China, the twenty-fifth dynasty on the Mainland. We talked a bit about those, and he explained to me, for the benefit of Nixon, what these things were. And he said the work in publication had not yet been completed, but that, as a response to my interest in them, he was going to give two sets of an original edition of these things to the United States, one to the White House and one to the State Department. And indeed, in the State Department Library, there is the boxed set of the “Bo Na Ben,” (《百衲本》) which he presented to the Department through me. And he also gave me, separately, three books of literary criticism on a favorite poet and writer, by someone that Mao was very fond of, an intellectual that Mao admired, who was the father of one of the Chinese interpreters, someone who was then having an affair with the foreign minister and who later married him.

In any event, that conversation then led, in Hangzhou, to Nixon calling me over, as I mentioned, to apologize. And he said several things. I did some interpreting between him and Zhou. Then he said something to Zhou En-lai that I found grossly embarrassing. He said, "Mr. Premier, I want you to take note of this young man." I interpreted that. Then he said, "Because very likely he will be the first American ambassador to China." I was 27 or 28, and I thought to myself, "My God, he's either saying that they're going to have to wait thirty years for an embassy, until this fellow grows up, or he's saying they're going to send the least consequential, youngest ambassador ever to China." I was just terribly embarrassed. I didn't interpret it; Nancy Tang did. Zhou En-lai muttered something like, "That'll be the day," and that was the end of that.

But Zhou then asked me to stay on, and we talked some more. He asked more about our diplomatic service and various things. After that, I was feeling fairly good, having been apologized to by the president and praised by Zhou En-lai.

There were two military officers from the military region in Eastern China where we were. This was the first visit by Zhou En-lai to the region since the Lin Biao (林彪) incident, and the military were all on tiptoes. Anyway, I started talking to these two guys about the Korean War, in which both of them had participated. We got to drinking, and, as you know, in China, you never drink without toasting someone. Well, I sort of concentrated on these two fellows, and pretty soon they were very happy and glowing with pleasure. They got up and went around the table, and in a terrible faut pas, said to Zhou En-lai, and I could hear this, "Since that unfortunate incident, we've not seen you down here. We want you to know that we're personally loyal to you, Mr. Premier." There was great embarrassment on the Chinese side at this maneuver, which they attributed, probably in part correctly, to my having gotten these two guys drunk.

So Qiao Guanhua, who was a famous drinker, turned on me and started getting me drunk. We had, I think, twenty-three glasses of Maotai. By the end of the evening, I was feeling no pain whatsoever. But, fortunately, Maotai passes through the system quickly, so it did no permanent damage.

In Hangzhou, Kissinger and company were sequestered, with Nixon closely looking on from a distance, dealing with the final elements of the Shanghai Communique. The State Department was excluded from that. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Marshall Green played a crucial role there in rejecting and insisting on a revision of some of the language on Taiwan, which would have given away a point that we didn't need to give away.

Both Taipei and Beijing, the two regimes which have been in a civil war since the 1920s, regarded Taiwan as part of China and believed there was only one China. At that time, they simply disputed which one of them was entitled to represent China as the legitimate government of China.

So the United States, by the artful language of the Shanghai Communique, took note of this agreement between them and said we didn't challenge it. That was the basis for the framework by which we were able to manage, and have been, to this day, able to manage, relationships between Taipei, Beijing, and Washington.

As I recall, Kissinger began to accede to language that went beyond stating that we didn't challenge this view, and appeared to endorse it more directly. And it was that to which Marshall Green objected and on which he got Bill Rogers to weigh in. At any rate, he played a very important role at that moment.

The Shanghai Communique, so called, which was issued February 28, 1972, on our departure from Shanghai, which was our last stop, was actually agreed in Hangzhou.

I didn't see the text until we were in Shanghai, when I was asked to review the Chinese text, which I did with Ji Chaozhu. As is always the case between two languages there is no complete coincidence of meaning, there is an overlap, and there are several possible renditions of words, some of them key words. I found, to my very pleasant surprise that the Chinese translation had bent over backwards faithfully to render the reservations of the United States and really required no polishing at all. I did make a couple of suggestions, some of which were accepted and some of which weren't. But it was a very artful piece of very professional translation that they did.

I mention my review of the communique because it's become an article of faith that no one did review the text. I suspect that Kissinger isn't aware that it was actually reviewed by an American interpreter. But it was, and after that, it was put in final form and released.

The original language on Taiwan, as well as the language that I had crafted, establishing various mechanisms for interaction -- economic, cultural, and continuing diplomatic dialogue -- was essentially accepted in the text.

It was an unusual communique, in the sense that it began with a lengthy recitation of differences, and then, in effect, said that notwithstanding the foregoing, we have a common interest in opposing the hegemonic ambitions of other powers. Neither of us seeks hegemony, we do not wish anyone else to have it, and therefore we will engage in this relationship.

The Cultural Revolution was still in progress in 1972 and Beijing was a cultural desert. One of the first things that I always do when I go to a new place is to look at what people are reading, or, indeed, whether they're reading anything at all. And here was a city, a large city, probably at that point six million or so people, in which nobody was reading anything, and in which, in the bookstores, aside from the dogma, there was virtually nothing for sale. I found that the former edition of the Little Red Book of Mao's quotations, which was the Bible of the Cultural Revolution and had been blessed with a foreword by Lin Biao, had been removed from circulation. I managed to get a copy in Shanghai by browbeating a shopkeeper to take one out from under the table. It may have been the last such copy left in China.

Everybody was wearing Mao badges. Very much in my mind was the image of this cultural desert, like deserts elsewhere, occasionally bursting suddenly into bloom, with vast demonstrations in Tiananmen. But Beijing was under very tight security control. There were veterans of the Korean War in China, who had no cause to love Americans; there was the residue of the Lin Biao incident, and the place was buttoned down tight.

In Hangzhou, I went out on the street to go shopping and had one of the eeriest experiences of my life. When I went into a department store, there were thousands of Chinese in there, none of them speaking. You could only hear the swish of clothing contacting and cotton-soled shoes rubbing on the terrazzo.

Of course, we were shadowed by security people, several layers of them. The basic theory of security in China, as I knew, is very similar to ours; that is, there should be three layers of security. And I was able to spot the three layers, to the point where, in Hangzhou, when I wanted to buy some records of the Chinese Revolutionary operas, which I had read in the libretto but had never heard, I didn't have enough renminbi, Chinese currency, so I went to one of the fellows who was in the inner perimeter, a plainclothes fellow shadowing me, and I said, "I think you're with me. I don't know if you have any money, but I need to borrow some money. I'll pay you back when we get back to the guesthouse." He was shocked, but he gave me the money, and I bought the records, as well as some other things, some chopsticks and things like that. On the way back, walking on the street, I saw the tension revealed when a couple of these security people, who now had come out of their effort to conceal themselves and were preceding me on the sidewalk, literally knocked people off the sidewalk to make way. They were terribly nervous, and probably for good reason. And I'm sure that their paranoia was increased by our Secret Service, which, of course, is pathological on the subject of security.

In any event, it was not the period of the Cultural Revolution when starvation was at its peak; rather, that was after the Great Leap Forward. And time marches on. I was astonished on the Great Wall, when I dropped back and started talking to a couple of the local Chinese guides. Since the president was interested in being photographed and didn't want me in the photo, I turned the job of interpreting over to the Chinese and went back to talk to some of the ordinary little girls who were serving as guides, and I asked one of them, "What did you do during the Cultural Revolution?"

And she said, "Well, I was too young."

I meant at the height of it, which was only a few years before. But, of course, she was right, and it suddenly dawned on me that time does march on. This event, which was one of the great events in history, had come while she was still a child.

I also remember asking her whether she was aware that men had landed on the moon. And she said she didn't know that. So we talked a bit about that.

But later I discovered that in fact the Chinese were terribly well informed, in many ways, about the outside world, that there was something called Reference News, which any Chinese could subscribe to, not then but later, which rather faithfully selected and reprinted articles from the Die Zeit and the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Times of London and so forth. So, someone a bit older than she certainly would have been aware of the whole Apollo series. She was not.

When I left Shanghai, I was still on the backup plane. The mood was euphoric. We had accomplished our purpose, which was a strategic one. We had not given away very much on Taiwan. We had held our ground on other international issues. We had established the framework for a relationship. The one item that was unclear was the precise mechanism for future diplomatic contact. We had agreed on the channel, through the embassies in Paris. I didn't know it at the time, but Paris had in fact been a point of contact, through General, later Ambassador Vernon Walters, with the Chinese, primarily on the Vietnam War. And Kissinger had found it convenient during his contacts with the Vietnamese there to also maintain contact with the Chinese. So there was a certain logic to that.

In the past four decades, China has changed so much and become so much part of the world and Sino-American relations have become so tangled in multiple intimacies that the international solitude China then enjoyed can no longer be imagined. There is no birdsong now at the Hongqiao or Pudong airports. Instead, there are hundreds of jet aircraft arriving and departing for every corner of China and the globe. China has become the world's third-largest destination for foreign visitors. And the human ties between almost every sector of our two formerly estranged societies are now rich, ubiquitous, intricate, and warm.

Yet China and the United States began our contemporary relationship not with affection but with cold strategic calculation. The American intention was to alter the world's strategic geometry, not to change China by opening it to outside influence. Ours was a marriage between hostile parties arranged by geopolitics. It took place despite bitter disagreement on many matters and highly negative images of each other.

Today, when people think of the Shanghai Communiqué, they remember the way in which it finessed differences over the question of Taiwan's relationship to the rest of China and pointed to the need for Chinese on the two sides of the Strait to craft their own peaceful resolution of it. That language was, of course, a major achievement for both sides. But, in diplomatic history, the most innovative element of the Shanghai Communiqué was not the creative ambiguity of its language about Taiwan. It was the unprecedented candor with which the text recorded sharp differences between the United States and China on many regional and global issues.

And, in terms of the broad national security and foreign policies of our two countries, the essential paragraph was not that about Taiwan. It was our mutual acknowledgment that, while "there are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies," we could and should set aside these differences in the interest of sustaining a mutually advantageous international security order and pursuing common purposes in accordance with international law and comity. I do not paraphrase by much.

Such realism and mutual respect, tempered by deference to the rules of international conduct, was a wise basis on which to open a relationship between two great nations with the capacity greatly to help or hurt each other. It also delivered the strategic results both sides intended. The essence of this approach was 求同存異 — preventing differences on relatively minor matters from obstructing the search for agreement on others of greater importance. Today, despite the political and economic bonds between Chinese and Americans, the two countries appear to be drifting back into military antagonism. We would do well to rediscover the strategic vision and willingness to adjust policies to advance our national interests that were so much in evidence in February of 1972.

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 20:00
Ross Terrill (譚若思), a China specialist and Research Associate at Harvard's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research, is the author of ten books. He has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the National Magazine Award, and the George Polk Memorial Award. In 2011 his memoir, 《我與中國》 ("Myself and China") was published in Chinese in Beijing.

In the early 1960s, few Westerners set foot in the People’s Republic of China. Australians needed permission from their own government to go there. Some got a green light, but Beijing guarded visas for people from non-Communist countries like precious jewels. Australia, in step with the U.S.A., still had not recognized Mao Zedong's (毛澤東) government, which made getting a Beijing visa tougher.

During the summer of 1964, while hitchhiking through Europe after graduating from Melbourne University, I knocked hopefully on the tall carved wooden doors of Beijing's embassies in East Europe (few existed in West Europe), saying I would like to see New China. I had previously obtained permission from the Australian government to travel to China. In Prague, Budapest, and Belgrade, I was told to wait a couple of weeks for an answer. Alas, I had to take the train on to the next capital, to protect my dwindling funds, before a reply came at the Chinese embassy of the previous one. I felt I was in a revolving door, with a Chinese visa always just out of my grasp. Warsaw was my last stop in East Europe. At the PRC embassy on Bonifraterska Street, feeling I now had nothing to lose, I boldly asked to see the ambassador to debate whether or not it was a good thing for the world to understand China. A senior diplomat emerged from an inner room, smiling slightly. Two cups of tea appeared before us; I made my case. Next day I was phoned at the Bristol Hotel and told my Chinese visa could be picked up that morning at Bonifraterska Street.

Visiting Moscow on my way to China, I wrote a wide-eyed letter to my parents: “You can imagine how excited I am to be having my first sight of the USSR. It is a long-standing dream come true.” I took a tour of the Lenin State Library with its 21 million volumes, conducted by a blond female librarian who said, when told I was heading for China: "Remember, the present government of China is just a dictatorship of one man, the chauvinist Mao Zedong. It is not a government of the people - and it is bent upon war." The Soviet librarian’s words were a blunt introduction to the burgeoning Russia-China split. I tried to suggest the USSR and China were at different stages of development and it was inevitable that outlooks would vary. The librarian cut me off. How could a kid from a capitalist country understand the finer points of Marxism! Whether in connection with our conversation or not, a “Statement of the Soviet Government” was delivered to my room at the Ostankino Hotel next day. It was a 20,000-word refutation of the Chinese government’s statement opposing the treaty of 1963 banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere.

From Moscow I took a worn Aeroflot turboprop plane to Omsk. About half the passengers were Chinese. Two Hungarians struggled aboard with melons in string bags. A Finnish woman, on her sixth trip to China, was off to buy textiles at a trade fair in Shanghai. Albanian commerce officials were on their way to North Korea for a vacation. Omsk looked like a town in Alaska or the far north of Japan. In a terminal that was full of sleeping Russians and resembled a railroad station, we sipped sweet-scented Siberian lemonade. Another stop at Tomsk, and then after a night flight we reached Irkutsk. A Siberian tourist guide led me to a breakfast of buns, apricots and mineral water. As we ate, the Chinese (CCAC) airliner that was to take me to Beijing rolled up outside the window. I began to sense the enormousness of the co habitation of the Soviet Union and China, the two leaning upon each other for 4300 miles, their bodies together like reclining dinosaurs, their minds far apart, one in Europe and the other in Asia.

Changing to CCAC, we began a four-hour flight to Beijing. During many months in Europe, this was the first flight I took with no Americans on board. The cultural transition to China was agreeable. The cabin smelled of bamboo fans and fragrant tea. Hostesses brought chewing-gum, cigarettes, and little plastic envelopes for the protection of fountain pens. We flew over Lake Baikal and the barren ginger waste of the Gobi Desert, and later over North China’s yellow streams and green velvety hills.

At Beijing airport, a customs officer sealed up my rolls of film exposed in East Europe, so that I would be able to take them out of China, and made me undertake to have any film used during my stay developed within China. A guide from the China International Travel Service awaited me. Even a wandering Australian student could not arrive in Mao’s China unmet; he had to have an escort to ensure an appropriate experience of New China.

A stubborn idealist, I wanted to see for myself the new China that had turned off the lights of Treaty Port China and excluded the West, throwing out the last American diplomats in 1950 and treating each succeeding American president as the world's devil of the moment. The revolution that Mao clinched in 1949 was still a shimmering abstraction for most people around the world, the way the Russian Revolution was for Europeans through the 1920s and 1930s. I was too young to buy an abstraction, and energetic enough to hunt down a few realities.


My first vista of Beijing was of a huge mass of people in white shirts and blue pants assembled in Tiananmen Square. It was a rally of 800,000 Chinese protesting U.S. President Johnson's attack on North Vietnamese vessels in the Gulf of Tonkin, just a few score miles from Chinese territory. Nearby, Chang An Avenue, the spine of Beijing, swarmed with bicycles. Amidst them, occasional busses, like carp among minnows, made a sedate progress. Hooked together in pairs with a folding canvas connection, giving a caterpillar effect, the busses ploughed forward packed to capacity. My taxi dashed at fifty miles an hour for half a mile, then coasted at fifteen miles an hour for a few hundred yards a maddening way to drive, which I thought at the time meant engine trouble, but learned later was to save gasoline.

The only major new buildings in Beijing were Soviet-style government monoliths: The history museum, the Great Hall of the People, the central train station, all put up in the fevered years of the Great Leap Forward. They didn’t look very Chinese. A waiter at the Beijing Hotel said the train station went up from the moment of its design to the last coat of paint in ten months. I wrote in my diary: “The Chinese acknowledge no limitations, whether on the speed of putting up a building, set about with trees that arrive fully grown in boxes, or on controlling the historically uncontrollable waters of their great rivers.” No high rise or international chain hotels existed, nor did any foreign airline other than Aeroflot fly to China.

Some buildings were being spruced up for the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the PRC a couple of months ahead. Little of the famous city walls of Beijing remained. I wondered in what way the destruction of city walls was intrinsic to the Communist revolution. Did aesthetics not count at all? I concluded that the rush to pull down city walls was in keeping with the Communist aspiration to make a new environment and a “new man.”

Drivers of the few cars, imports from Russia and Poland, with an occasional battered Morris or Chevrolet from "imperialist" days, made constant use of the horn, sending little boys scurrying and old men hauling wagons lurching to one side at the last moment. I wrote in my diary: “My guide said in the future there will be many more cars in China. If there are one tenth the cars in Beijing that there are in Melbourne, people will be deaf within a day from the noise of the tooting.”

As Chinese as many things were, from the curved tiles of the Forbidden City's palaces in the hue of a goldfish's skin, to the nasal cries of the hawkers and stone-grinders, and the smell of Chinese noodles and sauces and vegetables, Beijing nevertheless had the air of the Communist bloc. I stayed in the Russian style Xin Qiao Hotel, a rectangular cement block which nestled against a remnant of the city wall in the old Legation Quarter. My room had no shades and sun streamed in upon the bed at 4.30 AM, as outside my window cicadas sang as if in millions. In the hotel courtyard, the bushes, although lush, exuded heat. Beside them, old Chinese men and women did rhythmic snakelike “tai ji quan” exercises.

The Xin Qiao Hotel had large parties of Laotian dancers and Cambodian table tennis players. Many Africans were on visits of “Goodwill,” for in 1964 one-third of China’s forty-eight embassies were located in Africa. Except for three Western resident journalists, the main foreigners in the city were French visitors. They strode out into the terrible August heat in Parisian clothes, feeling proud that France, under de Gaulle, had led the way among Western powers in establishing full diplomatic ties with the PRC. Some East European technical residents of Beijing were becoming disgruntled as the Sino-Soviet quarrel made the atmosphere chilly. An engineer from Budapest carried in his wallet a piece of paper on which he crossed off one by one the days until his departure from China.

I had never seen a pedicab before. Patched up all over, perhaps they were being phased out as the government saw them as an imperialist relic? I liked them because of the open-air ride, the absence of a tooting horn, and the leisured pace that permitted real sight-seeing. The only drawback was the rather precarious seat and the feeling that it might be “unsocialist” to be pedaled by a Chinese worker.

To my room at the Xin Qiao each afternoon an attendant brought an English edition of a bulletin from the New China News Agency. The main theme of reports on world events was anti-colonialism. One morning during breakfast, four Africans with whom I had flown from Siberia to Beijing came into the restaurant. They approached my table and we shook hands and chatted. From the hotel staff there came a murmur of oohs and ahs. I did not understand why, but after further experiences at the opera and in museums of greeting Asians or Africans and evoking a buzz from Chinese by standers, I saw the point. To the Chinese, schooled in Marxist orthodoxy about imperialism and national liberation forces, human warmth across the chasm between a white person and Third World brothers seemed to come as a shock.

The end of colonialism was supposed almost automatically to solve the problems of the Afro Asian World. My bulletin from the Chinese news agency spoke of "old forces" of the West being swept aside by a tide of "new forces" of Afro Asian socialism. Many people, including to a degree myself, believed in this upward evolution of the oppressed. Of course it would be a long process.


No longer an abstraction, here was China as steel plants, crying babies, 3000 year old tombs, soldiers with fixed bayonets at the gates of unlabeled buildings, bookstores selling Albanian political pamphlets and the social realist works of Jack London, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. Also a populace with a genius, often born of necessity, for deriving pleasure from simple things.

The hotel dining room staff used bread as a magic tool to keep Westerners content. These cheerful young men and women were convinced no European could eat a meal that did not include a pile of slices of dense, dry bread. A culture needs pigeon holes for dealing with other cultures, and for these Chinese bread was the key to our civilization (as, for many Westerners, rice was the essence of Eastern civilization). If I ordered a meal that did not include bread, the waitress would look at me as if to say, "Haven't you forgotten something?" flash a knowing smile, and write the Chinese characters for bread on her docket book.

When I took a taxi to the Summer Palace, the driver, dropping me at the gate, said I would need sun glasses against the glare and lent me his own pair. After lingering longer than planned in the hillside pavilions, I could not find the taxi or the driver. I took another taxi back to the Xin Qiao Hotel and tried to ensure that the sun glasses were returned and full payment was made. I was not able to press upon the taxi co operative the 60 yuan agreed upon originally for the round trip to the Summer Palace. They would accept only 40 yuan plus the return of the glasses. No tip, even if disguised as a rental fee for the sun glasses. "Let us shake hands instead!" said the staff man when I tried to tip. Tipping had been abolished as a relic of colonialism, and only twenty years later would it come back as a prized badge of competitiveness.

I knew little of China, nothing of its language, and my eyes were my only investigative tool. But I could see the CCP was keeping a tight rein on Buddhists and Christians. Religion seemed a test of China’s new society. I asked to see a Protestant pastor, Zhao Fusan (趙復三), head of the Beijing Research Institute of Theology, and he received me at Beijing’s Rice Market Church. I knew of Zhao from church contacts in Europe, since he had represented China at international Christian gatherings in the years before the Cold War put an end to Chinese participation in world Christian activities.

Zhao wanted to talk about socialist China, not about theology. He put everything in a framework of imperialism, which my education made me inclined to accept. “There is little light for us in Western theology,” he complained. But I got little light from Zhao Fusan about Chinese theology. I asked him: “Which parts of the Bible do you turn to most often?” Looking impassive, he replied, “All parts of the Bible have appeared in a new light to us since 1949.”

I had a great time at the Beijing Library, which then had six million books and subscriptions to nine thousand periodicals. The head librarian, who had learned English and German in his spare time, led me through airy reading rooms and a rare book room. I asked him what sections of the library were the most popular. “The one on Marxism-Leninism,” he replied. “Next would come the fiction sections, both Chinese and literature from all over the world.” I looked up the English name C. Wright Mills, whose sociology books we read at Melbourne University, and found four of his works in English. Learning I had been in Moscow, the librarian inquired: “Is it also your impression that the Soviets are plain revisionists, and that a bourgeois strain has appeared in Soviet society?” I was startled when he answered my question about rules for borrowing: "Generally speaking, only organizations may borrow books not individuals."

The Chinese ultra-leftists, soon to jump to center stage, were quite right to say that a lot of "the old crap" still remained in the China of the early 1960s. The traditional Tian Qiao folk entertainment area, south of Qian Men gate, attracted happy crowds with its painted magicians, expressive story tellers, huge wrestlers, and double jointed acrobats. It wasn't forbidden to consult the writings of Confucius (孔子) and the Taoist philosopher Lao Zi (老子), to enjoy the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven, or to go dressed in a colorful skirt to a dance on Saturday night and prepare with a session at a hair salon. Not everyone yet realized or could say that the new crap (much of it Soviet socialist realism) was not necessarily better than the old.

Rightly or wrongly, I sensed a slightly old fashioned world. My room at the Xin Qiao was equipped with a chamber pot and a steel nibbed pen beside a bottle of ink, and in a nearby park older Chinese men played tennis in long white flannels, gravely inching their way through a baseline game. Leading restaurants, hotels, and embassies were staffed by silver haired veterans with elegant manners owed to imperialist tutelage, and the boutiques of Wang Fu Jing and the art shops of Liu Li Chang offered lovely antiques from mansions recently turned into schools or offices or dormitories. When I bought an ice cream, the seller took the time to carefully unwrap it and put the paper in a trash can before handing me the ice with a smile. And there were the dilapidated Morrises and Chevrolets, like remnants from a junk yard.


Packed up to leave Beijing, I reported to the CCAC air terminal office that was then near the Beijing Hotel at the corner of Wang Fu Jing. The little old colonial building was deserted. “There is a storm over south China,” an official said. “No flight to Guangzhou until it’s over. Try again in two hours.”

In Guangzhou, a sign in Chinese, English, and French rose opposite my hotel: “Welcome to the Businessmen for the Chinese Export Commodities Fair.” Even Australians came to the Canton Trade Fair, as foreigners called the event. Business folk were almost the only link with New China for many Western countries. Again in the south, the issue of the Soviet Union came up. My guide said crisply: "In Russia a new bourgeoisie has appeared, of which Khrushchev is the political spokesman. They are playing a 'great power' game. The sort of game that made them put missiles into Cuba. It's national egoism, nothing to do with class struggle." She told me: “Albania is the only socialist country left in Europe.”

The view of the Pearl River from the top of the Aiqun Hotel was wonderful. The yellow water was alive with boats of every shape and size. Some were sampans, with boxes of chickens affixed to the back that provided home for families who refused to live ashore, despite the government’s efforts to remove them as a pre-Liberation relic. The only cat I saw in China was on the deck of one of these sampans. On the roofs of buildings lower than the Aiqun Hotel, I looked down on small restaurants, people asleep, and little boys playing football.

The clip clop of wooden sandals on the crowded pavements had just about given way, with modest economic development, to the rustle of plastic shoes. “It makes Canton quieter than before Liberation,” a shop-keeper told me.

At the bus station the photos in a display sixty feet long were fiercely political. One showed a large crowd in Japan demonstrating against the United States. A grasping hand was superimposed over the crowd to represent Uncle Sam, and the chairman of the Japanese Communist Party was addressing the throng. I was shaken by a photo exhibition called “Four Wicked Men.” I saw Truman with a clenched fist, Eisenhower looking moronic, Kennedy as old and bewildered, and Johnson leering into microphones that resembled guns. I objected to an official. “These men are enemies of China,” he declared with a shrug. “Consider their deeds. Their deeds are a caption to the pictures.”

Flying home from Hong Kong to Melbourne, I wrote in my diary that China seemed to the left of the Soviet Union, just as Yugoslavia was to the right of the Soviet Union. China seemed more ideological than the Soviet Union, its citizens more swept up in public purposes. Fifteen years after Liberation, I found the snap and bustle of a confident new order. But in Moscow I had discerned more prudence about nuclear weapons than in Beijing.

I was left with the impression that the quarrel with the Soviet Union was not basically an ideological dispute, but one arising from the different stages of the Soviet and Chinese revolutions. Beijing’s focus, only fifteen years from beginning to unite and organize the country, had to be on feeding people, industrializing, and modernizing. Moscow’s talk of “goulash communism” was dangerous for the Chinese. So the battle with the Soviet Union was not an abstract dispute, but a matter of life and death.

I was wrong in thinking the Russia China split would likely have a negative impact on China's cultural evolution. "Communism in Rome and Paris and London, as well as in East Europe," I worried in my diary, "is a bridge between the Chinese Marxists and Western culture. By 'going it alone' the Chinese are cutting themselves off from all manifestations of European culture." It did not turn out that way.

I saw China poised among Chinese tradition, Western culture, and the new Communist culture. These were similar to the three forces that had jostled together in the May Fourth Movement of 1919, a prelude to China's later twentieth-century convulsions.

In Guangzhou I mentioned in my diary an appealing side of Chinese society: "The alleyways are crowded and they are poor, yet no one is in rags, no one is sitting or lying around in that state of hopeless looking poverty familiar in some Asian cities. The clothing is standardized to an extreme degree, but it is neat and adequate. Everyone seems to have a task, and consequently no one comes running after you, ingratiatingly, to beg something, or even to sell something. In the midst of poverty there is order and a certain dignity."


Most of my teachers in Australia at the time saw the PRC as nationalistic, fairly successful in economic development, and bound for a large role in Asia. They did not yet see the full scope of the social engineering mistakes of the Great Leap Forward of 1958-59. The international comparison they made was always with the Soviet Union.

Disagreements between Moscow and Beijing were plain to Australian China Hands, but most thought they stopped well short of enmity. The older school of China Hands from the 1940s, including Professor Charles Patrick Fitzgerald (費子智) in Canberra, who had seen the Communists in Yanan as “agrarian democrats,” felt any split between Beijing and Moscow just proved the CCP had never really been Communist in the first place. In general, Mao’s communism was considered intriguing and probably more flexible than Moscow’s.

My teachers of China never mentioned India, just as India experts knew little of China. But I was interested in this comparison. India displayed pervasive religion, an accompanying fatalism, and British-flavored intellectuals. All were a contrast with China. The Chinese in their secularity seemed more rational, more modern than the Indians, and imbued with a Promethean spirit. China was less influenced by any part of the West (or East ) than India was by Britain. China was more insular yet more intellectually challenging. I was fueled in my desire to seriously study China by an impression that, virtually unknown as the condition of the PRC was, China was Asia’s center.

Such bald thoughts went into a six-part series I wrote in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian a few months after my China trip. Murdoch had just founded this newspaper (four decades later it is one of the world’s best) and he was its editor. He pruned my articles with a blue pencil and wrote out the payment check with a fountain pen.

In one of my articles I criticized the American policy of non-recognition of the PRC. “One can only be astonished at the continued American policy of isolating China – to the extent of refusing citizens, including the late Eleanor Roosevelt and Averell Harriman, permission to go to China and cut through the cobwebs of myth with a bit of ordinary human communication. Can ignorance benefit anyone? Can it benefit us in the West whose cause is bound up with the irreducible nature of freedom?”

A tendency exists in some quarters, perhaps especially in Europe and the USA, to think international problems get steadily worse, but 1964 was a more troubled time than most later years. All of East Asia was immensely poorer than it is four decades later. Tumult beset the politics of the truculent Soviet Union, as Khrushchev was kicked out as Stalin’s successor. China exploded its first atomic weapon in 1964, rejecting the Test Ban Treaty signed by the three nuclear powers in 1963. In Beijing and Guangzhou, photos of Chinese children cheering at the news of President Kennedy’s assassination nine months before made me pessimistic about U.S.-China relations.

But I knew not all Chinese believed every word the party-state said. In Beijing, David Wilson (魏德巍), then a young British diplomat, later British Governor of Hong Kong, told me of a recent rally against the Vietnam War. "I happened to be minding a friend's Dalmatian dog," said Wilson, "and I arrived at the [British] office in my red sports car with the dog sitting beside me. The people assembled for the demonstration against us burst into fits of laughter. It opened the whole atmosphere up - they let me pass through the door." Wilson said "a fascination with the West and its goods existed" even in the China of 1964, "but it was suppressed.” I suppose a red Alvis, a mountainous pet dog, and a Briton in a Scottish kilt were striking spectacles for the people of Beijing to behold.

A novice at age twenty-five, I did not realize in 1964 that “Liberation” was a facade behind which lay a mixture of social change, political control, and cultural continuity. Mao, it turned out, had more doubts about the results of the Liberation than we Westerners who saw China in the early 1960s detected. Nikita Khrushchev was more prescient about the excesses of the Great Leap Forward communes than China specialists in the West. He told Senator Hubert Humphrey, later U.S. vice-president, as early as December 1958 that they would certainly not succeed.

At the end of my last article for The Australian I wrote: “All around the world, from Singapore to San Francisco, you can see pockets of Chinese society. But only in China can you behold the vast and formidable civilization in its power and its old and beautiful setting. Only in China do you realize what the Chinese as a race and a nation must increasingly mean in the pattern of future decades. Just as once in the past, long before the present barren era of clashing ideologies and wrenching divisions, China was the greatest power on earth, so in the future she may become so again.”

I felt that observing this huge slice of humankind had launched me on a path that might hold my feet for many years.

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 20:02

Jerome A. Cohen (孔傑榮) is professor and co-director of the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU School of Law and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

I started studying the Chinese language August 15, 1960 at 9 am. Confucius said "Establish yourself at thirty," and, having just celebrated my thirtieth birthday, I decided he was right. I would not be allowed to visit China, however, until May 20, 1972. For almost twelve years my study of China's legal system and related political, economic, social and historical aspects, had necessarily been second-hand, dated and from afar. It was a bit like researching imperial Roman law or deciphering developments on the moon.

Like many other American specialists on China, as a new era of Sino-American relations dawned in the early 1970s, I tried many ways to finally reach the Promised Land. The one in which I had invested the least effort was the one that panned out first. A phone call from the Federation of American Scientists, a group of liberal scientists seeking to initiate cooperation with China, suddenly brought an invitation to accompany its chairman, the distinguished physicist and policy advisor Marvin Goldberger, and its executive secretary, the dynamic political activist Jeremy Stone, on a several week-trip to promote the first scientific exchanges between our countries. The three of us were allowed to take our wives, but not our children.

So Joan Lebold Cohen (柯珠恩), who had become a specialist in Chinese art on the faculty of the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, and I shared this first trip to China just three months after President Richard Nixon's famous China visit. We had been spending the academic year in Japan on my Guggenheim Fellowship, and we reluctantly left our three school-age sons in Kyoto under the supervision of our kind and competent housekeeper, Hatenaka-san.


We were guests of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. One of its able staff, Mr. Li Mingde (李明德), met us at the Hong Kong border and escorted us to Beijing's Minzu (Nationalities) Hotel. Excited to finally be there, I awoke early the next morning and decided to explore the neighborhood before joining my wife and colleagues for breakfast. The area was bustling with people rushing to work, leaving no chance to strike up a casual conversation. I tried to talk with people in the nearby market, which would have been difficult at any time, but especially at 6 am. I heard one vegetable-seller say to another: "He's a Frenchman," perhaps because Americans were few at that point and I had a mustache. After a while, since I was hungry and getting nowhere in my marketplace effort at cultural exchange, I decided to try my luck at a nearby "little eating place." As I stood in line, the man behind the counter seemed friendly and asked what I wanted to eat. I asked him to give me what those ahead of me were having - hot soymilk soup called "doujiang" and a long cruller called "youtiao." Armed with these props, I took the fourth seat at a table for four occupied by three middle-aged workers. Everyone else in the room was watching but my new companions barely looked up. I was determined to get them to talk, but how to start? I remembered that foreign journalists who preceded me in China had told me that, every time they asked anyone about the mysterious fate of disappeared leader Lin Biao (林彪), the answer was always: "Have some more soup." So, instead of explaining who I was and how I got there or reminding my companions about Chairman Mao's (毛澤東) emphasis on being at one with the masses, I stayed with what seemed a safe topic and said to the fellow on my left: "What's the name of this soup?" He didn't answer.

The room hushed, and tension began to mount, but I pushed on, saying hopefully to the man across from me: "Do you know the name of this soup?" He wouldn't answer either. At that point, as the sympathetic man behind the counter looked unhappy at the cool reception I was receiving, I noted a sign on the wall that said: "Heighten revolutionary vigilance. Defend the Motherland against spies." And standing in a corner staring at me with bulging eyes was a man who resembled a security officer about to make an arrest in a Jiang Qing (江青) opera. Meanwhile, the anxious man seated on my right was slurping his soup furiously in an effort to clear out and avoid the inevitable. He probably didn't want to be impolite like the others, but may have feared that, if he told me the name of the soup, the next question would be "What happened to Lin Biao?" In some desperation I persisted and said to him: "You must know the name of this soup." He looked at me and then at the soup and said what Chinese often say when they don't want to answer: "I'm not too clear about that!" At that point, hoping that the official route to cultural exchange might be more successful, I decided it was time to return to the hotel!

On that first full day in Beijing, I underwent an unexpected name change. For twelve years my Chinese name had been "Kong Jierong" (孔傑榮). My first Chinese language tutor in Berkeley, California, a learned former Beijing scholar, had given me this name. "Kong," he had said, was the perfect family name for me since it sounded like Cohen and was the name of China's most famous sage, Confucius (孔子), who took a great interest in law. But in the China of mid-1972 Kong had become the enemy, the hated symbol of China's feudal past, and anathema to every upstanding revolutionary. I had inadvertently arrived in the midst of a nationwide campaign to wipe out the remnants of Lin Biao and Confucius. So my hosts declared that I should have a new, more proletarian name. They decided that "Ke En" (柯恩) would do nicely since "Ke" was an ordinary name of the masses and, together with "En" (they knew I admired Zhou Enlai [周恩來]), would sound even more like Cohen than "Kong" did and have a favorable meaning. I gave the matter little thought, but later, in 1977, when I escorted Senator Edward M. Kennedy and ten members of his family to China to meet Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) and other luminaries, Taiwan's "Lianhe Bao" (United Daily News 《聯合報》) used my new Mainland name against me, claiming that I had abandoned the name of China's foremost figure. Of course, outside the Mainland, I have continued to be known by my original name, and recently, since the resurrection of Confucius in China, some Mainland organizations and friends have adopted it in referring to me.

We spent our first ten days in Beijing, preoccupied with the usual introductory tourist sites and meetings devoted to persuading our hosts to send their first science delegation to the United States, which they did six months later. For me, two personal academic/professional meetings stand out. One was a four-hour chat with three members of the Legal Department of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). It was my only contact during the entire visit with people concerned with law. The domestic legal system had been a shambles and arbitrary even before the Cultural Revolution, and the revolution still had four more years to run when we appeared. Legal education had virtually ceased. Although the worst days of violence had long passed by 1972, struggles reportedly still occasionally took place in cities that were closed to foreigners. Yet China's international trade was expanding, raising legal problems that had to be handled, and business with the United States was gradually opening. So when I asked to meet legal experts, my hosts naturally turned to the CCPIT's Legal Department. The three people introduced, although they lacked formal legal education, seemed to be experienced, competent people, and I was destined to see much more of them when, beginning 1978, China launched a serious effort to establish a credible legal system. The director of the department, Mr. Ren Jianxin (任建新), in the late 1980s became not only President of the Supreme People's Court but also, concurrently, head of the Communist Party's Central Political-Legal Commission, which controls the activities of all the country's government institutions for implementing the law. Mr. Tang Houzhi (唐厚志) became China's best-known expert on international commercial arbitration, and Mr. Liu Gushu the leading specialist on patent and trademark matters and founder of an important law firm dealing with these problems.

The other meeting I well recall was with a large group of "America watchers" convened by the Foreign Affairs Association (waijiao xiehui), an offshoot of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They were familiar with my July 1971 article in the American journal "Foreign Affairs" calling for U.S. recognition of the People's Republic and disengagement from the Republic of China on Taiwan. At least a few knew that I had chaired a Harvard-MIT committee that in November 1968 gave President-elect Nixon a confidential memorandum recommending that he send a close aide for secret talks in Beijing with China's leaders. That was the origin of Henry Kissinger's famous 1971 visit. Of course, my hosts, the "America watchers," wanted to discuss the problem of Taiwan and prospects for normalization of diplomatic relations between our countries, but they seemed most anxious about Senator George McGovern's chances of unseating Nixon in the fall presidential election. I was known to be an advisor on Asia to McGovern, although, since I had spent most of the year abroad, I did little for his campaign. At a time when China was looking to the U.S. to be a shield against the Soviet Union, McGovern's pledge to cut the defense budget by one-third seemed very worrisome to my hosts. Also, it was obvious that the PRC had high hopes for cooperation with the Nixon administration, much of it based on the admiration that Kissinger and Zhou Enlai professed for each other.

I had agreed to talk with the group about these subjects if they would agree to also discuss problems of cultural exchange. I wanted an opportunity to let them know how this initial effort looked to their guests. Since they hoped to establish diplomatic relations with the U.S., I thought it useful for them to make their reception of Americans as smooth as possible. I especially wanted to ask about the most puzzling of our experiences - the subway, an experience that reminded me of the old jokes about the then new Moscow subway of the 1930s. When our escort inquired whether we would like to ride on the Beijing subway that had been under construction, I said that the newspapers had reported that it was not yet in service. Our escort said that it was already in service and that we could ride on it. At the appointed hour, while standing next to the track, we were given a long lecture about the history of the subway's development. During that time, only two trains came by, and neither had a single passenger. The next train, which we took through eight stations, also had no other passengers, nor did we see any people waiting at any of the stations. We were told they were all in waiting rooms, where conditions were more comfortable. When we got to the last stop, the Beijing railroad station, our escort still insisted that the system was in use. I embarrassed my wife by saying that we would like to wait a while for evidence that people really were using the subway. I had had doubts about some of the information we had been given on other matters and was disturbed that we could not successfully communicate about something as basic as whether the subway was in service. A bit exasperated with my determination to clarify an evident misunderstanding, my wife and a couple of others in our group went up the escalator to the main hall to wait. Down at the track, no trains came in for a time but finally one did appear with about twenty assorted workers, peasants and soldiers who seemed flustered when they encountered the escalator. With some satisfaction, our escort said: "You see, the system is in service." When I later asked the Foreign Affairs Association group about this mystery, our escort's leader, with the escort seated next to him, smiled and said: "It's very simple. Our subway is not yet in service."

Our escort had given me a more reliable insight into contemporary China earlier in the trip, as we viewed the beautiful valley of the Ming Dynasty tombs outside Beijing from a hilltop. By that time I felt we had become friendly enough to talk politics and even international law. Just a few weeks earlier, at a lecture in Tokyo to the Harvard Club of Japan, I had discussed the increasingly tense dispute between China and Japan over the eight piles of rock in the East China Sea known as Diaoyutai in Chinese. When on May 15, 1972, the United States surrendered administrative jurisdiction over these islets to Japan, Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated further, and even today the dispute continues to fester. When I mentioned Diaoyutai, my escort became uncharacteristically emotional. "China," he said, "will never allow the Japanese aggressors to occupy one inch of its sacred soil. We will fight them to the death." But when I gently informed him that Japan had assumed jurisdiction over the islets only the previous week, he suddenly resumed his usual relaxed manner and said: "Oh, well. There is a right time and place for everything. We are in no hurry. We can settle this matter any time in the next 500 years!" I had witnessed the two sides of contemporary China's politics - nationalism and pragmatism - in short compass.

One question that overhung our first ten days was where we would go next. My wife wanted very much for us to visit the ancient capitals of Xi'an and Luoyang and their nearby artistic treasures. For days we waited for confirmation of this excursion. Finally, after dinner on our last night in Beijing, our escort came to our room and told us that it would not be possible. After he left, Joan expressed her anger at their rejection of her only request. I agreed with her view, while motioning to her to raise the volume of our continuing conversation about our disappointment. I assumed that our hosts might be monitoring our conversation and may well have been right. The next morning, just twelve hours later, our escort returned to tell us the exciting news that we could go to Xi'an and Luoyang. Moreover, at the farewell lunch that the famous poet-official Guo Moruo (郭沫若), then head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, gave us that day, Guo, unprompted by us, said to me: "I understand that your wife is interested in ancient Chinese culture. So we will arrange for you to go to Xi'an and Luoyang!" That incident taught me a lot about the importance of using imaginative negotiating techniques in China.


One other question concerned us in Beijing - whether we would meet Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. We were told that we might, but there was no word by the time we left the capital. Nor was there any information as we pursued the rest of our itinerary. Our travels proved pleasant and stimulating but plagued by the continuing "cat and mouse" games played by our local hosts to parry my efforts to learn basic facts about public life. An exchange in Shanghai conveys the flavor. I asked: "What are the names of your Shanghai newspapers?" "We have the People's Daily," I was told. I responded: "But that's your national newspaper. What are the names of your local papers?" Our host replied: "You wouldn't be interested." I answered: "Then why do you think I asked the question?"

We ended our travels by returning to Beijing in order to fly to Guangzhou on our way out of China. Our hosts seemed slightly embarrassed that there had been no confirmation of a meeting with Premier Zhou. Then, while en route, bad weather in Guangzhou required our flight to be diverted to the closed city of Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province. Because Nanchang was closed, we were kept at its airport until dark and then taken to the People's Hotel, which we were forbidden to leave. At four a.m., we were awakened to return to the airport before daylight to resume our flight to Guangzhou. In the interim, however, big news came from Beijing.

At one a.m., as we were fitfully sleeping amid blistering heat on our woven bamboo mats, there was a knock on our door. It was a telephone call from Professor Lin Daguang (Paul Lin [林達光]), a Canadian friend who had previously been an assistant to Premier Zhou. Would Joan and I be willing to return to Beijing to meet Zhou? I said I would gladly return and would let him know about Joan. I also suggested inviting our companions on the trip, which he arranged. Joan, understandably, felt she had to return to Kyoto to look after our sons. The Goldbergers also had to go home, but the Stones were able to return to Beijing.

As Harrison Salisbury later commented in his book "To Peking and Beyond," invitations to meet Premier Zhou were often issued at the last minute, and it was not unusual to bring guests back from all over the country. There was also sometimes an air of mystery surrounding these meetings. For example, I was told to wait in my hotel room from 5 p.m. after which I would be picked up and taken to a preliminary meeting with an unidentified person, to be followed by dinner with an unidentified group, but with a strong hint that Premier Zhou would be the host. The preliminary meeting turned out to be a private one-hour session with Deputy Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua (喬冠華), a stimulating and self-confident interlocutor whom I enjoyed. I then went to dinner and met with Premier Zhou, Qiao and some of their principal aides, at least two of whom eventually became ambassadors to the U.S. and heads of the North American section of the Foreign Ministry. Our interpreter was Tang Wensheng (唐聞生), known to many Americans as Nancy Tang, who had grown up in the United States while her father served at the UN. Although I had several short chats in Chinese with Premier Zhou, Nancy did the heavy interpreting for the evening. The main guests were Professor John K. Fairbank (費正清), America's senior China scholar, and his charming wife Wilma (費慰梅). Fairbank was my senior colleague at Harvard University, where I was then teaching in the Law School. The Fairbanks had been friendly with Premier Zhou in Chongqing during the mid-1940s before the Communist Party's 1949 victory in the Chinese civil war. Foreign correspondents Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and their wives also attended, as did Jeremy Stone and his wife.

Salisbury's book gives a long account of most of the conversation at our almost four-hour evening with Zhou and this group. I need not repeat it, although it was surely the high point of my first visit. Here I will mention only my most outstanding impressions. The deepest impression was left by Premier Zhou. He gave us an hour of discussion sipping tea before dinner while seated in a circle. He was genial, informal, relaxed, humorous, yet serious and always guiding the conversation by asking questions. His first remark to me was: "Why didn't your wife come with you? We invited her." When I explained that Joan had wanted to join but was concerned about our sons, he quipped: "Oh, I forgot. In America, parents still have to look after children." Later, as we went into dinner, he said to me with a smile and a bemused twinkle in his eyes: "I understand that you have done many books on our legal system." This showed the respect he gave his guests by learning their backgrounds in advance. Yet he said it in a slightly quizzical way that gently implied that perhaps I had made more of China's legal system than China had. After all, the country was then still in its Cultural Revolution!

What I remember most vividly from the pre-dinner conversation was the Premier's preoccupation with cancer. Zhou knew, of course, that the purpose of Mr. Stone's and my visit was to initiate cultural exchanges in the sciences. He seemed especially interested in inviting to China America's leading cancer specialists, in theory and practice. Since the Premier appeared so lively and healthy, it didn't dawn on me that he might be inquiring on his own behalf. I did think that he might be asking on behalf of Chairman Mao Zedong, whose health had reportedly been deteriorating and was the subject of much speculation at home and abroad, and soon after our meeting I wrote about this in an op-ed in the Washington Post. We later discovered that Premier Zhou had learned in 1972, the year of our visit, that he himself was suffering from several kinds of cancer, which ultimately caused his death in January 1976, eight months before the demise of the Chairman.

Broader cultural exchange was one of our dinner talk's main themes. Since Professor Fairbank sat on Zhou's right and I on his left, we were in a particularly good position to urge him to allow Chinese to visit and study at Harvard. Zhou deflected our efforts as well-meaning but premature. He seemed to think that brief visits could soon be arranged but that study might better await the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between our countries. He appeared especially worried that Chinese students might have unpleasant encounters with students sent to America by the Guomindang government in Taiwan. He even asked me, as an international lawyer: "If our students debated on the same Harvard platform with students from Taiwan, wouldn't that be implicit recognition of a 'two China' policy and signal Beijing's acceptance of the legitimacy of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime?" I assured him that academic debate among students had no necessary international law implications. At that point, about an hour into dinner, perhaps to ease the pressure from Harvard, the Premier suggested that we take a five-minute break. In the men's room, as we stood at our respective urinals, Professor Fairbank, indicating that perhaps we had put too much pressure on the Premier, looked me in the eye somewhat sheepishly and said: "The missionary spirit dies hard!"

I had wanted to make one serious suggestion about international law to the Premier and his colleagues and waited most of the evening till an opportunity presented itself. I said that, having already entered the United Nations the previous October, China should move quickly to take part in all UN institutions, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ). That gave the Chinese officials their biggest laugh of the evening. They thought I must have been joking. Why, after all, would a revolutionary communist government want to participate in a bourgeois legal institution where its views of international law would not be accepted and it was sure to be outvoted? I explained that the world was entering a new era and China, having recently been acknowledged as a great power by being awarded a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, should obviously want to play a role in the application of international law by the ICJ. The People's Republic did not nominate its first judge to sit on the ICJ until 1984. Although Chinese judges have played a constructive role in the Court's work ever since, their government has only gradually expanded its confidence in the ICJ's deliberations.


After the memorable evening with Zhou Enlai, anything else that occurred in my first trip was inevitably anti-climactic. Yet the exchange of ideas at the dinner with Zhou encouraged me to offer one more suggestion on a very sensitive topic before leaving Beijing. We were meeting the next morning with Professor Zhou Peiyuan (周培源), then Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of Peking University, or, as he preferred to put it to us, president of that illustrious university. Zhou Peiyuan, a University of Chicago Ph.D. in physics and a former Cal Tech professor, had already spent a great deal of time accompanying us as the senior person responsible for our visit. His mission was presumably to get acquainted with and hear the views of his fellow physicist and sometime U.S. government advisor, Professor Marvin Goldberger, the leader of our small delegation.

I wanted to express my concern for my friend and college classmate, John T. Downey, Jr., who had been detained in Chinese prison since November 1952 after his plane had been shot down over China on a CIA mission to foster armed resistance against the then still new Communist government. I had been trying for many years to obtain his release and had previously suggested to both the Chinese Ambassador to Canada (later Foreign Minister) Huang Hua (黃華) and Henry Kissinger that this could be accomplished, to the satisfaction of both countries, if the U.S. would finally acknowledge the truth of China's accusations that this had been a CIA incursion. I had also revealed the truth of the Downey matter in nationally-televised testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June 1971 and in a New York Times op-ed. I did not want to leave Beijing without again urging consideration of this idea, and I took the meeting with Professor Zhou as the best opportunity. Early the following year, six weeks after President Nixon discreetly conceded the truth of the charges against Downey in a press conference, Downey was finally released.

It turned out that Professor Zhou had an even more sensitive topic to raise with us, even in Professor Goldberger's absence. He surprised Jeremy Stone, a knowledgeable Washington defense expert, and me by asking what we could tell him about the so-called "smart bomb" that the U.S. had reportedly begun to use in the Vietnam war. I, of course, knew nothing about this subject and didn't know whether Stone was informed. In any event, we told Zhou that if anyone in our group could answer the question it would be Professor Goldberger, who had already returned to the U.S. I'll admit that I was a bit naive in feeling shocked at what seemed a blatant effort to turn cultural exchange into an intelligence operation.

Overall, Joan and I found our first trip to China enormously stimulating despite the evident limitations on cultural exchanges in both law and art. I felt that my research, and especially the year 1963-4 that I had spent in Hong Kong interviewing Chinese refugees many of whom were former officials, had well-prepared me for the visit. Every experience left me with vivid images. Joan, a professional photographer as well as art historian, was more struck by the drabness and austerity of contemporary life and the absence of amenities. After returning to Japan, we took our boys to see Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner in "55 Days at Peking," a colorful film depicting the imperialist heyday of the Boxer Rebellion, which by coincidence was playing in Kyoto. As we left the theater, Joan said: "That's the China of my dreams."

Nevertheless, we both agreed with the humorist Art Buchwald that, after a stomach-full of China watching, an hour later you're hungry for more!

(All photographs by Joan Lebold Cohen [柯珠恩]© except the first two.)

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 20:04
Leo F. Goodstadt (顧汝德) arrived at Hong Kong University in 1962 on a Commonwealth Scholarship and then became an economics lecturer. He progressed to deputy editor at the late-lamented Far Eastern Economic Review and thence to private consultancy. He spent 1989-97 at the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit. He has since combined commercial projects with academic research. He has published five books: from “China’s Search for Plenty. The Economics of Mao Tse-tung” in 1972-73 to the latest, “Reluctant Regulators: How the West Created and China Survived the Global Financial Crisis”, this year. 顧汝德為中央政策組前首席顧問,香港大學名譽院士。現為經濟顧問,曾撰寫多本中港經濟及政治發展研究的重要著作,包括2011年出版的《官商同謀––香港公義私利的矛盾》及《金融海嘯論衡》兩部新著等。

In April 1973, I got a phone call from Xinhua News Agency instructing me to apply for a visa to join a group tour of Guangdong. Xinhua was then a very different organisation. The “gang of four” were in power, and news was more an export commodity to be managed and packaged rather than professionally reported. And my “packaging” was to come undone, leading to formal protests to Derek Davies, the Far Eastern Economic Review’s talented but volatile editor, who had returned the previous month from such a trip without provoking complaints.

Why I had been granted a visa so soon after Davies’s tour, I could not understand. I did not regard it as a sign that I was being taken seriously as a student of Chinese affairs. In 1972, I had published a book about economics and Mao Zedong (毛澤東), and the American edition was just out. But this had not raised my status perceptibly, even at the Review. Here, I wrote about China only in the absence of icons like Harald Munthe-Kaas and John Gittings (詹丁思) who had serious China-watching credentials, and while expecting the return to Hong Kong of the redoubtable David Bonavia.

Unlike Davies, I would not be allowed to visit Beijing and the more strategic areas of China. I would be confined to Guangdong province, a restriction that I did not resent since it was well within my comfort zone. There would be no culture shock. I knew that Cantonese and Cantonese etiquette prevailed throughout the province despite the Cultural Revolution and the Red Guards’ drive to purge the nation of the “four olds” –– old customs, culture, habits, and ideas. And just as in Hong Kong, it would be almost impossible for people not to react kindly to any foreigner who, in Cantonese, tried hard to “follow the customs of the village”, as the saying goes.

The big surprise once inside Guangdong was a strange feeling of familiarity and affinity. Everywhere we went, poverty was compounded by austerity. In the countryside, life was harsh and close to subsistence. In Guangzhou, food and clothing were subject to controls, and consumer goods seemed barely fit for use. At night, the streets were empty and virtually without lighting. But none of this seemed extraordinary to me. The parallels were striking with the Wales of my childhood and teens where austerity had reigned. British rationing of food and clothing was severe throughout World War II; intensified after the Allied victory in 1945; and was not lifted finally until 1953. Furthermore, the wartime blackout and an absence of civilian road traffic were what I had grown up with.

As for “modern” amenities, Guangdong’s present was my not-so-distant past. The unavailability of indoor sanitation, bathrooms and even a domestic water supply on the Chinese Mainland was a state of affairs to be found in much of Wales when I left home, and many houses had no electricity or even gas. Telephones were few in Welsh towns and villages, and private cars almost unknown.

All the same, Guangdong’s poverty had a dimension that I had never encountered before. This was a pre-industrial society. Mechanical equipment of all kinds, vehicles and even tools were often ill-designed, clumsy to use and the products, it seemed, of cottage industry rather than factories. Back in 1973, Guangdong was still very much a pre-industrial society. Mao Zedong had decided for strategic reasons that this coastal province should not be industrialised. The policy proved a great advantage when economic modernisation began after 1978 because unlike China’s northeast, for example, the provincial economy was not lumbered with obsolescent heavy industry modelled on the Soviet Union. But the immediate consequences for Guangdong were a dismal growth rate compared with the national average, and real poverty.

Now, almost forty years on, I have reread for the first time my 1973 articles on trading conditions at the Canton Trade Fair and life in a rural commune. They are professional enough but not especially memorable. I decided to compare them with the feature by the Review’s editor, recounting his own voyage round China the month before, which I find much better written. On display was Derek Davies’s remarkable capacity to turn a week’ visit into a compelling, far-sighted analysis of an Asian nation’s current travails and its future prospects, identifying in particular the looming discontent within China’s workforce.

Nevertheless, my coverage of Guangdong led to reverberations that lasted until 1998. The fallout began the day after my feature story was published. I came back to the office after lunch to find Davies puce with rage. I had, he said, destroyed the Review’s chances of ever opening a Beijing bureau. Chinese officials who had accompanied the tour, he went on, had just called to see him and protest at my reporting. They had alleged that I had tried to bring China into disrepute. They had warned him that my article bore no relation to what had been seen on the tour. Davies insisted that their charges could not be totally without foundation. After all, they had assured him that the photographs illustrating my article could not have been taken anywhere in Guangdong. They had probably been shot, they had suggested, in the newly-established Bangladesh (which I had never been to).

At this point, the complainants’ case crumbled. The Review’s production editor, Hiro Pumwani, was able to retrieve from his filing cabinet the negatives of the rolls of 120 film, taken by me but developed at the company’s expense. They were in continuous strips, which started with the British flag on one side of the Lowu crossing and the Chinese flag and PLA guards on the other. They recorded the train journey to Guangzhou, followed by pictures taken in sequence at each school, workshop, village and scenic spot we went to subsequently. And then the return journey to Hong Kong via Lowu. My article had been illustrated with genuine photos of Guangdong life.

What had caused such official ire? Although President Richard Nixon had dismantled the economic embargo in 1971 and transformed the Sino-US relationship with his personal visit to Beijing in 1972, the Cold War was not over yet. Chinese officials made considerable efforts to get the maximum advantage from foreign contacts. This process used to involve tests of moral fibre. From time to time, even in Hong Kong, I had been asked to meet this official or that who would upbraid me for a recent article. The dialogue rarely varied. I would be told that my account of official policy or economic performance was distorted. I would express my gratitude for this opportunity to learn what official speeches or statistics I had misconstrued. I would be told that my offence arose from my habit of quoting published material whose circulation overseas was not authorised.

This showed a hostile attitude and lack of respect for China. Anything that it was proper for me to know about China I should seek solely in the Renmin Ribao or Guangming Ribao, Hongqi or Xinhua and the English-language publications intended for overseas distribution. It was hard for either side to take such an exchange of views seriously when Louis Cha’s (查良鏞) Ming Pao and its Hong Kong rivals were filled with incisive, “inside” coverage of Mainland developments.

On our tour of Guangdong, the interrogations had become more personal. How, I was asked one afternoon, could I live with the shameful legacy of a father who had served for seven years as a professional soldier in India under British rule? How, I wondered, had this official obtained such an item of information. (It was, as I recounted earlier, an Indian colleague and his meticulous photo files who was to provide the proof that I had been describing Guangdong.)

Round 2 took place on the Sunday of our visit after I expressed a wish to go to Mass. I was told that China’s Catholics had given up Mass in churches: each family celebrated its own Mass at home. An unlikely theological discussion ensued in which I opined that if Catholics were not permitted access to Mass celebrated by a priest, freedom of religion was not a flourishing feature of Guangdong life. For this, I was rebuked with the prompt reply: “You are trying to make trouble just like your mother-in-law when she came to Guangzhou with Hong Kong’s Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1954”.

That verdict was something to be proud of. She had indeed refused during that visit to accept the propaganda line that the nuns who took in baby girls abandoned by desperate parents at a convent’s doors later committed infanticide. Or that priests working with lepers and other outcasts were tools of an imperialist conspiracy. She was a woman I admired enormously: an accomplished businesswoman yet kind and caring to the distressed and deprived; irresistibly charming and possessed of strong principles. To be compared with her was an enormous compliment.

And yet, none of these exchanges as we travelled around Guangdong involved real rancour or mistrust. They were interspersed by serious discussions about Hong Kong-related matters. For example, a senior member of the official team took considerable pains to stress the special value which China’s leaders attached to maintaining the effectiveness of the colonial administration. He recounted how he himself had conveyed reassurances from Beijing to the Hong Kong authorities at the height of the anti-colonial violence in 1967 that there was no intention of taking over Hong Kong. And an important channel of communication, he said, had been “Editor Davies”. In the 1970s, he continued, cooperation between the two sides would be even more important and he knew that I met senior Hong Kong government officials. I was not being invited to carry a specific message, it seemed, but I was being asked to convey friendly sentiments. Which I later did when I met the Governor, Lord MacLehose (麥理浩), during one of his charm offensives for the local media. He did not seem especially impressed, so there was no story for me there!

Yet, plainly my reporting had given offence. Otherwise why the mischievous allegations about the use of “Bangladesh” photos in a feature about a Guangdong commune? My article had been almost as predictable and routine as much of the reporting by visiting journalists. There was one difference, however. On rereading it today, I realise that 12 per cent of the text was devoted explicitly to recounting the serious poverty suffered by a model commune’s families. In these passages, I was reporting the uncensored insights and experiences of a local cadre who could not bring himself to parrot propaganda.

He had begun his presentation to our group by declaring: “I won’t speak Putonghua. I don’t want to speak Putonghua”. For me, it was like being at a meeting at home in rural Wales where a farmers’ union representative insisted on speaking Welsh instead of English. Afterwards, I apologised to our host for taking up his time, which was a conventional Cantonese courtesy that anyone in Hong Kong would have expressed. In addition, I felt genuinely embarrassed. I knew how precious time is for farmers when work is heaviest. We had taken him and other commune leaders away from the fields for almost an entire day, and I felt obliged to state my regret for imposing this burden on them.

The cadre said that he had indeed sacrificed precious time. But what bothered him most was the likelihood that none of us would take what he had said seriously. He had been told that the stories written by foreign journalists who had come to the commune in the past failed to acknowledge the persistent poverty with which it had to contend and the wretched conditions under which many of its members still lived. These visitors preferred to paint a pretty picture of life in New China, he complained.

I promised to prove the exception. My published account began with his admission: “I ask myself how we survive on the earnings which the ordinary peasant gets on this commune.” I went on to record how he “nudged me and pointed towards a small group … Dressed in tatters, the handful of men, women and children were Hakkas from the hills”. “These people are very poor indeed”, he continued. “We try to help by selling goods to them at subsidised prices. But there is not a lot we can do”.

This commune leader was scathing about one of the main features of life under Maoism: the “down to the country” movement which transferred 17 million middle-school graduates from the cities to the villages during the Cultural Revolution. “Their efforts in the fields”, my article said, “were described as ‘a ballet dance’ by a senior cadre, who said he would prefer not to see any more of them in his parish”. “They send far too much food back to their families in the urban areas. (Food in the rural areas, an official commented, is much cheaper than in the cities.) They reduce the rice ration available for ordinary commune members”. Such accusations were not new, of course. In a contribution to a 1965 book, “Youth in China”, I had quoted similar rural sentiments reported by the official press during 1962-63.

While insisting on the paramount principle “obey Chairman Mao”, this rural leader went on to brush aside the rhetoric of the “Gang of Four” and the “ultra-leftists”. His own political strategy was: “First look after people’s stomachs and their health, and then you will be able to touch their hearts and persuade them that cadres and the state care for them. Afterwards, you will be able to change their minds so that the people will recognise that their prosperity can only last and grow if the entire nation flourishes”. He was expressing the sort of sentiments that were to get Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) dismissed from office in 1976 but gave him the credibility with the public at large to be restored to power and launch the 1978 reforms.

This man had serious moral courage. What happened to him subsequently I had no way of knowing. But I was sure that he had discounted in advance the price to be paid for insisting on stating his views. But he did not strike me as an exceptional case. Similar encounters over the years with individual Mainland officials and Party members whose pragmatism was inspired by ideals gave me confidence that Chinese people will always rise above the failings of their rulers and find their way to a better life despite the most unfavourable obstacles.

My attitude was neither naïve nor unduly sentimental. Anyone closely involved in Hong Kong’s Chinese world could hardly avoid knowing the personal costs inflicted by the political upheavals of the Maoist era. In my extended family, there was a revolutionary guerrilla hero who had fallen into disgrace during an ideological purge –– fortunately to be restored to an honourable career after the demise of the “gang of four”. There were the Catholic relatives from Shanghai who spent over 20 years in labour camps for refusing to repudiate their religious convictions.

There were the “New China” manufacturers and professionals –- especially my “mentors” among senior executives in the Bank of China group –– whose children had gone back to the Mainland for their education only to fall victim to the Anti-rightist and to every subsequent campaign because of their family links with Hong Kong. Ironically, it was this group which provided the antidote to total cynicism on my part. They had accepted their family sacrifices in the belief that revolutions cannot be “temperate, kind, courteous” and that a revolution is “not a dinner party, or writing an essay” so that innocent individuals must suffer for the greater good. It was not until corruption became rampant on the Mainland once more after 1978 that these by now elderly men went from disillusionment to despair. Such an outcome was still unthinkable in 1973. And I was reassured that these friends, so dedicated to “New China”, took no exception to my article regardless of official complaints.

As was to be expected, the officials did not make their complaints entirely in vain, even though their allegations were patently absurd. Derek Davies decided that Beijing’s goodwill ought not to be jeopardised by allowing me to write up the rest of my adventures in Guangdong. In the process, he deprived me of a potential scoop that would have had some historical interest. Our party had been taken to Foshan where we were briefed on a pilot scheme to attract direct foreign investment that had recently begun. The previous year, Tianjin had been allowed to borrow foreign funds to modernise key manufacturing plants whose export potential would enable them to repay the foreign loan and still make a respectable profit. But Foshan had gone a step further, according to a senior city official.

In the winter months, we were told, a national leader –– identification refused –– had come south to Foshan to escape the cold. While enjoying its scenic and cultural attractions, the distinguished visitor had been told that its Song dynasty temple was a huge attraction for Japanese tourists some of whom had expressed an interest in setting up production lines in the city. The visitor had thought this suggestion an attractive initiative as China was starting to rebuild its financial links with the outside world. Sometime later, the city’s spokesman said, Beijing had approved an inflow of Japanese funding.

I picked up some low-level gossip that the mystery leader was in fact Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing (江青), on her way to her favourite holiday resort in Hainan (then still part of Guangdong province). A more likely candidate I personally felt was an obscure soldier, Bai Xiangguo (白相國). This career PLA political commissar had made “helicopter rides” from head of Shantou’s Revolutionary Committee in 1968 to the leadership of Guangdong the following year and to the post of Foreign Trade Minister in 1970. Here, he had become the globetrotting frontman for a massive surge in China’s imports. His shopping list included US Boeings and British Tridents, Japanese and German steel plants, record imports of grain and chemical fertilisers. In 1973, he handed over to Li Qiang (李強), a career trade expert, and returned to the PLA. One of the unsung architects of China’s future strategy of growth through foreign trade, he ended his military career in 1984 as a deputy director of logistics. But I was denied the chance at the Review to write up Bai and the pioneering “open door” experiment at Foshan years ahead of the Shen Zhen Special Economic Zone.

Another story that did not make it into print was the apparent disappearance of Guangzhou’s children with disabilities. We had visited one of the city’s secondary schools which we had been told was attended by all children in the district without any form of selection or discrimination. This sounded a very enlightened policy of inclusive education. What facilities and resources did the school have to care for special needs children, I wanted to know. The reply was that there were no children in the district whose vision, hearing, mobility or mental capacity was impaired. My wife was a professional social worker who specialised in rehabilitation. After listening to her complaints about Hong Kong’s service shortfalls over the years, I had a fair recall of the statistics for the main disabilities per thousand of the population. So, I asked what had happened to the cohorts who must have born been with disabilities. The reply was an insistent denial that any special needs children could be found in the district.

That was a story that deserved to be followed up. Its explanation probably matched Hong Kong’s historical experience. The colonial administration was insisting even in the 1950s that there was no need to provide for such children because those with disabilities were sent back to their parents’ native villages in Guangdong. The border was steadily sealed off in that decade, which brought this practice to a halt. But Guangzhou perhaps was able to have such children transferred to the care of an extended family in the countryside. I was never to find out.

My 1973 trip resurfaced as a target for public criticism a quarter of a century later. In 1998, the late Choi Wai-hang (蔡渭衡), Chairman of the Chinese Reform Association, published an unflattering article about me. He had been detained without trial under colonial legislation in 1967. The Review objected vigorously to these detentions as a breach of civil liberties, with little success however. I came to know Mr. Choi personally through a family connection after his release. He was a very talented corporate executive and impressively adventurous as well as shrewd in his business projects as the Mainland opened up to Hong Kong firms.

In 1998, he expressed regret about our acquaintance in a Hong Kong newspaper, explaining that he had always mistrusted me. What legitimate reason could there have been for the four volumes of the “Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung” on my office bookshelf, he inquired? This was a painful reminder to me of how limited had been the impact of my book about Mao’s economics, whose starting point for me had been a laborious perusal of each of these volumes. Not by accident, I felt certain, among his other criticisms was an assertion that for nefarious reasons, I had urged him to get me a journalist’s visa to report on the Canton Trade Fair. This newspaper piece took me back to 1973 and the fallout from my Guangdong tour.

There had been one more, small reminder of Wales in the meantime. A good friend in the Bank of China group told me when our families met for “tea” one weekend in 1973 that he knew that while in Guangdong, I had done my note-taking in Welsh not English. “Please remember Mr. Goodstadt that if we truly wanted to see what you had written”, he said quite matter of fact, “You can be sure in China, we could find someone who can translate very accurately”. That sounded like a promise of truly VIP attention!

yangharrylg 2012-09-05 20:05
Liu Heung Shing (劉香成), a Hong Kong-born former foreign correspondent and photojournalist for the Associated Press, shared a 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News and an Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of Soviet Union’s collapse. In 1989, His image of a defining moment during the Tiananmen Turmoil was awarded Picture of the Year by the School of Journalism at University of Missouri. In the same year, he was named Best Photographer by the Associated Press Managing Editors. He is the author and editor of many books including "China After Mao" (Penguin, 1983), "China, Portrait of a Country" (Taschen, 2008), and "Shanghai, A History in Photographs 1842 to Today" (Penguin Viking / World Publishing Group, 2010). His latest book "China in Revolution: Nineteen-Eleven and Beyond" was just published.

As a Hong-Kong born Chinese who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, it’s hard to pinpoint my first trip to China; at least, one that I remember clearly, for my real first trip was as a toddler, in 1953 in the arms of my mother who carried me to her hometown of Fuzhou. Most likely I slept through most of that the trip, or was just too young to take it all in. So I guess, the real instance of a “first trip” in the sense of this series, would be my first trip to China as a professional photojournalist in 1976.

Yet, I would like to think that the first few years of childhood left their mark on me for the good. That experience, however fragmented or vague in my memory, definitely prepared me for my eventual first trip back to the mainland as a photojournalist in a way that was more profound than I first realized. It allowed the perspective of an outsider looking in, whilst still being privy to the many experiences of an insider myself in those trying years.

As a child in Fuzhou, I was enrolled in the Guyizhong Primary School (near Fuzhou PLA Garrison Command). My years there—six in total—helped define the way I came to portray China later in my professional life. I recall going to the school everyday by walking out of the courtyard house, which my grandmother had gifted to my mother as part of her wedding dowry. By early 1955, it had already been appropriated by the State as part of the landmark land reform policy. The head of the neighborhood committee, a Mme Zhou, moved into house where she occupied two rooms; the others taken by local families. Our family was left with the main house and a courtyard garden in the back, which featured a beautiful Dragon Eye (Longyan) fruit tree. I learnt later that we were fortunate to have escaped the fate of many landlords who had simply been shot or disappeared. We were spared because the State classified my family as a “peaceful landlord”. My mother’s uncle, Chen Bi (陳壁), was a Minister of Communication under Emperor Guangxu (光緒) (in 1894) The Chen family’s land had been granted by the emperor, not gained through business dealing or renting it to the peasants, hence the title “peaceful landlord”.

This family background may explain why the PLA children in my class treated me with condescension. According to the prevalent political jargon, they were “red” and I was “black”. I remembered the red slogans on the schoolyard “We must catch up with Britain and surpass America”. Under the highly charged political atmosphere following China’s incursion in Korea, where troops fought the U.S. military to a temporary truce, students were required to perform manual labor every Wednesday to help build a stronger Socialist state. Every week I collected stones for building the railroad. Under the spell for the Anti Four Pests campaign, I was energetically motivated to catching flies at home, which I collected in a matchbox for my teacher. But no matter how many flies filled my matchboxes, semester after semester under the column labeled “Political Behavior”, she would only grant me a “C” in my report card. I felt the effect of apartheid in a classroom full of kids from the families of the nearby army officers. Those kids instinctually felt superior to the sons and daughters of any other social class. I didn’t officially “fit” into any of the social classes.

Many years later, in Beijing, I met the famed PLA writer Bai Hua (白樺), who in early 1980 wrote for the film “Sun and the Man” (《太陽和人》), based on his script originally named “Ku lian” (《苦戀》). Through the film’s main character, he expressed the common feeling of many mainland Chinese and those who were expatriated: “I love my country, but does my country love me?” This open questioning of unrequited love was severely criticized by Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) and the film was banned. In 1980, Deng launched the Anti-Bourgeois Campaign; Deng had then recently shut down Democracy Wall in Xidan bus depot where petitioners from all over the country put up big character posters to protest the injustices of the Cultural Revolution.

Come 1960, my neighbors who “shared” our house in Fuzhou, were all stricken by malnutrition, their arms and legs swollen. The Great Famine which was the harsh result of the disastrous Great Leap Forward. One day in 1959 a pig was killed in our neighborhood leading hundreds of people to queue to buy a portion. I waited half a day to buy two ounces of pork fat. I was told I was lucky that the butcher gave me the fat as it was deemed more valuable than the meat. One day after school, I saw a man on the street selling tiger meat, a striped tiger pelt dangled from a tree above the vendor. My father ,who was the editor of the international news page for Zheng Wu Bao (《正午報》), who was in Hong Kong knew it was time for me to depart Fuzhou. My father one day came home looking very upset, he said his pro-Beijing newspaper editor had refused to print the news that the Americans had landed on the moon.

Some years later, in the summer of 1968, my mother took me to Guangzhou to visit relatives; I vividly remember being yelled at by a barber in the Overseas Chinese Hotel who forced me to stand and recite one of Mao’s quotation on the wall before he would give me a haircut. At six pm Guangzhou was already dark. We queued for almost an hour to get a table in a restaurant, of which the city had but a few. The waitress threw the chopsticks on the table and walked away. Everybody behaved in a manner that officials like to call “vigilant”. Why vigilant? The Chinese in that era literally seemed to see enemies everywhere. I was glad to return to Hong Kong, feeling utterly exhausted by the hysteria which I absorbed from the people’s body language and facial expressions.

Perhaps it was these bitter, sour memories of childhood that led me to develop an avid interest in newspaper reports about China during my studies in New York. I followed the Toronto Globe and Mail’s dispatches in the New York Times—the Canadian newspaper was the only North American newspaper to have an accredited journalist in Beijing at that time. At the university library, I read the little weekly pamphlet China News Analysis published by Jesuits who monitored radio broadcast from the mainland. Among the Jesuits were the few westerners specialized in Chinese dialects; including those who could understand Mao’s strong Hunan accent. As I later discovered on my travels through China, Hunan, the birthplace of my father, was the only place I required the services of an interpreter.

By 1976, after nine months of apprenticeship with Gjon Mili at Life Magazine who had earlier taught me at Hunter College [under New York’s City University], I went to Europe and photographed post-Franco Spain; to Portugal where Communist presidential candidates were campaigning in the countryside with peasants driving tractors, but who stopped to listen and enjoyed a picnic as they did so. In Paris, I went to Hotel Matignon to photograph newly appointed French Prime Minister Raymond Barre. As I came out of the metro near St Germaine des Pres, I saw Mao’s photograph on the front page of every Parisian newspaper on the newsstand. It was September1976: Mao had died. I was on the first plane to Hong Kong thence to the mainland on assignment for Time Magazine. Before I left for the border at Lowu, my uncle introduced me to Lo Fu (羅孚), editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s New Evening Post (《新晚報》). Lo, a respected Communist newspaper editor, well liked by senior Chinese leader Liao Chenzhi (廖承志), provided me with a letter of introduction to the border authorities. In those days, one needs an introduction letter from an organization just to check into a hotel.

I walked across Lowu bridge past the PLA guards, before boarding the train bound for Guangzhou I was stopped at customs. The guard inspected my camera bag; three cameras and assorted lens, forty rolls of Kodakchrome film. I didn’t have a journalist visa; he asked me what I planned to do. I said I was a traveler and presented him with the letter of introduction from Lo Fu. He disappeared for a while and came back with another more senior custom official. I gave him the same answer. They asked me to sit and wait. Just minutes before the train departed, the junior man returned and told me to hurry up if I didn’t want to miss the train.

The army-green train was staffed by young attendants who were friendly by the standards of the Cultural Revolution: at least they smiled at me as they poured hot water over a bag of green tea that cost five fen (cents). The seats were covered with white cotton covers. The train roared through the rural areas towards Guangzhou. The scenes outside the window were familiar, but what was missing were the announcements from the omnipresent loudspeakers mounted on every telegraph pole. I was not sure if this was in order to mourn the death of Mao, or for other reasons. Few missed the streaming exhortations to keep up the revolutionary vanguard or the recital of the day’s editorial from the People’s Daily.

In Guangzhou I checked into the Overseas Chinese Hotel, where the portrait of Mao in the lobby was now adorned with the appropriate black trimmings. It was still warm in September, but outside I was struck by how quiet it was on the streets as I rushed from the hotel to stroll the embankment of the Pearl River. People wore black armbands of mourning. Some silently read the newspapers posted on the road side propaganda boards. Elderly people were doing taiqi. It dawned on me; something had changed in the people’s body language. They lost that “vigilant look.” Even though overseas Chinese and foreigners usually attracted inquisitive stares they seemed to have no interest in me. I sensed China was going through a profound but as yet undefined transition. The death of Mao did not seem to sadden the residents in the streets of Guangzhou, unlike those seen in the official propaganda photographs which showed youths crying with crocodile tears while holding a small printed portrait of Mao. On the contrary, I felt people, clearly more relaxed now, were behaving as if they had been relieved of a huge mental burden that had been hanging over them. Perhaps it was my childhood experience that prepped me to observe these unusually calm faces. As I continued to photograph daily life on the streets, I decided that if given an opportunity, I would photograph China after Mao.

But immediately I became caught up with my attempts to get a flight to Beijing to photograph Mao’s funeral. My repeated requests to the China Travel Service were denied. I learnt later that few people were allowed to travel to Beijing as the authorities were poised to arrest the Gang of Four (Jiang Qing [江青], Zhang Chunqiao [張春橋], Wang Hongwen [王洪文] and Yao Wenyuan [姚文元]). The death of Mao was world news and I missed it: I would not let that happen again.

The opportunity would eventually come again two years later in 1978 when Time Magazine decide to send Richard Bernstein to open the Time-Life News Service bureau in Beijing, ahead of the resumption of Sino-U.S. Diplomatic Normalization in 1979. I would be Time’s first contract photographer in China after 1949, and fulfill my wish to document "China After Mao."(1)

In Beijing I joined Richard Bernstein (白禮博), Fox Butterfield (包德甫), Melinda Liu (劉美源), John Roderick, Victoria Graham, Irene Mosby, Jay and Linda Mathew, Michael Parks and Frank Ching (秦家驄); the first wave of American foreign correspondents to be stationed in new China, six years after President Richard Nixon opened the door. The rest, as they say, is history.

(1) "China After Mao"《毛以後的中國》was published by Penguin in 1983. Twenty-eight years later the Chinese edition was published in the mainland by Shitu (世界圖書出版社). Release in September, 2010, it is currently in its third printing.

(All photos taken by the author except the first two.)

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:26
Frank Ching (秦家驄) is the author of "Ancestors: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family," "The Li Dynasty: Hong Kong Aristocrats" and "China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record." He opened The Wall Street Journal's Bureau in Beijing in 1979. Twitter: @FrankChing1

When the East was Red
Unlike many others, my first visit to the People’s Republic of China was not as a member of a delegation of academics or students invited by Beijing. Nor was I among the tiny handful of journalists fortunate enough to have been allowed individual visits.

Indeed, the Chinese government was unwilling to give me a visa because I was a journalist with The New York Times. After China and Canada established diplomatic missions in each other’s capital in 1971, I flew to Ottawa from New York to explain that all I wanted was a private visit but I was told that the Chinese embassy could not issue me a visa. The decision had to be made by the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.

Eventually, I entered China as a “Hong Kong compatriot” since I was born in the British colony and, while I had become a permanent resident in the United States, was not yet an American citizen.

I flew to Hong Kong from New York in 1973 and, as a first step, obtained from the British colonial government confirmation of my status as a “Hong Kong belonger,” or a British subject who was born in Hong Kong. Then I approached the China Travel Service, a mainland governmental agency, and argued for my right to visit Hong Kong as a “compatriot.”

After repeated visits, my request was granted. I was issued an “Introduction for Return to Native Village,” which enabled me to visit the mainland.

This was a time, in the wake of the Kissinger and Nixon visits, that Chinese-Americans and overseas Chinese were resuming contacts with their relatives in China. And, fortunately for me, a good friend of mine from New York, Danny Yung (榮念曾), was also traveling to China with his parents to visit their relatives in Shanghai. We traveled together to Canton (now Guangzhou), Shanghai and Beijing.

On August 1, 1973, I boarded an old diesel train that took China-bound passengers to Lowu, a town on the Hong Kong side of the border. For some reason, China Travel Service had arranged for me to travel third class. There, men and women clawed their way onto the train, passing goods and children through windows and often climbing in after them because the narrow entranceways were jammed. Many people carried shoulder poles from which dangled live chickens, baskets of food and other gifts for relatives in China. Even standing room was scarce. I gained a foothold on the bottom rung of a carriage and hung on to the handrail to prevent myself from falling off onto the tracks. In this fashion, I was slowly borne by the chugging train toward China.

At the border, we walked across a rickety wooden bridge that separated British-ruled Hong Kong from the Communist mainland. Once across the bridge, we were in Shenzhen, now a major city but at that time only a small village. All the passengers were led into a vast shed to be interviewed by immigration and customs officials.

I was interrogated by a man who questioned me at length on my background, my job, my relatives and my friends. He made me empty all my pockets. In one pocket, I was carrying the business cards of several people I had met in Hong Kong. My interrogator was extremely interested in all of them. He asked me about each of them and what relationship, if any, that person had with any of the others. He asked me about my parents and my brothers and sisters. He wrote down all the answers. Then he asked me the same questions all over again, in different ways. The interrogation lasted for over an hour.

Finally, he allowed me to go through to customs. There, Hong Kong newspapers I had with me were confiscated.

The train ride from Shenzhen to Canton was a distinct improvement over the ride to the China border. The train was the only air-conditioned one in China, and it traveled back and forth between Shenzhen and Canton, I suppose to give foreigners a good initial impression of China. I sat back in my soft seat and watched the green fields of Guangdong province roll by. The loudspeaker played “The East Is Red,” a paean in praise of Chairman Mao Zedong that had virtually become China’s national anthem during the Cultural Revolution.

When we finally pulled into the Canton station, the loudspeakers thanked the passengers for helping the crew to complete their mission successfully.

The China Travel Service in Hong Kong had advised me to stay at the Overseas Chinese Hotel in Canton, but the young woman behind the counter there told me the hotel was full and refused to refer me to another hotel. “Hong Kong compatriots usually stay with relatives,” she said. “We only serve guests from overseas.”

I then was forced to produce American identification and explained that, though a Hong Kong compatriot, I lived in New York. The change in the clerk’s attitude was remarkable. A selection was rooms was available, she said. The best room, for ten dollars a night, had a bathroom, a telephone and an electric fan. I took it.

The next day, together with Danny and his parents, I boarded a plane for Shanghai.

The atmosphere in Shanghai was noticeably different from that in Canton, where service bordered on being surly. In Shanghai, as soon as we checked into the Park Hotel across from the People’s Park, or what used to be the Shanghai Race Course, a waiter arrived with glasses of ice water to provide relief from the stifling heat.

I had the address of my uncle Qin Kaihua, my mother’s brother, whom I had never met. He and my mother were never close. But this uncle was my only point of contact with my entire family in China.

When I arrived at his home, I tapped gently on the door, trying not to arouse the suspicions of the neighbors since having “overseas connections” was often a crime in China. A skinny, elderly man dressed only in shorts and an undershirt appeared. He turned out to be my uncle. I introduced myself as Qin Jiacong, the son of Zhaohua, and he waved me in.

I walked into a dingy room with a wooden bed, then through a doorway into a small sitting room. Shanghai summers can be very hot and my uncle switched on the electric fan and directed it at me full blast while cooling himself with an old-fashioned straw fan. He introduced me to his wife, Lin Yanzhu, and their 16-year-old daughter, Zhifen.

In the presence of these strangers I felt curiously at home. I told them about the various members of the family outside China and what they were doing. And before leaving, I invited them to my hotel for dinner the following evening.

The next day, the hotel’s reception desk called to tell me I had visitors. I went down to the lobby and found an argument going on between my relatives and the hotel personnel, who insisted that each of them produce identification. They were told to fill in forms in triplicate, giving their name, address and place of employment, plus their relationship to the person they were visiting. Only after that were they allowed to enter the elevator and go to the dining room. After dinner, when I invited them to my room, the elevator operator refused to take them. In the lobby, we were informed that only parents or children of hotel guests were allowed in rooms; other visitors had to be entertained in the lobby. Eventually, after filling in another set of forms, my relatives were allowed up as a special dispensation. Not surprisingly, they never visited me again.

I also spent time with Danny’s relatives, which included not only his grandfather but numerous uncles and aunts. Among the presents Danny’s parents had brought with them was a bicycle, but there was a problem: how could the bicycle be transported from the train station to their home? I volunteered my services and rode the bicycle through Shanghai’s streets to the grandfather’s home. It was an exciting experience and made me feel like a local, especially when someone stopped me and asked for directions.

As for my own relatives, they made me welcome in their home and I learned things about China and my family that I had never dreamed of.

Before leaving Shanghai, I bought a birthday present for my aunt. I went to the Friendship Store and purchased a Chinese-made watch, one of the more expensive brands. I also gave my uncle some knickknacks that I had with me. In return, he gave me a small jade rabbit that had belonged to his grandfather, one of the few things of value that he possessed.

From Shanghai, we went north to Beijing, which was still called Peking at the time. The city was awe-inspiring, with the Great Wall winding north of the city and the vast Tiananmen Square in the city center, where Chairman Mao Zedong had reviewed millions of Red Guards at the start of the Cultural Revolution. Changan Avenue, or the Boulevard of Eternal Peace, was the city’s main street, built in the 15th century and wide enough for more than 10 lanes of traffic. The whole city conveyed a sense of history, of being the center of an ancient and still vibrant civilization.

I visited Tiananmen Square and marveled at its vast emptiness aside from the Monument to the People’s Heroes, as well as the Great Hall of the People next to it, where all major meetings were held.

Danny and I also ate in a duck restaurant, where we enjoyed our first meal of Peking Duck in Peking.

I had relatives in Beijing too, but did not know how to get in touch with them. During subsequent visits to China, I discovered relatives in Shanghai and Beijing on both my mother’s and my father’s side of the family, gradually building up a mental picture of the family I never knew in China.

Despite its brevity, the trip to China was exhilarating. After my return to New York, I wrote several articles about my trip for The New York Times, not about politics but about such things as how Chinese families cope with shortages and how increasing numbers of Chinese-Americans were returning to their ancestral homeland. After my articles appeared, I was contacted by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Yang Chen-ning (楊振寧), who taught at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and who had himself been to China, and paid him a visit.

The trip to China confirmed me in my journalistic career of China watching. The following year, I moved to Hong Kong and, after China and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1979, I became the first correspondent in China of The Wall Street Journal.

That first trip in 1973 launched me on a quest for my roots. It culminated years later with my writing a book on my family history: “Ancestors: 900 Year in the Life of a Chinese Family.”

Twitter: @FrankChing1

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:29
Jan Wong (黃明珍), a journalist and author, divides her time between Toronto and Fredericton, New Brunswick, where she is a professor of journalism at St. Thomas University. She has worked as a reporter at the Montreal Gazette, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and the Globe and Mail. From 1988 to 1994, she was the Globe and Mail’s much-acclaimed Beijing correspondent where she covered the massacre at Tiananmen Square. A graduate of McGill University, Peking University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, her first book, "Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now," was one of Time magazine’s top ten books of 1996. It remains banned in China. Her non-fiction books include: "Lunch With: Sweet and Sour Celebrity Interviews" and "Jan Wong’s China: Reports from a Not-So-Foreign Correspondent." Her latest book is "Beijing Confidential: A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found." Website: www.janwong.ca

In my third year at McGill University in Montreal, a much older, married classmate suggested the two of us go to China during our summer vacation. I was 19; she was probably all of 25. When we applied for visas, she, a white Australian, was turned down and I was approved. It was my first lesson in Chinese apartheid.

As a third-generation Canadian, I didn’t speak Chinese and dreaded going alone. But the lure was too great. In 1972, China was radical-chic, at least to an idealistic university student in Montreal. Against a backdrop of protests against US involvement in the Vietnam War, Beijing was a beacon of hope.

In that era, Hong Kong was the gateway to China. My father, a Montreal restaurateur, had mysterious contacts in the British colony. To my surprise, an entire “patriotic” network enveloped me – I was met at Kaitak Airport, deposited at the Golden Gate Hotel in Kowloon and taken shopping at a fluorescent-lit emporium that, in an unwitting harbinger of global commerce, only sold things Made in China. I spent $15 on two pairs of black cloth shoes, two pairs of baggy gray trousers and three plaid blouses. I figured the best way to see China was undercover, as a Chinese. (I had no idea I had purchased “export-quality” clothing, the cut and fabric of which would instantly identify me as someone from the outside.)

It was June 1, 1972 – exactly 100 days after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China. The 7 a.m. train from Hong Kong deposited me at the border. As I walked over the small footbridge to Shenzhen, wearing my new mainland outfit, I heard the strains of revolutionary opera blasting over the loudspeakers. Above my head the five-star red flag fluttered in the hot breeze. I stared in awe at the tall, handsome People’s Liberation Army sentry, thinking: my first Communist! Another equally tall and handsome PLA border guard checked my passport and politely waved me through. (I didn’t yet know these soldiers were chosen in part for their looks and height.)

Sipping a glass of jasmine tea in the railway waiting room, I watched women in straw hats, trimmed with black, curtain-like flounces, working in the fields. Then I boarded the train for Canton. Bai, the young woman who met me, was about my age, and had round pink cheeks and glossy braids she tossed briskly over her shoulders. She looked as though she had popped out of a propaganda poster.

More lessons in Chinese apartheid ensued. As I was racially Chinese, I was presumed to have an innate ability to read, write and speak the language of the motherland. So Bai didn’t know English, and the designated hotel where she deposited me, the Canton Overseas Chinese Hotel, was also unilingually Chinese, including the menus. I didn’t mind, at least not until the third time I mistakenly ordered pig esophagus for lunch.

Inside the Stalinist-style sandstone hotel, the class-struggle décor consisted of golden quotations from Chairman Mao. The lobby teemed with compatriots from Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, who lounged around in flowered polyester pantsuits and solid-gold jewelry, picking their teeth and shouting to one another in village dialects. Had I been classified a foreigner, I would have been charged twice as much for a room in an “international” hotel, which offered luxuries like interpreters, English menus and rooms with windows. The interior designer at the Overseas Chinese Hotel had chosen the prison-cell look for my tiny room: whitewashed walls, quite a few mice and no windows. He or she had solved the ventilation problem by cutting a big hole high in the wall separating me from the next room, which meant I could listen to every shout and snore from the adjacent family.

Bai rarely accompanied me. Each morning, she ensured I got into the right car. Then she would instruct the driver to take me to such tourist destinations as the Canton Trade Fair. (It looked like a clearance sale at an army and navy surplus store.)

At the Canton Zoo, I struck up a conversation of sorts with a 22-year-old worker with high cheekbones and finely shaped eyes. We talked mostly in sign language. When he fingered his worn denim jacket, it meant he was a worker. What kind? He went through the motion of driving a car, then fixing an imaginary engine. An auto mechanic!

For my part, I told him, yes, TOLD him, he must be happy in the workers’ paradise. I mimed happiness, pointing at my big grin, and then at him. He shook his head and turned down his mouth in a Chaplinesque expression of sadness. He thrust out his hands and made me feel the calluses. Then he rubbed the fingers of one hand together in that universal commercial gesture that means money. He shook his head, which meant the pay was crap.

I was stunned - how could a worker in China be unhappy? I thought this was the dictatorship of the proletariat. I couldn’t exactly say that in Chinese, so I tried to pantomime a happy worker, pretending to repair a piece of machinery, all the while smiling broadly.

The young mechanic thought I was crazy. He pulled a small pass from his pocket. It stated where he was from (Guangxi province) and where he was authorized to travel (Canton.) It specified he could stay two weeks and the purpose: visiting relatives from overseas. Slowly I understood – he could not travel freely in his own country.

When I told him I was from “Jia na da,” he wanted to go there. Again, I was shocked. Why would anyone here want to go to a CAPITALIST country? I had been in China exactly four days, so I was an expert. I told him, in my fractured Chinese, that China was way better than Canada. On cue, a line of singing schoolchildren marched past. He looked dubious. We agreed to go rowing the next day.

The next morning, Bai tracked me down in the hotel dining room and told me, beaming, that I was going to visit Chairman Mao’s school. My face fell. I tried to explain I was going rowing with a member of the proletariat. I pulled my arms back and forth. She couldn’t figure out what on earth I was talking about, so I pulled her outside where my friend from the zoo was waiting.

The change in Bai was startling. The sweetness was gone. She looked older and meaner. She shouted at him. His neck flushed as he pulled out his travel pass. She snatched it from him, examined it and frowned. Then she barked something at him, and he slunk away.

Later, I walked through Mao's school in a daze. Why couldn't I go rowing with a Chinese? What had I done wrong? What had he done wrong? I felt like crying at the ugliness I'd just witnessed, at the humiliation of my new friend. For the next few weeks, I continued to tour China alone, increasingly perplexed by and somewhat paranoid about the authorities, but still entranced and captivated by the strange, new society I was witnessing. After weeks of pestering Guide Bai to find me someone, anyone, who would teach me Chinese, I was suddenly told I could stay and study in China. Exactly where remained a mystery until one day I was dropped off at the gates of Peking University. I became the first Canadian to study there in the Cultural Revolution.

It was the first step in my Long March from Mao to now. I stayed a year at Peking University, learning fluent Mandarin, digging ditches, harvesting wheat and working in a machine-tool factory. It being the silly 70s, McGill University gave me full credit for that year of hard labour, and I graduated on time. I immediately returned to Peking University to study Chinese history, the next step in a journey that would ultimately take me back to Beijing as a foreign correspondent where I chronicled, among other events, China's rise as a global market economy, the struggle for human rights and the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:30
Ezra F. Vogel (傅高義) is Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus at Harvard University. He was professor at Harvard from 1967-2000. In 1973 he succeeded John K. Fairbank to be second director of Harvard’s East Asia Research Center. He was later director of Harvard’s US-Japan Program, the Fairbank Center, and the founding director of its Asia Center. In 1965 he began teaching a course on Communist Chinese Society, and later he taught courses on Japanese Society and Industrial East Asia. He wrote "Canton Under Communism" (1969), "Japan As Number One" (1979), "One Step Ahead in China" (1989) and has just published "Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China" (2011)

I first traveled to China as a member of the first delegation of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences from late May to mid-June 1973. We traveled for three weeks in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Beijing and were hosted everywhere by scientists.

I had been hoping to travel to China ever since I began studying China in 1961, three years after my Ph D. I was trained as a sociologist whose research was based on intensive interviewing. I believed interviewing was important to try to understand people’s thinking; I was trained to think of the big picture of societies by Talcott Parsons and I tried to link the bigger picture with a deeper understanding of people first hand. I had interviewed Italian-American, Irish-American, and old-American families in Boston for my Ph D thesis which I completed in 1958 and then I had interviewed Japanese families in Japan from 1958-1960. In 1961 I was selected by some of my former professors to begin a three year post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard to study the Chinese language and history; I was told that if it worked out, I might later have a chance to become the first faculty to offer courses on Chinese society at Harvard. Until 1960 some American universities offered courses on Chinese language, literature, and history, but almost none offered courses on contemporary politics, economics, or society. After the Korean War in the late 1950s, the “red scare” led by Joseph McCarthy caused universities to fear offering courses on Communist China. Some professors were afraid to show an interest in China; foundations offered no grants for studying contemporary China for fear of being criticized for being “soft on communism.” By 1961 the influence of McCarthy had begun to fade and foundations were prepared to support some of us from various disciplines to get the background needed to start university programs on contemporary China. I was excited by the opportunity to study such a large and important society that was so little understood. I believed, as did many other American intellectuals, that the United States must open relations with Communist China, that we and the Chinese people needed to understand each other to have a peaceful world, and that I could play a constructive role in furthering our understanding of China to help pave the way for Americans and Chinese to work together.

When the Committee for Concerned Asian Scholars was founded at Harvard, I became a member and supported the activities. Like other members, I believed that the United States was wrong to attack Vietnam, and I believed our country should pull out of the war. I was close to the graduate students who were a few years younger than I like Jim Peck, Victor Nee, Richard Bernstein, Tom Eberhardt, Perry Link, Andy Nathan. I remember once driving seven Harvard graduate students in my station wagon to Washington DC where we made the rounds of government offices to complain of the Vietnam War and urge a quick ending. But my father was a Jew who found opportunities in the United States while his sisters and their families perished in the holocaust in Europe, and I was more positive on America than some of my students. Also, I did not share the rosy view of life in Communist China held by many of the radical students. I had done interviewing of former residents of Communist China in Hong Kong from 1963-64 and for several summers after that. I had also read through a decade’s worth of Nanfang Ribao (《南方日報》) to understand the changes in China from 1949 to the mid-1960s. I was familiar with the ideals that Communist leaders had enunciated, but I had heard tales of the many good landlords who were killed along with the bad ones. I knew of the anti-rightist campaign of 1957. I had read of problems among the leadership –of Gao Gang (高崗), and the attacks in 1966-67 of Peng Zhen (彭真), Yang Shangkun (楊尚昆), Lu Dingyi (陸定一), Luo Ruiqing (羅瑞卿) and then of Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇) and Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平). I did not know many details of the failure of the Great Leap Forward, but I knew that there was widespread starvation and forced labor. And through interviewing in Hong Kong, I was aware of the tight control over citizen’s lives. And yet I wanted Chinese leaders to succeed, to make life better for their people, and wanted to help bridge the gap between China and America. I was envious of radical students who had visited China before I had an opportunity; in discussions with them, some said “How could you know about China if you have never been there?”

The National Academy of Sciences, a private organization of scientists, had promoted exchanges with scientific organizations around the world. Their Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China had been established in the late 1960s in the hopes of promoting exchanges between scholars of China and the United States. A number of the senior American scientists had former students who had returned to China and held key positions in China’s scientific institutions. The scientists were overwhelmingly natural scientists but there were a small number of social scientists among them. On this first delegation to go to China, over thirty natural scientists and their wives took part, as well as four of us in the social sciences and humanities: Eleanor Sheldon, president of the Social Science Research Council, Al Feuerwerker, a Chinese historian at the University of Michigan, his wife Yitze, a specialist in Chinese literature, and myself.

The meetings with Chinese scientific organizations were formal and polite. We visited universities and scientific institutes and received briefings. It was easy to sense that many Chinese scientists were eager to promote exchanges, that they were distressed at the poor state of facilities in China, and wanted to carry on ordinary scientific research, and yet they were very cautious in saying anything that might reveal their personal desires. We felt deep sympathy for the Chinese scientists, and we tried to take precautions so that they did not get into political troubles with their minders who had made their life so difficult.

When we visited Peking University, we were received by the Revolutionary Committee. Zhou Peiyuan (周培源), the distinguished scientist who had been in effect the president of the university, welcomed us, but when we were all seated, he said he did not understand the political situation and called upon his colleague, a PLA soldier who then recited the political line of the Cultural Revolution. His talk was full of political clichés, and we all felt sorry for Zhou Peiyuan who had to yield to people like this soldier who knew nothing about higher education and who knew nothing about science and who behaved haughtily toward scientists who did not share the correct revolutionary perspective. We visited the factory where students did part time work. They were doing some simple routine work, and when an American physics professor asked about one of the machines they were working with, the answer was so simple that a member of our delegation later confided to us that it was at the level of an American technical high school. When we visited the Nationalities Institute, we were given general presentations but it was painfully obvious that the researchers had not been given a chance to do field work for many years.

At one city, we were received only by natural scientists; none of our welcoming committee was a social scientist. When I asked our guide if this meant that natural science was considered more important, he replied that social science was also very highly regarded. At the next stop a social scientist was included in the welcoming committee, but the poor man was so petrified of making an error that every time I asked a question he quickly changed the subject to talk about the weather or the scenery.

Our visit was heavily programmed. We were well-fed and stayed at hotels built during the Soviet period. I tried to find opportunities to take walks in the early morning before our schedule began. When I stopped people on the street, even to ask directions, the people were so petrified that they quickly evaded and walked away. One of the best chances to talk with people was after the formal briefings as we walked around in smaller groups to observe the university or institute where we were taken. Once when we walked around, a professor who had given us a radical briefing as a member of the revolutionary group came up to walk besides me. He had clearly picked me out. He began by asking me if I were at Harvard and when I replied that I was, he confessed that he had studied at Harvard and asked if I knew what had happened to one of his American friends. When I told him I knew the person and told of his whereabouts, he was deeply moved. When I returned to the United States and called his friend to convey the news, the American friend was so deeply moved that I could tell he was choked up to hear that after decades of worry, his close Chinese friend was still in good health.

Some radical American students were disillusioned at the tight control and the poor conditions they saw on their first trip to China. I was not disillusioned for I had been prepared for what I saw first hand by my talks with former residents of China in Hong Kong. However, I was deeply happy to be able to visit first hand some of the communes, neighborhood associations, and buildings that I knew about. Yet a few things surprised me. I had been told of the success of the campaign to wipe out the four pests and was surprised at the use of mosquito nets that made it clear that mosquitoes had not been eliminated. I had not expected ordinary people to be so frightened of talking with foreigners. I had not expected to see campuses still in such disarray. I was surprised how dark the streets were at night. Bikes did not have bike lights. There were no regular street lights, only a single small light bulb ever 100 yards or so, even on busy streets in places like Guangzhou and Shanghai. The streets were filled with bikes but almost no motorized vehicles except the small number of car s owned by work units, tractors, and the open trucks. In the outskirts of some cities, I saw horse-drawn vehicles. Virtually everyone wore the same cotton dark blue pants and jacket so one could not tell status by clothing. There were virtually no little stores to buy daily goods. When we visited a Shanghai neighborhood association, the women represented the neighborhood were plainly dressed but it was easy to see they were bright and could under different circumstances been lively leaders. When we heard the Shanghai symphony play, they played simple marches and Cultural Revolutionary music, but they did it with a verve that one could imagine that the older members could play far more difficult classical music if given the chance.

When I asked guides at places like Mao’s Peasant Institute questions that showed some familiarity with the period, the guide was unprepared to answer; he had no knowledge of the period. Sometimes the political line seemed so far from reality that I could not resist asking mischievous questions that reflected my improper political training. When I noticed some perfume in a department store, I asked the guide if some people regarded perfume as a sign of revisionism; he answered “No. It depends on the purpose to which the perfume is put.” “Do some people who hate imperialism,” I asked a particularly politically correct guide, “feel it difficult to accept foreigners riding in such luxurious cars?” “No,” he said, “they have been taught to believe in the friendship of peoples.”

Our delegation was welcomed in Beijing by Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua (喬冠華). The next day we were told to wait in our hotel rooms for we might be able to meet an important leader. We all waited impatiently in our rooms and then assembled in a waiting room where we waited some more. We were then driven from the Peking Hotel in our cars, all numbered in order by the rank of our members, to the Great Hall of the People where we were received for over two hours by Zhou Enlai (周恩來). We did not then know that Zhou already had cancer but he looked thin, and we did not then know he was under political pressure. But he seemed somewhat tense as he talked about the struggles between the two lines. Although we did not meet Deng Xiaoping, we heard that he had recently returned from the countryside to Peking and there was an air of anticipation that he would be returning to an important position and that he was someone who was capable of bringing greater order to China. In May 1973 there was hope in the air that scientists and universities might again resume their regular activities, but scientific institutes did not really carry on much research until 1975 and universities did not really reopen until late 1977.

I was enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to visit in 1973. I was able to take many photographs that I could show to my classes on China that gave a first-hand feel of the place I was lecturing about. In later years, I was even more grateful that I had been given a chance to see China when it was so poor, when people were so frightened to say anything, and when universities were still under the influence of the Cultural Revolution. It made it possible for me to have a vivid sense of the progress that China made in later years and to tell those Westerners who later complained about limitations on free discussion in China how much change had taken place in the years after 1978

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:32
Andrew J. Nathan (黎安友) is the Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1971. His books include “Chinese Democracy” (1985), “Human Rights in Contemporary China” (coauthored, 1986), “The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China's Search for Security” (coauthored, 1997), “The Tiananmen Papers” (co-edited, 2001), “China’s New Rulers: The Secret Files” (coauthored, 2002), and “How East Asians View Democracy” (co-edited, 2008).

In 1972, a man named Jack Chen (陳依範) showed up in New York. He was the younger son of Eugene Chen (陳友仁), who had been an associate of Sun Yat-sen’s (孫中山) and intermittently foreign minister for various KMT governments. Jack’s mother was Trinidadian. He grew up there and did not speak much Chinese. At some point he had gone to China and made a career at the Beijing Foreign Languages Press. Then he came to New York, for reasons I think none of us in the U.S. fully understood. (He and his wife, Yuan-tsung Chen [陳元珍], subsequently wrote several books that explained parts of their story, including how they suffered during the Cultural Revolution.) He became associated in some way, if memory serves, with Columbia, and then later became an advisor or consultant with the Department of Education of the State of New York, helping to develop curricular resources about China. In that capacity, Jack arranged for a group of New York State college teachers to visit China in July, 1973.

The trip was called the New York State Educators’ Study Tour and involved about a dozen of us from Columbia, Cornell, Hunter, the University of Rochester, and other institutions. Like all foreign visitors at that time, we were overwhelmed with curiosity. We were seeing in person for the first time a vast and strange society we had known before only from the outside. We were accompanied everywhere by guides from the national and local offices of the China International Travel Service, who smothered us with a protocol that bore a faint edge of hostility. We responded with a respectful attitude of learning from the Chinese about their country’s wonderful advances and visionary experiments in human organization and economic development.

On the first day we crossed the short bridge between Lowu and what was then called Shumchun (now Shenzhen) by foot, seeming to leave the real world behind and enter, as I wrote in my notes, “a kind of poster art; the costumes, the signs, the murals, are all exactly as one has seen them in posters.” We went to the second floor of a damp, airy, fan-cooled concrete building and sat in white slip-covered chairs sipping tea while our luggage was inspected. We met our national-level guides, had lunch with plenty of watery beer, and boarded a train for a two-hour ride through the emerald countryside to Guangzhou. The following day began a three-week program of visits to production brigades, factories, industrial exhibitions, neighborhood committees, department stores, schools, universities, and the occasional classic tourist site, moving from Guangzhou to Beijing, then to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and back to Guangzhou. At each unit we sat in an arc of chairs or around a table, received a “jiandan jieshao” from a “leading cadre,” took detailed notes, asked earnest questions, and walked through the facility trying to peer behind the façade of Maoist correctness for signs of real life.

In Beijing, we were summoned one afternoon to a reception hall in the Nationalities Museum to meet with Chi Qun (遲群), the deputy head of the Science and Education Section (Kejiaozu) of the State Council. After the fall of the Gang of Four Chi Qun was revealed to have been one of their top followers. According to my notes, he was a slight young man in a full Mao suit, a silvery watch, and plastic sandals. The notes continue:

“There was much of the imperial in the manner in which we were received by Mr. Chi. The meeting had no date fixed in advance; it met in a place that one would not have expected it to meet in [a reception room at the Nationalities Museum]; all the trappings of power (the elegance of the setting, the waiters pouring soda, the large body of retainers, and even the Mercedes limousine) were present to awe the visitor. Mr. Chi affected imperial elegance as he languidly sat upon the couch and put in occasional questions (‘is it true that Columbia is the biggest university in New York?’) to set his visitors at ease. Our submissions [ideas about exchange programs] are accepted but no answers are given. We are not even certain with whom we are dealing. Questions will be passed on to the ‘proper authorities,’ but we are not to know who these authorities are, nor are we to confront them directly.”

Going around the circle of guests, Chi invited me to describe my research, which at the time focused on late Qing reform ideology. After hearing part of my presentation he interrupted me. “You may be aware,” he said, “ that there was an attempt to make reforms in 1892, but the Empress Dowager (慈禧太后) cut off the heads of Kang Youwei (康有為) and Liang Qichao (梁啟超).” Someone at his side whispered to him. Chi then resumed, saying that the reform took place in 1898 and that the Empress Dowager wanted to cut off the heads of Kang and Liang but since they fled, she cut off the heads of their followers instead.

In Shanghai we visited Fudan University. With elderly professors seated in a row in back, we were briefed by a young man identified as a “leading member” of the revolutionary committee. He told us,

“Before the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the struggle of two lines was acute, especially in universities. This school was basically going the revisionist road. Before 1962 especially, the authorities of the university intended to turn it into a Moscow University of Asia. Teaching methods, texts, and school organization followed the Soviet system. This made it impossible to train intelligent proletarians. So revolutionary teachers and students rose up in 1965-66 in opposition, and following the teaching of Chairman Mao, called for a shortened period of schooling and an end to the dominance of the educational field by the intellectuals.”

Upon leaving this meeting, I gave one of the senior professors a copy of the Columbia graduate school catalogue and a recent publication of mine, a small research guide entitled “Modern China, 1840-1972: An Introduction to Sources and Research Aids” (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1973). About an hour later I was surprised to be called out of my hotel room by one of our guides from the national guide team together with the guide who had conducted us around the university. According to my notes,

“They handed ‘Modern China’ back to me. ‘As soon as you left, Prof. Hu looked this over and he noticed this’ – pointing to an entry entitled ‘Gongfei qiejuxia de Zhongguo dalu fensheng ditu’共匪竊據下的中國大陸分省地圖(A province-by-province atlas of the communist bandit-occupied Chinese mainland) – a Taiwan-published item that I had listed in the geography section of the bibliography. ‘Seeing such language he felt very angry and cannot keep the book.’ I said, ‘I am sorry to have caused Prof. Hu any unpleasant feelings. This choice of words is not mine, but is simply the title of an item which I thought had value, and so included.’ ‘We understand that’ – here they nodded and assumed friendly expressions to imply that no fault was imputed to me personally. Next morning on the bus the guide from Fudan makes a point of sitting with me and making small talk.”

During a two-and-a-half hour train ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou I interrogated two of our guides.

“Is the man in blue riding the train a Public Security person? ‘Yes.’ Why? ‘Because we still have class struggle, and this is an important communications route, so they ride every train. There are two sections in public security, the “jiaotongjing” and the “minjing.” They are armed. They help kids and old ladies, help people locate relatives, register births, deaths, and changes of residence, and are the people’s friends not oppressors.’ … ‘When you Americans ask where are the Liu Shaoqi (劉少奇) elements in every unit, we must laugh, because there are no such things. Cadres are mostly good. We don’t throw them out for one or two errors but help them mend their ways.’ … What will happen when Mao dies? ‘He’s still in good health, for one thing. Secondly, we are now strengthening proletarian dictatorship and have driven out Liu Shaoqi. The danger of capitalist restoration still exists, but can be avoided by efforts now underway.’ But what if Mao had died in 1964, Liu would have been in charge. ‘Yes, but he didn’t die then.’ Who will issue directives to solve problems? ‘We have a Party Center, you know.’”

Arriving in Hangzhou, we are taken by bus to the center of town and allowed to walk around.

“Strolling, I stumble upon a series of about six freshly plastered ‘dazibao’ on a wall. I get photographs of two only. There are about five older ones, already torn and unreadable. The thrust of them, as I hastily read them, was that the ‘dangwei’ of the ‘Dianxinju’ [Post and telegraph bureau] contained a capitalist ‘jituan’ which was not giving equal work for equal pay and was not following the policy of ‘educated youth to the mountains and countryside.’”

That night:

“Mr. Huang phones [my hotel room] and asks to see me. He is acting as an intermediary for the Shanghai comrades [guides from the Shanghai office of CITS had accompanied us to Hangzhou]. Several of the broad masses have called the hotel to say that a foreigner with a beard and glasses and short pants took a picture of a big character poster this afternoon, and shortly thereafter two other foreigners came by and also took photos. [So far as I know, this latter had not actually happened.] Since the matter discussed in the wall poster is an internal affair, some of the masses are opposed to our having these pictures and for the sake of future friendship and to make future U.S. travel to China easier, the Shanghai CITS asks for my film, which they will develop and cut out the offending picture.

“I explain that wall posters are a sign of democracy. I bring out ‘Hongqi’ #6 [which contains an article] on unity and openness. (Huang laughs before I locate the spot on the page and says, ‘I know what you are going to say.’) I explain about preprocessing [when I purchased the film I had also paid for processing]. Huang says apologetically that it is not he but the broad masses of Hangzhou who want the film. I ask if I can just have a copy of the textual content of the picture. ‘Not very practical.’ My final question is only whether I can make the remaining 30 exposures on the film before handing it in. He’ll ask.”

I had brought only 30 rolls of film with me, and had taken many photographs. I hated to waste most of a good roll of film. After a short delay, permission to finish up the roll was granted. The next day, my Columbia colleague Jim Morley and I took a walk in the hills around Hangzhou. I filled the film with pictures of the scenery and handed it in to Mr. Huang that night.

Three days later the senior guide accompanying us from the national CITS office, Mr. Yu, who seldom dealt with us directly, asked for a private meeting with the head of our delegation, Ward Morehouse of the N.Y. State Department of Education. (Our group had been required at the start of the trip to designate a leadership structure so that we could fulfill the protocol requirements of our visit.) “Since it has to do with Nathan, he should leave,” Mr. Yu told Ward. Ward resisted but eventually agreed, stipulating however that he would share with me whatever was discussed. Coming out of the meeting he told me that only 30 shots had come out when my film was developed, all of them scenes of our walk in the hills. The six shots of the wall posters were missing.

Next I was called in to speak directly with the number two national guide, Mr. Huang.

“He accuses me of cheating them (pian). He says I must think the Chinese are not bright enough to know the difference between the beginning and the end of a roll of film. He rejects my offer that he can develop all of my film. He only wants the ‘right’ roll. He and Mr. Yu are very angry, especially Mr. Huang, who keeps waving the developed roll and pacing. He explicitly accuses me of trying to get away with handing over a wrong roll, of hiding the ‘correct’ roll, which they accuse me of knowing how to find among my films. Everyone [else in my group] comes up from waiting for the bus. Mr. Huang tells the whole story to them in agitation. Refusing the offer of all rolls, he stalks from the room.”

Ward, as group leader, had already protested the taking of my film during two of the many formal meetings we held with the guides to negotiate aspects of our program. His line had been that “the incident reflects unfairly on Nathan and the group as a whole since it seems to suggest that we have some less than honorable purposes in visiting your country.” To this, Mr. Yu had responded, “As the representatives accompanying you for the whole trip we regard this as a small issue which never extended to the whole of the group. But I must say that I receive many foreign tourist groups but most are only tourist sightseeing groups. Very few are like this group. Of course this is a new experience for us, so in our work there will inevitably be shortcomings.”

Now that a crisis had emerged, our group split. Several members urged me to stop playing games and hand over the right roll of film. Ward and my Columbia colleague Jim Morley, among others, accepted that I was telling the truth when I said that through some technical glitch – honestly one that was hard to explain – I didn’t have any pictures of the wall posters. I have never known for sure why this happened. My best guess is that I had loaded the film improperly, so that it didn’t advance when I moved the lever, but that some jostling had settled the film onto the sprocket by the next day, so that it started advancing normally. We all waited nervously to see what would happen now. My notes continue,

“Next day, we leave by air for Canton [Guangzhou]. Mr. Huang asks me to help hand out the boarding passes. The Shanghai CITS comrades seem neither to seek nor to avoid shaking my hand on departure.”

The rest of our trip went without incident and a week or so later we crossed back into Hong Kong with a feeling of giddiness at its brightness and buzz.

All of us learned a great deal on the trip, about how various kinds of institutions functioned and about ideological conformity. But a note made in Hangzhou crystallized my most lasting impression.

“This is the long-desired trip to China, but there is quite a sense of boredom and frustration in the group. Our rate of learning has plummeted as units and briefings begin to be repeats of basic types. Access to the populace is out because one simply cannot be inconspicuous. As we walk around, many compounds that we pass are out of bounds – PLA units, government offices, etc. Even the former Yueh Fei (岳飛) tomb, still called Yueh fen岳墳on the bus stop sign, is now an ‘exhibition on class struggle’ and is for ‘neibu canguan’ only – no foreigners allowed. The photo incident suggests how the society as a unit keeps its eyes on us. Nobody will talk freely. I, for one, am reduced to interviewing our more articulate guides for applications of the latest line to specific issues.”

Nandehutu(難得糊塗), says an ancient piece of Chinese wisdom. To make sense of this first trip to China became for me a project of many years.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:35
W.J.F. Jenner (詹納爾) taught Chinese studies for many years at the University of Leeds and the Australian National University. His books include "Memories of Luoyang: Yang Hsuan-chih and the lost capital" and "The tyranny of history: the roots of China's crisis" as well as many translations. He is now writing on the history of early China.


There was something unreal about first entering China one night in August 1963 in the middle of the Gobi after a week on trains since leaving Victoria station. We had crossed the frontier at Erenhot, and a Chinese dining car had just been added to the train instead of the Mongolian one that the Chinese passengers had been carefully avoiding. Now they were piling into it for a cheerful meal, and we joined them to celebrate being in China at last.

The next morning Delia Davin (蒂麗亞) and I—we were then married—set foot on the ground briefly at Datong. There was no time to see any more of the historic frontier city before the last, spectacular stage of the journey through the passes and the Wall into Peking. Through the train windows were peasants who might have come from illustrations to Zhao Shuli (趙樹理) stories, then crowds on bicycles waiting at level crossings as the city grew closer. The excitement of being in China and seeing what I had been reading about for years was dampened when the welcoming party on the platform of the recently built Peking station turned out to be from Peking Review. A month or two earlier I had signed a contract at the Chinese Chargé d’Affaires Office on Portland Place with the head of the Foreign Languages Bureau to work in Peking for two years. It stated that my “concrete working post” would be assigned on arrival. I had naively hoped to be translating literature. This, I realised, was to be it.

At least I had got to China, something not easily done from England in those days. Soon after I graduated in Chinese at Oxford in 1962 my teacher, the fine literary scholar Wu Shichang (吳世昌), returned to the country he had left as an endangered liberal in 1947. As a member of the Institute of Literature of the Academy of Sciences—the Academy of Social Sciences had not yet been separated from it—he passed on the message that I would be glad to work in China. It was then all but impossible to go as a student from Britain, and I longed to get there.

1963 turned out to be just the right time to ask to go. Up till then only a few people with native or equivalent English had been needed to teach, edit or translate. Most of them had been taken on locally, but there were no more to be had. Previously they had been supplemented by Anglophone political trusties sent by foreign communist parties or their front organizations. Hardly any of these links had survived the Sino-Soviet schism, and the only foreign communists to stay on were converts to Maoism. So just when China’s rulers wanted their voice to be heard around the world they needed people with language skills. As a young graduate with some knowledge of Chinese and no Soviet connections I was doubtless seen as useful, as were a number of other new arrivals from around the world.

Going to China was a big decision. It meant giving up the British government studentship that had started the previous autumn and would have funded at least two more years of doctoral research at Oxford on Northern Wei Luoyang. But I wanted to experience a country I only knew from books and to be part of what was happening. The mediaeval studies would have to be fitted in when they could be.

First impressions of Peking were of a city that still had its moat and some of the city wall gate towers. There were hardly any cars, and some buses were still fuelled by huge bags of coal gas lying on the roof. Much was still moved around on pedicarts. People walked slowly. One day that first autumn I saw coal being delivered by camels.

Pretending to be a “Foreign Expert”

So began two years of the artificial life of a “foreign expert”. For the first eighteen months we had to live in the Youyi Binguan, the Friendship Hostel (or “the Druzhba” as it was still often known by its Russian name), north-west of the city. It then seemed a huge complex with grandiose accommodation that had been built to Moscow’s specifications in the 1950s for the Soviet and East European specialists who were advising on the creation of the new Chinese state on Stalinist lines. “Foreign experts” were a Soviet category that had been introduced for them. I suspect that the system needed substitutes to keep going after the Russians and their followers had gone. It may also have been a matter of pride to pretend that even after the split China could still bring in expert foreigners. This probably explains why a year after graduating I was given this unmerited status. Besides, there was this huge and now rather empty hostel in which to put us “experts”. Like many colleges and other new institutions created in the first years of the People’s Republic it had its own self-contained compound in a belt of what was then vegetable-growing land outside the city, which was then much smaller than it is today. It then seemed rather a long way out of town, though it is now an unremarkable set of buildings in inner suburbia, dwarfed by nearby shopping malls.

Some of the Youyi Binguan’s buildings were now used for Chinese conferences, and some for us new post-Soviet foreign employees. It was sealed off from the world outside by army sentries at the gates. Apart from the staff who worked there Chinese people were only allowed in with special permission. It was run by the Foreign Experts Bureau, which liked to keep short-term “experts” as far from ordinary life as possible. We could eat in its subsidised restaurants without having to bother with the ration coupons that everyone else needed. “Experts” were ferried to work by bus or car in the morning, brought back for lunch, then returned to the office for the afternoon before being shuttled back in the evening. On Sundays there was a bus into town for shopping. Sometimes the Foreign Experts Bureau or one’s own work unit would lay on a treat, such as visiting a prison, or going to see Peking ducks lining up to have a blob of glob thrust into their beaks through a metal spout. Sometimes we were fed globs of official culture.

The biggest occasions were on or around National Day. Hundreds of experts and their keepers would be taken in a motorcade to the Great Hall of the People for an impressively choreographed banquet at which Zhou Enlai (周恩來) might be distantly seen. On the day itself you could watch the parade from a stand by Tiananmen and watch the spectacular fireworks in the evening.

The Foreign Experts Bureau also organised the annual holiday trip outside Peking. At a time when travel was extremely restricted for foreigners, with only a handful of cities for which the Public Security might grant a travel permit, the chance to see Xi’an, Luoyang and Yan’an was too good to miss. When torrential rains washed away part of the Longhai railway we flew to Yan’an from Luoyang in an ancient DC3. Another trip was to the then utterly delightful Suzhou, which had not yet lost the beauty of its buildings and its Ming and Qing rentier urbanity, and to Shanghai, physically little changed since the 1940s. Shanghai felt like a slightly outdated version of the modern world where people walked briskly instead of ambling as in Peking. No doubt these trips only showed carefully chosen appearances, but I am very glad to have had those impressions of what places once looked like.

What we got to understand about life in Peking was limited but well worth having. The Foreign Languages Bureau and Delia’s employers, the Broadcasting Institute where she taught English, allowed us some contact with reality. We could buy bicycles (without having to wait years for a permit as our Chinese colleagues did) and make our own way to work and into town.

The Foreign Languages Bureau and Peking Review

The Foreign Languages Bureau was a large Soviet-style outfit set up in the 1950s and expanded after the split with Moscow. The Bureau was a typical 1950s Chinese office building in Baiwanzhuang with its own compound behind it that had crowded accommodation blocks for some of its staff. Office hours were long but leisurely, 8 a.m. to noon, then a break for lunch and siesta of two hours in summer and one and a half hours in winter before another four hours in the afternoon. The office worked six days a week, but foreigners were given Saturday afternoons off.

The Bureau’s staff all belonged to it. It was not just their employer: like other work units of the time it controlled their lives. Pay was low and living conditions were basic, but in exchange it provided security from cradle to crematorium: wages even after retirement, some medical cover, and accommodation, even if only a bed in a dormitory for the unmarried. Leaving was all but impossible. Back then, before the lethal madness of the Cultural Revolution, this forced coexistence meant that people had to get on together. Because they were not free to change jobs and promotion was glacially slow there was no pressure to work very hard, compete or get ahead. There was little privacy or freedom. Avoiding political mistakes or anything that might get you into trouble in the next ideological campaign seemed to be the main worries.

Given the nature of the Bureau’s work everyone was very well aware of the rules for dealing with foreigners. Conversations with us, except on safe subjects, were guarded. You knew that they had to be reported. While it did not matter to me what the authorities thought about my incorrect views I did not want to create awkward situations in which my colleagues had to trot out the party line. Most of them did not go out of their way to give political lectures.

Peking Review was in a newer building at the back of the compound. The magazine was hopeless as propaganda, though it did give foreign governments and other observers authoritative translations of the Communist Party’s line as given out for external consumption. The people on the magazine were pleasant to work with, but they had little say on what went into it and were not allowed to make it interesting. It contained no journalism and bore no resemblance to a news magazine. The content was largely set from above by the Central Committee’s Propaganda Bureau, and trusties fixed the English of key political texts before they were issued by the Xinhua News Agency. Peking Review had to print them without changing so much as a comma. Checking the English of other articles made few demands on me, and there was no scope for making them less boring.

Suggestions about improving the review met with wry smiles. I was sure that some of my highly educated and intelligent colleagues who knew the outside world were well aware of the review’s limitations. After the death of Mao one of them was to be a key player in setting up the China Daily, which with all its shortcomings at least pretended to be a newspaper. Something unexpected could provoke more spontaneous reactions. The assassination of President Kennedy brought out a sense of superiority at the incompetence of American security and a joke about “Kennidi ken ni” (肯尼迪啃泥), Kennedy biting the earth.

I was rescued from Peking Review by a misprint. One day I was given a cutting from the People’s Daily to translate, probably to find out if I could. The piece itself was of no interest, but a character in it seemed wrong. Asking about this must have given me some credibility, and things started to look up. While still having to polish Peking Review articles I was also given a wonderful assignment: editing Yang Xianyi (楊憲益) and Gladys Yang’s (戴乃迭) selected chapters from Sima Qian’s (司馬遷 ) “Shi ji” (《史記》). With the blind confidence of 23 I cheerfully thought I was improving their masterly work, and they were good enough not to take offence. (The book was to disappear, only to be published in Hong Kong in the 1970s before it finally came out in a Foreign Languages Press edition.)

The Foreign Languages Press

Towards the end of 1963 I was transferred from Peking Review to the Foreign Languages Press, the part of the Foreign Languages Bureau that produced books. My office was now a small room in the FLP English Section in the main building. I was given an unexpected assignment, to translate the proofs of what purported to be the memoirs of Pu Yi (溥儀). The plan was that the English version was to be brought out as soon as possible after the Chinese original was published in the spring of 1964 before there was time for any rival translation to appear. China was then outside international copyright agreements, which meant that the original was unprotected abroad.

For the sake of speed the book, “From Emperor to Citizen”, was brought out in two volumes. The first was by far the more interesting, going from Qing court politics in the decades before Pu Yi’s birth to the Japanese spiriting him out of Tianjin to the Northeast. It came out in 1964. This was the volume in which the Press’s editors unfortunately made some cuts. (Editors who dealt only with the Chinese text and were above the level of the English Section made the big editorial decisions. You had the impression that they had not been contaminated by contact with the outside world.) They left almost untouched the second volume, with its goody-goody, and probably too-good-to-be-true, account of Pu Yi’s “remoulding” in prison. Here more blue pencil would have been welcome.

The FLP’s English Section was a good place to work and observe the Chinese cultural bureaucracy in action. The care taken over every publication was extraordinary. Everything was checked over and over again. Proof-reading was done to a standard of accuracy that no Western publisher could match today. Zhou Jiacan (周家驂), an excellent colleague in my office, oversaw my version of the Pu Yi book. He referred some questions not to the supposed author but to his younger brother Pu Jie (溥傑). It was surprising to hear him refer to Pu Yi in phone conversations with Pu Jie as “huangshang”, His Majesty.

Pu Jie, it was hinted, was one of the book’s real authors. I was also told that historians had provided many of the stories and gossip about late Qing palace politics and the fate of the reduced court that lived on in the Forbidden City after the fall of the dynasty. Lao She (老舍), it was said, had given the whole manuscript a stylistic polish. It seemed plausible that as a Manchu himself Lao She would have wanted the story well told.

The whole Bureau was bound by one decision that had been made early in the history of the PRC: to use a degraded version of Wade-Giles romanization for proper names (except where Post Office spelling was followed for some place names) in all English-language publications. This continued even after Hanyu Pinyin had been introduced. This choice had apparently been made on the advice of Stalin-era Anglophone communists who thought that aspirations and umlauts would stand between the West’s toiling masses and the red sun rising in the East. So Chu had to stand for what in Wade-Giles would be Chu, Ch’u, Chü or Ch’ü, or in Pinyin Zhu, Chu, Ju and Qu. This sloppiness was followed by all foreign news media in their coverage of China until China switched to Hanyu Pinyin for international use.

I was of course excluded from meetings in the section’s large office and in the Bureau’s large hall, and my colleagues were careful not to pass things on. It would have been easy to trace the source of any hot news that got out through me. But sometimes I got a sense of what was happening. After the United States started bombing North Vietnam in the summer of 1964 there was no mistaking the tension. The canteen was plastered with posters of solidarity with Vietnam, and one colleague remarked, in a tone more of resignation than of enthusiasm, that it all reminded him of the atmosphere before China intervened in Korea. Later the sense of imminent war with America faded away. As we now know, Mao was not going to take on the USA when his main enemy was the USSR.

I nearly always avoided commenting on Chinese politics. One big exception was when there was delight in the office about China’s first atom bomb in 1964. You could understand it after all the years of living under the American nuclear threat, especially since the end of the Soviet alliance had removed one factor that might have inhibited Washington. But as a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament I could not help asking, “Who are you going to drop it on?”

The Press was helpful about slightly loosening some of the usual restrictions for foreigners. I was issued some grain coupons so we could buy food from ordinary stalls and restaurants around town. I could also eat lunch in the big canteen with my colleagues instead of going back to the Youyi or using the Bureau’s “small dining room” that prepared better meals for top management and for the long-term foreign staff who lived in the compound. (Its cooks were among the few fat people to be seen in the city.) When the English Section went to stay at a commune to help with the wheat harvest Delia and I joined them for one day. The short-bladed sickles looked almost the same as Han dynasty ones, and as there were not enough of them we pulled the wheat out by hand.

The Press also let us travel unescorted to bring my parents by train from Hong Kong with a stopover at Changsha. A side trip to Shaoshan, where the Mao pilgrimage industry had hardly started, included a walk up the hill of that name. As we climbed the path our local guide pointed out the spot where a villager had killed a tigress and her cub the previous winter.

Up till then I had avoided trying to contact Pu Yi, who seemed from the book published under his name to be a pathetic creature. He had evidently been a puppet all his life—of his mothers, of the eunuchs, of his tutors, including Sir Reginald Johnston, of the Qing loyalist elders, of the Japanese, of the Soviet Union, and finally of the Chinese Communists. My lack of admiration for him went with a wish to avoid a monarch, even a twice-deposed one. It all gave way when I was thinking of something special for my parents to be able to talk about when they got home. I asked if they could meet him, and the Press laid it on for me.

The meeting took place in a National People’s Political Consultative Conference establishment in the western part of the old city where veterans of fallen regimes were kept to be extensively debriefed and put their memories on paper. A tall, gangly figure in a black woollen standard Mao-era outfit ambled into the room. He seemed far from being the new man of his ghosted autobiography: he could not even smoke a cigarette without getting all the ash over his clothes. It soon became obvious that he was not able to answer any questions about the book. All I learned from the conversation was that he spoke with the thickest of slurred Peking accents.

Once the Pu Yi book was finished I was granted a very big favour. I asked to be allowed to do a full translation of “Journey to the West” and they agreed. I was to continue with the translation after returning to England, but in 1966, with a first draft of 33 chapters done, I was told to stop and return my copy of the typescript. I did stop, but I kept the typescript, which was just as well as their copy was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution. I also polished translations of bad novels, sometimes having to unpick and redo the efforts of incompetent others. One very worthwhile translation I edited was to disappear in the Cultural Revolution: the Institute of Archaeology’s “Xin Zhongguo de kaogu shouhuo” (《新中國的考古收獲》), an invaluable survey of ten years of Chinese archaeology that was to have been published by Penguin in England.

A home from home

Where real human contact with China came was through Gladys Yang and Yang Xianyi, the Bureau’s star translators, and their family. I had met Gladys when she gave a talk in Oxford in 1961 during her first visit to England in over twenty years. Right from our arrival she had opened their flat in the Bureau’s compound to us. I used to take my siesta on their battered sofa during the long office lunch break every day. Gladys had chosen to make her life in China at the worst possible time when she made the difficult journey there in 1940 to marry Yang Xianyi despite her English missionary parents’ heavy misgivings. She was admirably unlike other permanent foreign residents. Her commitment to China was to people, country and culture rather than to the twists and turns of party line. She cheerfully spoke her mind, an immensely refreshing relief from the preaching of true believers.

While Xianyi formally observed the rules on contact with foreigners by not saying many things he might have wanted to he could express a lot with a knowing smile and silence. When he had to produce some required formulation it would come with a warning such as “Of course, we say that…” Though he had to be discreet about the present he was a marvellous and quirky guide to enjoying the riches of China’s past.

Of their three children the oldest, their son Yang Ye (楊燁), was already away at university as a student. He came back occasionally at weekends, avoided contact with foreigners apart from his mother, and loaded his bag with books in Chinese and English before returning to university. You sensed a searching and independent mind, but not the terrible future that was to end with his suicide after the Cultural Revolution. His sisters Ying (楊熒) and Zhi (楊熾) were much better at coping with their Anglo-Chinese parentage. While being firmly Chinese they were more relaxed, friendly and comfortable with foreigners, but their main concerns seemed to be coping with the demands of the fiercely competitive school system. The Yangs’ flat was a home from home for us. When in 1964 more young graduates came from England to work in Peking they too made their way to the flat for an escape from official China.


Looking back, those two years turned out to have taught me a little about daily life in the offices of one of the capital’s work units and about the look of the few places I was allowed to see, but not much else. I allowed myself to remain in the dark about much of what had really happened in the rest of China. To be sure, I was told there had been three bad years with food shortages. Even in Peking the hepatitis rate was still high because of malnutrition, but there seemed to be pride that China had come through and that even government officials had shared the hardships. Hunger yes, but famine no—this was what people said and what, alas, I accepted. The only villages I saw were prosperous ones near big cities. What was visibly true from the availability of goods in shops was that in those two years the economy was recovering from the Great Leap.

As for the political picture, some changes were visible between 1963 and 1965, such as the growth of the Mao cult and the drafting of demobilized soldiers into the office to strengthen political control. The bitter struggles at the top that are now well known were then well concealed, making Mao’s regime seem unlike Stalin’s in that respect. Even the fallen Peng Dehuai (彭德懷) was said to be living in dignified seclusion somewhere in the western suburbs. It seemed like a very stable dictatorship. By the time I left in August 1965 it was evident that Yang Xianyi and the friends who visited him could feel that an unpleasant political campaign was in the wind, and they were resigned to being targets. What they expected was something like the Anti-Rightist movement, a campaign run from the top that might well hurt them but would be under some kind of control. Nothing pointed to the chaotic violence of the Cultural Revolution that was only a year away. It was inconceivable that my colleagues would soon be killing each other, Zhou Jiacan would be dead, and the Yangs would be in jail.

Two years of living alongside but not in China were enough. In August 1965 we took the long train ride back to England to start at the Department of Chinese Studies in the University of Leeds, Delia as a student and me as an assistant lecturer. It was to be over thirteen years before I saw China and the Foreign Languages Press again. When I went back in the spring of 1979 the place looked almost unchanged but belief in the system and its claimed values had gone.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:37
Delia Davin (蒂麗亞) taught English in Beijing 1963-5 and returned to work as a translator 1975-6. She taught at York University and at the University of Leeds where she is now Emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies. She has published extensively on gender and population issues in China.

Delia Davin (蒂麗亞) taught English in Beijing 1963-5 and returned to work as a translator 1975-6. She taught at York University and at the University of Leeds where she is now Emeritus Professor of Chinese Studies. She has published extensively on gender and population issues in China

I arrived in China in August 1963. I was 19 years old and had just finished high school in the UK. I was to teach English at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute while my then husband W.J.F. Jenner (詹納爾), a graduate in Chinese from Oxford, became a translator at the Foreign Languages Press. Our journey seemed hugely exciting. We travelled to Moscow on a trans Europe express via Berlin, Warsaw and thence on the trans-Siberian via Ulan Bator to Moscow.

Our first stop in China was the Inner Mongolian town of Erlian, then the site of the “break of gauge” where the broad track used in Russia and Mongolia gave way to the standard gauge. Each carriage had to be lifted up with a crane to have its bogies changed. This operation took a considerable time allowing the excited Chinese passengers, most of whom had been working or studying abroad for years, the time to enjoy a proper Chinese meal in the station restaurant. The next day the Chinese train attendants vacuumed the floors, cleaned every surface in the carriage and hunted down all the flies with swats to make the train fit to enter the capital. When we finally arrived in Beijing it was quite a wrench to leave the reassuringly familiar routine of train life and the attendants who had been proud of their exotic British passengers.

After a formal welcome at Beijing station from the “leaders” of the Press and the Institute, we were driven to the Friendship Hotel, or “Druzhba” as it was often still called, a large residential complex that had been built for the Russian experts who worked in China. Although they had departed in 1960, the buildings still bore many traces of their occupation. Its shops, dining rooms clinic, swimming pool, club and theatre were labelled in Russian although English, French, Spanish, and Japanese notices gradually appeared during the months we spent there. The scale of the architecture and even the furniture was large and clunky. We were lodged in two comfortable rooms with our own bathroom, much more luxury than we had expected in China and a considerable contrast with the furnished rooms with an outdoor lavatory that had been our home in Oxford.

Unfortunately we soon found that the comfort in which we lived was part of a systematic cosseting that tended to cut us off from the Chinese. In a petrol-short city where almost everyone rode bicycles to work and there were still very few cars we were expected to use the “Druzhba” taxis. It was only after many hours of argument that I was allowed to cycle to work and to take my lunch in the teachers’ canteen there instead of being driven back to eat in a “Druzhba” dining room. The complex was guarded by the army and visitors had to be met at the gate and produce identity. We spent over a year there until we were finally able to escape to a hostel that belonged to the Radio Station where our neighbours were mostly Japanese and Chinese. This building was in just outside the old city and overlooked the old city wall and the moat, a much pleasanter situation.

The college in which I taught had been established in the Great Leap Forward. This meant that its buildings and facilities were pretty basic; the students for example had no canteen. They collected food from the kitchen in bowls that they kept in their desks and ate in the playground or in their dormitories. To their annoyance they were required to use spoons (like children, they protested) rather than chopsticks that might have rolled off their bowls when stored and thus been unhygienic. As the Institute was preparing people to work in the Broadcasting Authority, over 20 languages were taught including Swahili, Urdu and so on. When I arrived, an Indian teacher who had formerly looked after the English class transferred to the Tamil class while his wife, who had formerly taught Tamil moved on to a newly enrolled group learning Malayalam. Both these colleagues generously shared their language teaching expertise with me. In one respect our Institute was privileged. We had inherited a collection of reel-to-reel tape recorders from the Radio Station to which we were attached. We used and reused precious imported West German tape. When a tape snapped we would mend it with sellotape. This was also imported and had to be collected from a technician who would carefully wind about an inch of it around my fountain pen -enough effect two mends. I often wished I had brought some with me from England.

In the first year we used duplicated texts many of which had originally been selected by Russian teachers of English. I found myself teaching extracts from “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Lady Windermere’s Fan”, “The Scarlet Letter” and a translation of Gorky’s “Mother”. A text on contemporary English life contained references to vacuum cleaners. My students could not begin to imagine what these would be like, so we went to the railway station to see them. The East German vacuum cleaners used on the Trans-Siberian trains were then, as far as I know, the only ones in Beijing. The station escalator was an added excitement. We also read Chairman Mao’s account of his life as recorded by Edgar Snow in “Red Star over China”. At that time the students knew nothing of the private lives of the communist leaders and were intrigued to learn that Mao had been married more than once. Later, as the Sino-Soviet dispute developed, our readings came under tighter political control. We were restricted to teaching texts from Chinese government publications including the polemics that the Chinese Communist Party was then blasting at the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This was rather boring for the students who had to read and discuss the same documents in their politics class but it served me in good stead later when I taught this period of Chinese history.

My students had definitely been winners from the revolution. Many came from illiterate families and all felt that they would never have made it to university in “old China”. Their lives were basic but they got enormous pleasure from the simple purchases they could afford from their stipends such as tiny tins of moisturising cream, packs of pretty bookmarks or sugared dried peas that we ate at parties. Their food was simple - meals were predominantly steamed bread and cabbage - but for many of them an improvement on what they had eaten in early childhood. The students from the south longed for rice and were happy when it was available. Three students were of Hui nationality and ate only food supplied by the “halal” kitchen. Most of the people I taught were a year or so older than I was, but one was a mature student with 3 children. She had served in the Korean War and danced a “ladies excuse-me” with Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) – two claims to fame that impressed her fellow students equally. Of the thirteen in that first class all are still living except one whose health was compromised by poor nutrition and tuberculosis when he was a child labourer before 1949.

I often stayed on with my students after class helping them with their homework, chatting and doing physical training. This mostly consisted of running which I was good at. However we also practised throwing using dummy grenades and we were all hopeless at this. Indeed the trainer informed us that our throws were so short we would have blown ourselves up that had the grenades been real. In those days Chinese were strongly discouraged from associating with foreigners except as colleagues or students. I felt fortunate to be able to spend so much time with these idealistic, naïve young people and to learn so much about their childhood, their families and their ideas and hopes.

The Foreign Languages Press where my husband worked was a more complicated place. His colleagues were older; many had belonged to the highly educated elite and had foreign connections. Nearly all expressed great enthusiasm for the revolution and the People’s Government but their levels of sincerity no doubt varied. Some had already been in political trouble, many felt vulnerable. Nonetheless, this was a close community. Employees lived in Press accommodation and ate in the canteen. They did exercises or played badminton and table tennis together in the breaks. Spring and autumn expeditions to the Western Hills organised by the trade union were highlights of the year as was the annual distribution of grapes and honey from land belonging to the Press. For us, yearning for greater integration into Chinese life the Press provided a better compromise than the expatriate society of the Friendship Hotel. Our dearest friends were the literary translators Gladys Yang (戴乃迭)and Yang Xianyi (楊憲益) with whom we spent much of our free time. They were immensely knowledgeable about what was going on in China as well as about Chinese history and literature and we learnt a lot from them.

The Yangs’ hospitable household allowed us to meet Chinese friends and colleagues outside our foreign ghetto. Through them we also became friends with people who had one foot in each of the sharply divided worlds of the Chinese and foreigners in Beijing. Two New Zealand Chinese brothers who had come to back to China to help the new People’s Republic in the early 1950s worked as proof readers. They were often criticised for their “foreign” way of thinking, or even for walking like foreigners. Yet when they went to work in the countryside they were admired by the peasants for their Kiwi ability to fix broken-down machinery. A black American then working as a translator had been taken prisoner in the Korean War, and had opted to stay in China at the time of the ceasefire. He subsequently took a degree in Chinese at Wuhan University, married and had two children. By the time we knew him he was homesick for the United States. He could not take his family back to Tennessee however, because under his home state’s anti-miscegenation laws, his marriage to a Chinese woman would have been deemed illegal. He had to defer his return until the ban on interracial marriages was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967. By this time the Cultural Revolution was also making his life in China very uncomfortable.

Beijing in the early 1960s was heaven for cyclists. Although there was little motor traffic, all the major roads had broad cycle lanes shared by pedicabs, mule carts, and camels that carried coal into the capital. Traffic lights were worked manually and the roads were so quiet that they could be switched off altogether when the traffic cops went off duty at 7.30pm. We worked a six-day week but on Sundays we could spend happy hours in the Forbidden City, Beihai Park, the Summer Palace or temples in the western hills. There was little pollution and we enjoyed clear blue skies day after day. As there was minimal heating and no air conditioning but I found both the winter cold and the summer heat difficult. At least thickly padded clothing in the winter helped. Foreigners were such a rarity that even dressed in Chinese clothes we inspired interest wherever we went and often attracted crowds. Small children called out “Sulianren” (Soviet) after us. Later they got more up to date and substituted this with “Albanian” or even on one occasion after the Zanzibar revolution of 1964, “Zanzibari”.

Many other areas outside the capital were closed to foreigners but we were able to visit major historic cities such as Nanjing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Xian and Loyang before modern traffic and multi-storey buildings changed their appearance forever.

The timing of our stay in China was good – fortuitously of course. When we arrived food was becoming more plentiful, rations were increasing, the range of consumer goods was greater and prices were falling. We did not know then how severe the post Great Leap famine had been but we were aware that there had been serious shortages and hunger. Confidence in the Communist Party had certainly been rocked by the hard years but by 1963 it was returning, not least because people really wanted to believe that life would be getting better. To our distress the explosion of China’s first atom bomb was greeted with popular enthusiasm. We put on our British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament badges and refused to celebrate.

There were events and campaigns that in retrospect one can understand as harbingers of what was to come although of course at the time we had no notion of it. The Four Clean Ups Movement (Siqing) meant that my students were sent off to the countryside for a month abruptly and to the detriment of their progress with English. The Socialist Education Campaign not only affected our teaching materials, it meant that western classical music disappeared from Radio Beijing and the hours our students and colleagues spent in political study doubled. We were all bussed off to watch an adulatory film on Stalin shown across two evenings. It lasted a painful eight hours if my memory does not deceive me. Liu Shaoqi’s (劉少奇) “How to be a Good Communist” was reprinted in Chinese and many other languages. Soon afterwards, the “Selected Works of Mao Zedong” which had been unavailable, reappeared in the bookshops and his name was mentioned on the radio ever more frequently.

When I left Beijing in August 1965 to study Chinese at the University of Leeds I could never have imagined that it would be more than a decade before I could return, that meanwhile China would undergo the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, and that many of my friends would be imprisoned or sent away from Beijing for long years. When I did return in 1975, Beijing seemed in many ways a duller and a grimmer place. Since then of course it has undergone still greater transformations. The ancient city and the young revolutionary society I knew have disappeared. But I do not forget those two years that gave me so many good friends and an interest in China that was to shape my whole life.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:39
Lois Wheeler Snow, California born and raised, has been an actress on Broadway for many years and is a member of New York City’s Actor’s Studio. She has worked with Martha Graham, Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, Herbert Bergdorf, Arthur Miller and Norman Rose. She has appeared in many television productions, in particular, the long-running soap opera, “The Guiding Light”. Her books include “China on Stage”, “A Death with Dignity: When the Chinese Came”, “Edgar Snow’s China: An Account of the Chinese Revolution Compiled from the Writings of Edgar Snow”. She lives in Switzerland with her daughter Sian, named after the Chinese city where her father set off to meet the Red Army and its leaders after the Long March. Her son Christopher died in 2008, leaving two children Chiara and Jonathan Snow.

China became part of my life when I met and married Edgar Snow (斯諾). I had read “Red Star Over China” (《西行漫記》) long before I knew the author but the years that followed were largely devoted to my acting career in New York. China was rather remote from Broadway. Through Ed, I developed close relationships with his friends and colleagues. Agnes Smedley showed me how to cook “oriental pilaf” (something she didn’t learn in Yenan); Ed and Jack Belden speculated about events in China, past and present, over frequent games of chess in our home. I became friends with Mariann and Edmund Clubb, and Caroline and John Stewart Service; Owen Lattimore fascinated me with his tales about Inner Mongolia. There were also letters from friends in China, but reception was complicated by the U.S. postal service’s requirement that mail from Communist China be acknowledged in writing before it was delivered (probably having been opened and recorded – no doubt the same occurred in China). At home in the 1950s we saw our American friends targeted by the McCarran Committee, Joseph McCarthy or more discreet members of the U. S. leadership. There were supporters, but people were afraid of losing their careers, their livelihoods. From years of reporting, the name Snow was closely associated with news about Communist China, those two words a “red flag” to editors and publishers in general. Gradually Ed found it harder to get published. Because of my marriage but also because of my support for civil rights and other causes, I became blacklisted on television, a main source of an actor’s income. With reduced savings, two children to raise, alimony to be paid, an offer to Ed for a position with a school traveling in Europe and Asia became a temporary lifesaver. We rented our house, and the children and I accepted the use of a friend’s summer home close to Geneva, Switzerland. After months abroad with the school, Ed received word from China that he would be welcome to visit. The State Department, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, reacted negatively but a persistent Gardner Cowles of Look Magazine overcame the “impediments.” In 1960 Ed flew, legally, to Beijing – a lone American journalist and a single one as well, the State Department having refused my request to accompany him. In 1964 Ed went back. Again my request was denied. In 1970 I didn’t ask; I went with my husband, carrying a contract to write a book on Chinese theater from Bennett Cerf at Random House. I also carried worry. Ed had not sufficiently recovered from a serious operation in the spring. He was weak and fatigued but he was adamant: we were going.

My first glimpse of the country, entering through Hong Kong, was from a modern, air-conditioned train operated entirely by women. Serving us mugs of hot tea, they were as eager to talk to us as we were to talk to them. From the train window I watched leathery buffalo, elongated heron and shimmering green rice fields dotted with farmers, birdlike in wide winged coats and peaked straw hats. Ed was impressed by evidence of farm mechanization new since his last visit. When we arrived at Beijing’s airport, I felt the awe of entering the Land of Oz. Having heard and read about people in China who had participated in events that shaped the country from the 1920s to the present, I knew they existed but like Ozma and the Tin Woodsman – could they be real? They were. During our five months in China, I met them in Beijing, Shanghai, Canton and other cities and rural areas as we traveled to many different parts of the country: old friends, Chinese and foreign, Long March veterans, once-upon-a-time “Little Red Devils” in the Red Army, women whose crippled feet had been bound, peasants in remote communes, factory workers, doctors (barefoot and shod), actors, ballerinas, musicians, women engineers, women film directors, Red Guards, coal miners in universities, intellectuals and university students doing unaccustomed manual labor far from city comfort. Ed, knowing conversational Chinese, could talk with many of them directly. In an account of his 1960 visit he said that he was not given any “clairvoyant power to enter into their private thoughts” and that “at formal interviews, there was generally an official or an interpreter present, and nobody bares his soul to either one, especially with a foreigner around.” Nevertheless, he noted: “I think I know more about all these people than I could possibly have understood had I never returned to China.” For myself, I felt that I was learning something each day. It wasn’t Oz. It was a huge country still trying to emerge from the effects of the Cultural Revolution.

Admittedly, my first visit to China was a special one. It began early on with an invitation from Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) for us to accompany him to a ping-pong match between North Korea and China at the enormous Beijing gymnasium where, some months later, the China-U.S. ping-pong matches created international excitement. At a pre-dinner gathering in the Great Hall of the People, prominent members of the political hierarchy included some whom Ed remembered from the early days in Yenan. We dined with Song Qingling (宋慶齡) in her lakeside Beijing home, where she greeted us warmly, Ed being an old friend. I saw her often on later visits. Zhou Enlai’s wife, Deng Yingchao (鄧穎超), concerned about Ed’s health, kept in close touch. One day I received a gift of sunflowers from her garden (I planted the seeds at home when I returned to Switzerland). An uncomfortable moment was my first meeting with Jiang Qing (江青) whom Ed hadn’t seen since 1939 when she had become the young wife of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in Yenan, the Communists’ headquarters for 10 years before they entered Beijing in 1949. Introducing me, Ed remarked that she and I had much in common: “you are both actresses.” Jiang Qing’s face froze. She practically spit out, “I am NOT an actress!” (I retired behind Ed.) Nevertheless, she was indisputably head of the new “revolutionary model” theatre, therefore of great importance for the book I was to write.

Five revolutionary “model” operas and two ballets comprised the whole of the Chinese theatre at that time and she, Mme Mao, was in charge. The plots were pure political propaganda, simpler than fairytales; the actors trained in classic Beijing opera adapted to a modern, if stilted, stage technique replete with stunning acrobatics. Heroes were indefatigably heroic, villains were fabulously villainous – quite a different approach for me, a member of New York’s Actor’s Studio. There was also quite a bit of music, all Chinese; foreign composers like Beethoven and Mozart were politically taboo. Children’s dances and songs made up a different kind of entertainment, the little ones well trained and adorable.

On October 1st, 1970, National Day, I found myself on a balcony overlooking Tiananmen Square, Ed and I on either side of Mao Zedong. Nearby were Zhou Enlai, Cambodian Prince Sihanouk and a host of notables including Jiang Qing, Lin Biao (林彪) with his wife, to name a few of special interest considering what happened to them later. Turning to Sihanouk, I said that I wanted him to know that many Americans were against the war in Indochina. He replied, “When you go back, Madame, please tell the American people that every time a bomb is dropped, more Communists are created.”

Standing there I became aware of two particularly striking things (beside the fact that I was so close to Mao Zedong I could have touched the mole on his face). A vivid impression was the sense of worship rising from the mass of people below on the square, people screaming – just like with the Beatles, Sinatra, Michael Jackson – so it was with Mao Zedong. My attention then focused on a huge sign bearing the words, “People of the world unite to defeat the U.S. aggressors and all their running dogs.” Why were WE there, two Americans, side by side with the Chairman, before millions of Chinese citizens – and that sign? Afterwards Ed reminded me that the Chinese never do anything publicly without a reason. One December night we were awakened by Nancy Tang (唐聞生), Mao’s chief interpreter who, seeing a sleepy Ed, said “Please get dressed. The Chairman wants to see you.” It was during that midnight to near-dawn “conversation” – as Mao termed it – that the significance of our presence on the Tiananmen balcony became clear. We were the signal that Nixon could come to China. It took some time for that to sink in at the White House.

All along, Ed was unwell. Weakened by the operation in the spring, he had insisted on going to China by ignoring or putting up with pain and fatigue. Our Chinese companions urged us to take a week or two relaxing at the seaside resort of Beidaihe. Ed declined, saying that it would take too much time. Fixated on getting to basics, he wasn’t always patient with excessively long discussions of different versions of the Cultural Revolution. Once he slipped me a note on which he had written “Mao said Keep Meetings Short”! We spent a week at two of Beijing’s prestigious universities, Tsinghua and Beida, listening to students and professors recount tales of Red Guard fighting and upheaval on campus during the height of the Cultural Revolution. Ed was concerned by lack of forthcoming from people he had known who were justifying or covering up an unclear situation. Friends were evasive: when asked the whereabouts of a particular couple we had expected to see, the answer was, “They`re taking a trip, they`ll be back soon.” A revealing reply was “Better not bring that up.” An old Chinese acquaintance politely declined an invitation to come to our hotel for a visit, though others did come. But discretion, and caution, were obvious. Not until later did the hidden underside of the Cultural Revolution become fully revealed, and reticence – even among friends – become understandable.

Concerned as I was about Ed’s health and his determined efforts to get to the bottom of past and present events, I was excited by the China I was seeing: the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Ming Tombs, and the thrill of actually being on the Great Wall. I walked the wide, triple tree-lined streets of Beijing teaming with bicycles, watched the Little Red Soldiers – boys and girls too young to be Red Guards – standing at street corners and shouting through a microphone: “Don’t cross on red lights!”, “Use pedestrian crossings!” On a free hour it was fascinating to wander around narrow back lanes whose walls protected courtyards and low-roofed homes. A two-hour drive to Miyun dam north of Beijing on a tree-lined, paved road (trees were everywhere) took us past fertile countryside, orchards, tree nurseries and into villages with brick or mud houses, a primary school, fat pigs, and electricity supplied by the dam, which meant water and irrigation for the formerly arid area.

I was impressed, too, by working women “holding up half the sky” (or trying to); by small village hospitals, in need of paint, serviced by a dedicated barefoot doctor; by fruit-bearing orchards planted in earth-filled holes handmade out of solid rock. Ed described it as: “the physical transformation of the ancient Chinese earth by collective toil for the benefit of the group and not just for private gain – in a land which was second to none in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement and the devil take the hindmost.”

After visits to communes in Xian and Yenan, and a May 7th school where a Beijing professor was tending a strikingly clean pigsty, we were driven to Bao’an, the remote village in northern Shensi province where Ed had been in 1936 when it became the Red Army base after the Long March. It had been a desperately poor place, with a few ragged peasants scarcely able to feed themselves or their naked, unschooled children. The autumn we were there, Bao’an, a commune brigade, held some 3,000 citizens. A “model” opera was playing in the large theatre, the main street was lined with houses, cave homes dug out of the loess hills, a well-stocked general store, a handicraft shop, a power plant and a dentist’s office beside a small hospital. Goats and sheep grazed on the hills. We ate in the open with the people who had produced a special feast: corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, spicy chicken, melon and fresh fruit. Children ran about, people, young and old, gathered and stared. We and the village were on display. Bao’an’s general population looked amply fed and healthy. Still far from the amenities of modern life (I knew that by going to the “toilet”), they had pulled themselves up to achieve a decent, if frugal, standard of living.

We were the first foreigners to visit Bao’an in 34 years. It was I who had asked to go there, eager to see where Ed had first interviewed the outlawed Red “bandits.” It was no Potemkin village made up for an expected arrival. If I was inexperienced, I had a companion who, having spent years in China before “liberation” and months more in 1960 and 1964-65, could see changes that had often made immense differences. We were driven along a motor road that led us to Bao’an from Yenan. Ed described the roadless badlands he had walked over many years before as: “steep and interminable unkempt hills, divided by ravines, dry except in flood, with only here and there patches of grain and tumbledown caves.” He also wrote: “the countryside always had a better potential [...] part of that potential has now been realized, and the regenerated green-clad hills and narrow valleys are often breathtakingly beautiful.”

I had picked up a few Chinese sayings, among them “zi li geng sheng,” (自力更生) meaning “self-reliance.” The emphasis on self-reliance was born out of the struggle of a poor but proud nation to overcome the isolation imposed by Japanese invasion, the support America gave Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) during the Chinese civil war in the 1940s, and the U.S. economic blockade of many years following the Communist victory. It was how China sought to recover from such deprivation.

I concur with what Mark Seldon wrote in this series about “the imperative to understand other countries in light not only of their own history and culture, but also of the workings of global power, particularly American power.” On that first visit (there were quite a few more), whatever displeased me or made me uncomfortable was mainly due, I felt, to my totally different life experience. I hadn’t grown up hungry or illiterate, had never worked long hours in a factory, never labored in a rice paddy or gone without needed medical care. As an adult I had expressed opinions freely, voted for my choices, protested publicly, chosen my preferred career. Escorted through a rug factory where scores of women bent silently over work as we smilingly passed by, I was surprised to see one young woman deliberately staring at us with obvious hostility. I sympathized with her (I can still see that look). I had to remember what or where she might have been before the revolution: a child working 13 hours a day and sleeping under the workbench, a famished prostitute roaming city streets, an impoverished mother of undernourished children, a foot-bound slave to a domineering mother-in-law? China had overcome much, and there was much still to overcome. Bao’an was a good example.

There were other examples of overcoming, especially in the countryside. Differences were plentiful: medical care with barefoot doctors in remote areas, schools in communes, free education, free means of birth control, physical transformation of the ancient soil, and as Ed pointed out, for the communal group, not for private gain. That was 1970. Yes, there had been the Great Leap Forward with its tragic aftermath, when hunger had once again been a scourge, but since then almost-forgotten places like Bao’an and Shashihyu and others we saw had made noticeable progress.

If crop yields were sometimes exaggerated, women`s roles somewhat overstated or statistics unproven, sturdy stone and brick houses, reclaimed green fields and orchards gave evidence that hard work had made life better than ever before. When we were shown the best homes, those of families with a bicycle, perhaps a radio or a sewing machine, they pointed to what could be a similar future for others less advantaged. It was apparent that some units and some people could move ahead faster because of their own skills or possibly simply by hook or by crook. Communism didn’t guarantee equality or honesty any more than democracy does.

Early in the following year we were back together in Switzerland typing up months of notes, working on our books. Ed’s health slowly deteriorated. He died on February 14, 1972, two months after major surgery and just before Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Communist China. No one could have saved Ed’s life. Desperate, I had sought help. Friends responded generously with messages of love, hope and offers of money if needed. Nixon, who for years had loudly proclaimed his hatred of China and who had played a prominent role in the McCarthy witch hunt, had his bags packed for the trip to Beijing. He sent a message referring to Ed’s “distinguished career” and expressing hope for his return to health. (We didn’t answer.)

Help came with a medical team – three doctors, four nurses, an interpreter – sent to our Swiss home by Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and their wives. They undertook the needed care, eased the pain, softened fear in the face of death. The difference was not better Chinese knowledge in treating cancer, it was in an attitude unlikely to be found in a busy hospital most anywhere. In our home, they had time and the ability to comfort, to care. Everyone in touch, friends nearby and abroad, our village neighbors, were affected by these men and women who had come to help. Our thanks poured out to them and to those who had made this gift possible, one I shall never forget.

Thus ended my first trip to China. Years have passed, people have died. In 1989 the Tiananmen massacre shocked the world. I broke with the Chinese leadership. I no longer visit, though my son and I made a special, and short, trip in 2000 to express sympathy and support for Ding Zilin (丁子霖) and the families of all those who, while participating in a peaceful demonstration, were murdered or severely injured by soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army following orders from the country’s leaders. In 1949 Mao had said: “China has stood up.” In 1989 Chinese citizens were shot down while trying once again to stand up.

Ding Zilin’s teenage son was killed the night of June 4th near Tiananmen while he was searching for a schoolmate; his mother has courageously and persistently called for an investigation of the massacre – so far to no avail. We were prevented from seeing her and the treatment my son and I received was, to put it mildly, far from cordial. Tiananmen was an outrage. Since then, learning nothing from that horrendous crime, the Chinese leaders have stepped up their persecution of peaceful dissidents and outspoken activists, intensified human rights abuses and multiplied unlawful arrests, imprisonments and forced disappearances. There is an increasing gap between the newly privileged, mostly urban rich and the still needy poor, a flagrant misuse of the judicial system and an absence of previous guarantees of livelihood.

I strongly feel the Chinese leaders misuse Edgar Snow when they praise the man who, at personal risk, broke through Chiang Kai-shek’s blockade and brought word of the outlawed revolutionaries to the Chinese people and the world. The government promotes Edgar Snow as a model. Any Chinese journalist knows full well not to write about whatever the government does not want investigated or revealed. In 1936 Ed made a trip to an area forbidden of access by the regime in power, that of Chiang Kai-shek. Doing the equivalent with the present government would mean years in prison. To protest peacefully is dangerous, as Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiao-bo (劉曉波) found out – eleven years in prison. Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) spent fifteen years behind bars and is now in exile. Wang Dan (王丹) and other student demonstrators at Tiananmen were jailed and exiled. The Tiananmen Mothers, headed by Ding Zilin, are under direct surveillance and are not allowed to publicly mourn their dead. At this writing, the noted Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei (艾未未), has disappeared. At present, if you were truly to emulate Edgar Snow in China you would be in deep trouble.

When giving consent for publication of “The Long Revolution,” which Ed had undertaken to write before he died, I wrote “This is an unfinished work – a beginning punctuated by the abrupt ending that death decreed for my husband. In it are the seeds of a new relationship between the people of China and America. If we nourish them they will grow.” That was written 40 years ago. Today both countries are engaged in capitalist competition. “Let the devil take the hindmost.”

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:41
Roderick MacFarquhar (馬若德/麥克法夸爾) is the Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science, and Professor of Government at Harvard University. He has been Chair of the Government Department (1998-2004) and Director of the John King Fairbank Center for East Asian Research (1986-1992; 2005-06). He was the founding editor of The China Quarterly. In previous personae, he has been a print journalist, a TV reporter, and a Member of Parliament in the U.K. He is working on a historical comparison of China and India.

I first applied for a visa to the People’s Republic of China* in 1955 as a fledgling journalist covering China for the London Daily Telegraph. On the few occasions I visited the PRC mission in London I was always told that they had not heard from Beijing; I had visions of an exhausted Chinese courier trekking across Siberia en route London with the reply held in his cleft stick. Seventeen years later, I finally got that visa.

The occasion was a goodwill visit by UK Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home to mark the elevation of relations to full ambassador status. Britain had recognized the PRC in 1950, but the Chinese government had not agreed to an exchange of ambassadors at that time. Finally in 1971, the two governments negotiated an end to this stalemate. The process had been marred by Prime Minister Heath’s fury at the lack of advance warning of the plans for the Nixon visit which he felt undercut the British negotiators, but agreement was reached, and Sir John Addis took up his post as the first UK ambassador in early 1972. A scholarly diplomat, Sir John had compiled the book “Communist China, 1955-59: Policy Documents and Analysis” while a fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs in 1962-3, but because of his diplomatic status, the credit for authorship was assigned to John Fairbank and Robert Bowie. Sir John is better remembered for his considerable expertise in Chinese porcelain, some of his collection now being housed in the British Museum.

The Home mission was designed to set the seal on the new relationship and it naturally attracted a large group of journalists, including my late wife Emily MacFarquhar, the China specialist on the Economist. I was a research fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, no longer a journalist, no longer the editor of The China Quarterly, but the Institute’s director, Andrew Schonfield, paid my way to go as the “correspondent” of the Institute’s monthly magazine The World Today, which actually had no correspondents. The Chinese duly gave me a visa, but on arrival in Guangzhou in October 1972, one of our MFA minders, later an ambassador to a major western power, looked me sternly in the eye and told me that since this was a goodwill visit, the Chinese had decided to admit anyone whom the British said was a journalist. In other words, don’t try this trick again! Later we became friends after a mao tai “gan bei” contest which ended in a draw (seven all if I remember). Generally, the vibes of the trip, coming as it did after the Nixon visit and China’s entry into the UN, were very positive, but I don’t remember learning anything new from our discreet minders about current politics.

We flew first to Shanghai where the delegation, hacks included, was treated to a splendid banquet, with a large ice swan in the middle of the table. When I later remarked on this meal to a Chinese in Beijing, he patronisingly replied that it was true that the Shanghainese did make their food “look” good. We visited a suburban commune, clearly on the tourist route as the signs for the lavatories were in English, and Emily questioned the responsible cadre concerned about the wages and status of women. She was so excited at finally being able to speak the Chinese she had learned at Harvard and honed in Taiwan that she eventually became totally hoarse, and at subsequent sites, one or other of our colleagues would chime in with ‘Let me ask Mrs. MacFarquhar’s question’! Later, at the Capital Hospital, she was treated--at her request--with Chinese herbal remedies, but since the doctors also insisted on giving her western medication, she was unable to gauge their effectiveness.

Other experiences included witnessing an operation with acupuncture anesthesia and visiting the setting for the CCP’s 1st Congress, but our most interesting times occurred when we had some blessed free play and we wandered off with another journalist (whom we met next in 1979 transformed into an acolyte at the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Pune). In back streets we found local citizens digging the crude air raid shelters which the party had ordered as a precaution against a Soviet surprise attack. It reminded me a bit of the shelters which inhabitants of Jinmen had in their houses to protect themselves against mainland shelling. Later we were taken to the far more professionally constructed shelters under Beijing.

In the capital, housed in the Beijing Hotel, the journalists were assigned to a fleet of cars, two to a vehicle, according to an order of precedence apparently based on the Chinese estimate of the prestige of each hack’s publication. As just a notional “correspondent,” I should probably been in the rear car, but the officials relented sufficiently to let me travel with Emily. If I remember correctly, David Aikman, as a British citizen but the employee of an American publication, Time, was regarded as an anomaly and therefore did bring up the rear.

In our hierarchical convoy, we went to another (Kim Ilsong) commune and were driven a long way out of Beijing to watch army manoeuvres, perhaps to rub in the point that the Chinese were determined to defend themselves against the Soviet “social imperialists.” From that drive, I remember: a construction team beside the road with the obligatory red flags fluttering; the way in which truck drivers coming our way chickened us into accepting their right to the center of the road; in this barely motorised economy, drivers tried to stay in top gear at all times even when their cars were juddering to a halt.

We hacks (as British journalists are often described, even by themselves) had a visit to the People’s Daily where we were told that sometimes the PD was a morning paper and sometimes an evening paper, a reflection of the need in those uncertain times to respond to sudden developments. And of course we were taken to the Great Wall, the Ming tombs, and the Palace Museum. During the latter visit, I told an official that I had just written a book entitled “The Forbidden City” (a coffee table book in a Newsweek series “Wonders of Man”) and had an advance copy which I would like to present to the museum director. A day or two later, I was whisked back to the museum and received by a deputy director. He told me we were meeting in a room which had been used by the Empress Dowager for theatricals, but which from the sounds emanating from the walls seemed now to be a home for large numbers of mice. Despite this interesting tidbit, it soon became clear to me that the deputy director had a very shaky grasp of Chinese imperial history and must be a reliable political appointee. He probably had no interest in my book, but he accepted the gift nevertheless, so mission accomplished.

Zhou Enlai (周恩來) gave the delegation a banquet, shook all our hands--a “zongli hao” from me elicited a sharp look but nothing more--and posed with us for a photo op. Years later I was told that the Chinese had expected Home to ask to see Mao and that they would have agreed, but the British never asked and so we were deprived of even a glimpse of the Chairman.

But politically the high point of the visit for me was the 50th birthday banquet for Prince (as he then was) Sihanouk of Cambodia. At the last minute, a few of us managed to get invitations and we lined up in the Great Hall of the People waiting for the VIPs to arrive. Zhou Enlai entered with Sihanouk, then Jiang Qing (江青) with Princess Monique, followed by Vice Premier Li Xiannian (李先念), Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei (姬鵬飛), and a handsome, rosy-cheeked young man in military uniform who looked as if he had just stepped off the stage of a model opera.

The two women stood to one side while the four men moved round the circle of assembled ambassadors, shaking hands. I asked a Beijing based (presumably East) German correspondent who was the young man shaking hands. He didn’t know but suggested it might be the interpreter. The idea that the Chinese would so dignify a mere interpreter seemed absurd so I turned for enlightenment to a Chinese cadre. He said that it was Wang Hongwen (王洪文). When I asked why the Shanghai chief PLA political commissar would be in Beijing, he said he didn’t know. In fact, that was Wang’s first public appearance in the capital and gave us China watchers a foretaste of what was to come.

After that, everything was pretty anti-climactic, though we hacks did give our minders a merry return banquet, the scene of that mao tai contest. But the day we left Guangzhou for Hong Kong, I got a further instance of the more relaxed atmosphere that had followed Mao’s discomfiture over the Lin Biao (林彪) affair. In Beijing, I had handed the stern minder a copy of my newly published edited volume, “Sino-American Relations, 1949-1971.” In Guangzhou, he told me that he had read Donald Klein’s chapter on the shredding of the Foreign Ministry during the Cultural Revolution, and that it was out of date: 50% of the personnel losses had been made up and within another year, the ministry would be back to full strength. On that note of bureaucratic optimism, we left China. I never did “correspond” with The World Today but I did contribute a brief article on the visit to the People’s Daily to The China Quarterly.

While preparing for my first visit to the PRC, I had remembered a short story (by Somerset Maugham?) about a criminal whose devoted wife had visited him in prison every day of his long sentence; but the day he was released, he walked out of the prison gate and straight past her. He had become sick of the sight of her. After years of studying the PRC, would I be totally turned off when I finally got there? Fortunately not!

* I say PRC because I visited China with my parents as a child.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:43
Thomas D. Gorman (高德思) has been a Hong Kong resident since 1974. His company, CCI Asia-Pacific Ltd., has published FORTUNE China under exclusive license from Time Inc. since 1996. He is the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine, which is published 18 times per year in print. The magazine’s website is www.FortuneChina.com.

Canton Trade Fair

With a sense of great excitement, on an early morning in April 1975, I embarked on the full day, 80-mile train journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou , starting from the old Kowloon train station next to the Star Ferry, where the clock tower stands today.

After seven years of Chinese studies in the U.S., I was excited at long last to be going someplace where Putonghua was widely spoken. I had obtained an invitation to attend the Canton Trade Fair as a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong’s delegation, despite being the assistant editor of a Hong Kong-based trade magazine.

Invitations were not easy to come by, especially for journalists; and visas were only granted to those with invitations. In Hong Kong, invitations were issued by the local arm of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, China Resources, whose offices were then in the old Bank of China Building on Bank Street in Central District, where portraits of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Stalin welcomed visitors from above a pair of ping pong tables – premises currently occupied by the China Club.

Travelling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou required boarding the early morning train from the Kowloon station, which brought you into Luohu(Lowu) in time to connect with the afternoon train to Guangzhou. No other transport connection was available. This was before the era of airplane, ferry, and highway links. The fastest way to get from Hong Kong to Beijing involved taking the train to Guangzhou, and an overnight there in order to catch a flight the following day.

After clearing exit formalities on the Hong Kong side of the Shenzhen River at Luohu, passengers walked with their luggage across the quaint, covered wooden bridge – with the PRC flag waving ahead , and the Hong Kong flag flapping behind -- and began entry formalities on the China side.

There was a distinctly slower pace on the Chinese side. Emerging from the covered bridge, it felt as if a giant stereo turntable had been stepped down from 78 r.p.m. to 16 r.p.m. Not only was the pace different, but also the sights, smells and sounds. The Shenzhen River was not very wide, as rivers go, but crossing it at that point brought you into a very different world.

From the windows of the train station complex on the Chinese side one gazed out at a sleepy farming community, one corner of a People’s Commune, with wallowing water buffalo, ducks dotting mulberry tree-lined fish ponds, rice paddies, and low brick buildings. This hamlet was the forerunner of Shenzhen, although it wouldn’t be named Shenzhen for another five years or so. This was Bao An.

The advertising billboards near the Hong Kong side of the border were replaced by political billboards on the mainland side, with messages like “We have friends all over the world,” “In agriculture, learn from Dazhai,” “Dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere,” “Long live Chairman Mao,” “ Serve the people,” etc.

There were many forms to be filled out. The tempo of inbound customs and immigration formalities was slow, but the reward was a sumptuous 12-course Chinese banquet served to all foreign guests within the cavernous low-rise train station complex. After lunch there was time to relax in a room filled with plush antimacassar-backed armchairs with spittoons at their base, beneath a huge Chinese landscape painting captioned “The welcoming guests’ pine tree.” Light blue enamel ceiling fans whooshed lazily overhead.

The spittoons, long since disappeared, were a unique feature of the design motif of meeting rooms. The standard spittoon had a white enamel finish with a stripe of bright red trim around its mouth and a cheery blue floral pattern circling its bulbous midriff. They were the bass note in the triumvirate of receptacles which awaited visitors in every conference room: spittoons, porcelain-lidded tea cups, and ashtrays. Local cigarettes featured copious quantities of red in their packaging, with brand names like Worker-Peasant (工農), Red Lantern(紅燈), Bumper Harvest(豐收), Unite(團結), Glorious (光榮), Great Production (大生產), Great Leap(飛躍), Hero(勇士), Red Flag(紅旗), and Labor(勞動).

After lunch and the rest break (everything ground to a halt during mid-day nap time), came the 2 ½ hour train trip to Guangzhou, which delivered passengers there between 3 and 4 pm. The view from the train windows was overwhelmingly agricultural: no paved roads or high-rise buildings, virtually no factories, and few mechanized vehicles.

At the train station in Guangzhou I was met by a representative of my host organization. Chinese people who had reason to talk to foreigners, and approval to do so, introduced themselves by surname only. Strictly speaking, the proper term of address was “Comrade,” as in Comrade Li , Comrade Wang , etc.

Name cards were not yet in use among the Chinese side, ostensibly because they would have divulged an excessive amount of potentially sensitive information, such as names, addresses, and phone numbers. For ordinary Chinese to be accused of having unauthorized contact with foreigners (li tong wai guo 裡通外國) was a very serious matter indeed; which meant that the emphasis was on institutional rather than individual communications. Spontaneous street-level conversations with foreigners carried serious risks for local Chinese.

The weather report was classified because it was deemed to be sensitive information of potential value to hostile foreign military forces.

All foreigners were mandated to stay in the Dong Fang Hotel. To find a friend or colleague in the hotel required checking the cork bulletin boards in the lobby, where new arrivals would post their business card with the room number scrawled on it. There were no telephones or air conditioners in the rooms. The best rooms, in the Old Wing of the Dong Fang, were more spacious and came equipped with a tent-like mosquito net which hung over the bed.

The telephone played virtually no role in doing business in China at the time. Instead, telex, telegrams and letters – all impersonally addressed to avoid getting the Chinese recipient in trouble -- were the available communications conduits for the conduct of commerce. A private telephone was such a rarified, elite device that the telephone book was also considered a state secret.

China’s total foreign trade volume was a pittance – her “total” imports and exports in 1973 were less than US$11 billion. That’s roughly equivalent to the volume of her luxury goods imports alone in 2010 –which represents a staggering degree of qualitative as well as quantitative change in less than 40 years.

In 1975, all foreign trade and economic decisions were concentrated among a handful of high-level bureaucrats in Beijing, and implemented through 12 highly centralized, monopoly state-owned import-export corporations under the Ministry of Foreign Trade. Foreign trade was largely an extension of foreign policy, and viewed as a kind of necessary evil.

Foreign investment was taboo. Words like “advertising,” “marketing,” and “competition” were regarded with obvious disdain, trumped only by the ultra-sinister word “profit.”

The Dong Fang Hotel during the trade fair housed a motley collection of people from every corner of the globe. Gaggles of folks wearing colorful native costumes shuttled between meals in the hotel restaurant and the sprawling trade fair complex situated across Xicun Road. The incredible diversity of the delegates was a bit reminiscent of the intergalactic bar scene in “Star Wars,” except that bars were not permitted in China at the time.

Delegates were required to wear pink ribbons on their lapels, demonstrating they were authorized to enter the trade fair complex. The pink lapel ribbons added a festive, slightly comical touch, as if the wearer had won the competition at a county fair for growing the biggest pumpkin or baking the best apple pie.

After arriving in the Dong Fang that first afternoon, and filling out another small forest worth of forms, in a room dedicated to form-filling for foreigners, it was almost time for dinner. Meals were served at fixed times, with set menus. Good, cold Qingdao beer was available; Coca Cola and coffee were not. Foreign guests were fed like kings and queens compared to ordinary Chinese people, who could be seen queuing at food shops around the city with ration tickets in hand.

Then it was time for an early evening. There was no place to go after dinner other than sit and talk with colleagues, send telexes, play table tennis or billiards. An upstairs dining room in the new wing of the Dong Fang was converted into an ersatz bar serving local beverages, which regulars affectionately nicknamed “The Purple Cockatoo,” fantasizing about a far more enticing ambience than that which actually awaited them: hospital green walls, bright white lights, and plain cotton tablecloths.

So, that first evening I turned in early, excited about what the next day might bring. Finally, after all these years of study, my first full day in China lay just ahead of me.

What am I doing here?

My first trip to China had unlikely origins at an unlikely time: in the suburbs of Chicago, during the 1960s.

In the summer of 1966, the U.S. and China were ensconced in a hostile, non-conversational relationship. China was in the early stages of the Cultural Revolution. American news media at the time referred to the mainland as Red China or Communist China.

Against that backdrop, that summer I received an IBM print-out from my high school suggesting that my second year courses would include Mandarin Chinese.
For a high schooler in the American Midwest in the mid-1960s to study the language of Red China was considered weird at best, and possibly suspect. The anti-Communist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era were very fresh in people’s memories.

One neighbor, commenting on my studying Chinese, asked me what I was going to do with that when I grew up: open a laundry, or a take-away joint? Another warned of possible communist brainwashing buried in the language texts. Some peers gave me nicknames which would be considered politically incorrect today.

I didn’t realize that my study of Chinese was part of a new but temporarily short-lived trend. During the mid-1960s, more than 300 American secondary schools (and a handful of primary schools) began offering Chinese language courses, mainly as a result of federal funds made available under the National Defense Education Act. NDEA provided funding for new programs in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese studies, because these four groups were deemed most likely to be on the wrong side of future military conflicts with the U.S.

My high school was one of three in the Chicago area to get on the early Chinese language bandwagon. Within a few years, however, the NDEA funding for these programs had expired , and most of them were discontinued. My timing was thus fortunate. After three years of Chinese in high school, I became an East Asian Studies major at Princeton.

Shock and awe

Imagine, then, my shock and awe that humid April morning in Guangzhou, when I was rudely awakened at 6 a.m., by piercingly loud, searingly shrill broadcasts from loudspeakers in the streets outside the window of my room in the new wing of the Dong Fang Hotel. What a way to start the day, with the latest thoughts of Chairman Mao recited by a high-pitched female announcer with a staccato style reminiscent of a dentist’s drill. That particular morning, her focus was on denouncing Confucius, Lin Biao, and – much closer to home – American Imperialists and their running dogs.

I looked out the window to see a river of blue and gray Mao-jacketed bicyclists for whom this breakfast broadcast was a regular daily routine.

“Down with American Imperialists and Their Running Dogs!” (“Dadao meidiguo zhuyi jiqi zou gou!“「打倒美帝國主義及其走狗!」)

There was some solace in the fact that I could understand most of the message, which proved my Chinese language studies had not been in vain. On the other hand, it was not exactly a welcoming message, especially given the method, volume and tone of its delivery.

Still only half awake as the harsh denunciation sunk home, I thought to myself: “ I’m pretty sure I’m not an imperialist …but I’m not so sure what exactly constitutes a running dog.”

The irony hit hard. A few years ago at home, I’d been teased about studying the language of Red China, marginally at risk of being labelled a pinko or commie sympathizer. Now that my journey had finally brought me to China, it seemed I was now being labelled an imperialist running dog.

All meetings, with Americans at least, were scripted to begin with a critical political diatribe from the Chinese side. Especially given the lack of business cards or job title information from the Chinese side, it was always a guessing game as to who the senior person on their side was.

Interpreters on the Chinese side were generally young and understandably lacking in international experience. Given the politics of the day and its impact on language instruction, they were more familiar with British than American English. Language misadventures and snafus were commonplace.

In one long, tedious meeting between my Amcham delegation and a fairly senior Chinese foreign trade official, our delegation leader rattled off a long laundry list of practical trade issues. The young Chinese interpreter rendered these into Chinese with a fair degree of fluency, although he was clearly becoming fatigued as the detailed laundry list dragged on through the afternoon heat and humidity. At one point the Chinese official said something to the effect that perhaps in due course the “relevant departments” (「有關部門」) might consider looking into the matter.

At this stage the impatient American interlocutor, fond of using big business slang, responded “That sounds fine, Comrade, but I sure hope someone’s actually gonna put wheels under it.”

The weary interpreter took that to mean that the American now had a proposal regarding the automotive industry. This elicited a barely tolerant grunt from the Chinese official, and from that point on, the conversation veered off into a series of non-sequiturs in the remote reaches of outer space. Both groups left the meeting in a state of puzzlement.

My return to Hong Kong after this first visit to China elicited a wave of curious questions from friends and associates, no doubt similar to what astronaut Neil Armstrong must have faced after his return from the moon.

I consider myself very fortunate to have witnessed that extraordinary stage of China’s history first-hand. I’ve lived in Hong Kong and continued my travels in China ever since that trip. Those early experiences are very helpful to the process of appreciating the phenomenal changes in China since that era.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:46
Winston Lord (洛德) served as the US Ambassador to China from 1985-1989 and Assistant Secretary of State from 1993-1997.

The First American Official to Visit China since 1949
Certainly, the single most dramatic event that I've been involved in had to do with the opening to China in the early 1970s. In my entire career the question of relations with China has been the most important, including not only the work I did in the 1970s but also as Ambassador to China and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs. So China has been the single, most important aspect of my career as it has evolved.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger each came into office placing a high priority on making an opening to China. They had independently come to this conclusion. Nixon had indicated this in his article in "Foreign Affairs." We know, in retrospect, that he felt that this was a high priority. Kissinger felt the same way, primarily because of the Soviet dimension, but for a variety of other reasons.

Nixon sent Kissinger a memo on February 1, 1969, approximately one week after his inauguration as President. I can't reconstruct this memo verbatim, but basically he instructed Kissinger to find a way to get in touch with the Chinese. This was one of the earliest instructions that Kissinger got from Nixon. Of course, Kissinger was all in favor of doing this. We had the following challenge, among a lot of other challenges. You have to remember that we had had 20 years of mutual hostility and just about total isolation from China. We had no way of communicating directly with the Chinese.

The only way to get in touch with the Chinese was through third parties. There were various channels that Nixon and Kissinger tried to use to get word to the Chinese. I don't remember the precise chronology, but it became clear, certainly by 1971, that the Pakistani channel was the one to follow. We began to do it through Hilaly, the Pakistani Ambassador to Washington, who would come to us with hand-written messages from the Chinese, passed through Islamabad to him. He would bring these messages into Kissinger's office, and we would prepare hand-written messages back.

There was one exchange in Warsaw, in which the Chinese indicated, more or less on the record and through that channel, that they would be willing to see an American emissary come to China. We finally got to the point in these messages where the Chinese agreed that an American emissary would come and talk about a possible trip to China by President Nixon. The emissary would not only talk about Taiwan but about other matters as well. This was the breakthrough, in the spring of 1971.Once we had established that this was not just a single issue agenda, that they were willing to consider a Nixon trip, and that they were prepared to receive an American emissary first, then we could begin to get concrete.

Kissinger chose three people to go to China with him. Myself, as a sort of global sidekick, John Holdridge as the Asia and China expert, and Dick Smyser, as the Vietnam expert. The Vietnam issue would be a significant factor in the discussions in China. Those were the four, including Kissinger himself, whom he chose to go into China, as well as two Secret Service agents.

Now, as you recall, there was a publicly announced trip that Kissinger took. It included Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan. Then Kissinger was supposed to return to Washington through Paris. That was the public itinerary. However, the game plan was to go off secretly to Beijing from Pakistan and by pleading illness and the need to go to a Pakistani hill station to spend a couple of days allegedly recuperating while, in fact, Kissinger was secretly going into China. Ironically, Kissinger came down with a real stomach-ache in India, and so he actually was sick in advance of this secret trip. He covered this up as much as possible, because he wanted to save his real illness until he arrived in Pakistan.

A lot of material has already been published about how this secret trip to China worked out. However, this is how the secret trip worked.

We went publicly to Pakistan in July 1971. There was a public banquet the first night. We went back to the government guest house. We packed and, at about 3:00 AM we were driven to the Islamabad airport by the Pakistani Foreign Minister I believe - Sultan Khan. It seems that they're all named Khan. I've seen him since. We went to President Yahya Khan's plane. Apparently, there was one reporter from some news service who thought he saw us and reported this to his editor. The editor said that the reporter was crazy and spiked [rejected] the story. I wonder what happened to that guy's career.

The plan was to be gone on this secret trip to China for 48 hours. We got on Yahya Khan's airplane. Let me talk about the cover story. We took off for China and we left about 4:00 AM. On that morning the story was put out that Kissinger was not feeling well and, at the invitation of the Pakistanis, he was going up to a hill station [mountain resort] to recuperate for a day. There was a Secret Service agent in a car, slumped over. It wasn't supposed to be an impersonation but he played Kissinger up to the hill station and, I believe, Hal Saunders was with him. So there was a motorcade going up to the hill station. All of this was done fairly early in the morning so that there were no journalists around.

Arrangements were to be made for a Pakistani doctor to attend to Kissinger at the hill station. This doesn't make much sense to me but the way I heard this story, the Pakistanis asked one doctor: "Do you know what Henry Kissinger looks like?" He said: "Yes." They said: "We're sorry, but you're the wrong man." So they get another one. In addition, a couple of Pakistani cabinet ministers who were in on this charade went up to the hill station as if they were paying a call on Kissinger.

Meanwhile, of course, we were in China. At the end of that day the Pakistanis put out a communique saying that Kissinger still didn't feel very well and was going to stay another day at the hill station. This meant that our whole, public schedule in Islamabad had to be slipped because we were supposed to leave Pakistan for Paris on the following day. So the rest of the schedule had to be slipped a day. So that was the cover on that front. I don't how many people besides Hal Saunders knew about this, but he and Ambassador Farland were the key men in this respect.

Returning to our travel, Smyser, Holdridge, Kissinger, and I, plus two Secret Service agents, named Reedy and McLeod arrived at the airport in Islamabad. Reedy was the senior Secret Service agent, and he knew where we were going as we went to the airport. The other Secret Service agent had no idea. We boarded the plane and found four Chinese already seated there. I may be exaggerating this in retrospect but I believe that McLeod went to draw his pistol, because he was so surprised to see these Chinese on the airplane.

One of the four Chinese in the plane was Zhang Wen-jin (章文晋), an Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of American affairs and a key negotiator with us, just below the Foreign Minister level. He helped to draft the Shanghai Communique. He was a very cultured man. He was later Ambassador to the United States. He was the senior Chinese official in this group which was already on the plane. There were also a Chinese Protocol Officer, a grand-niece of Mao named Wang Hai-rung (王海容), and Nancy Tang (唐聞生), an interpreter. There were six of us in our party.

During some of the plane trip Kissinger was studying his briefing books. During some of the time he was talking to Zhang, and he switched back and forth between these two occupations. I've always made a lot of jokes about this, but Kissinger was genuinely upset by the fact that he had no extra shirts with him. He had a special, personal assistant named David Halperin, who had packed his suitcase but didn't put any shirts in. So I've always said that, instead of worrying about this historic trip and what he was going to say to Zhou En-lai about geopolitics he was fuming about his missing shirts. He really was upset about his shirts. He borrowed a couple of shirts from John Holdridge, who stands about 6' 3" in height. Kissinger is about 5' 9", so he looked like a penguin walking around in one of John's shirts. He really was upset. Here it was, an historic moment, and he felt that he was would look ridiculous. He was really mad at a time when you would think that this would not be a big deal. However, in human terms you could see that at this most important and dramatic time, when he was meeting Zhou En-lai, he would be upset to look ridiculous in this shirt. And, of course, the shirts he borrowed from John Holdridge had a label that said, "Made in Taiwan."

Anyway, we were sitting on the plane. I forget how long the flight was. Perhaps seven or eight hours or maybe less than that. Here is a well-known story from this trip. I've always tried to make it sound better than it was. I should tell it as it actually happened. Dick Smyser and I were sitting ahead of Kissinger in the back of the plane. The air crew, of course, was composed of Pakistani cabin attendants and Pakistani pilots, navigators, and flight engineers. No American official had been in China since 1949, so we would be the first American officials to visit China in 22 years. By my good fortune Smyser was called to the back of the plane by Kissinger for consultations just before we got to the border between China and Pakistan. All of the others, in addition to Smyser but not including me, were in the back of the plane with Kissinger. So, as we crossed the border, I was in the front of the plane. So I've said ever since then, in case the question should ever come up, that I was the first American official to visit China since 1949! I've said, on some occasions, that I deliberately raced to the front of the plane to do that, but that's slightly gilding the lilly.

Obviously, there was a great sense of drama. As the sun came up, we were passing K-2, the second highest mountain in the world. It was right outside our window, with the sun on it. Remember, we were in a Pakistani plane with the usual windows. We had left the nearly windowless KC-135 jet back at Islamabad. There was a sense of drama that we were going to the most populous country in the world, after 22 years and there were all of the geopolitical implications of that. There was the anticipation of meeting with Zhou En-lai, this great figure, and there was the excitement and anticipation of those talks. There were James Bond aspects of this trip, since it was totally secret. For me, personally, there was the realization that I was the first American official to visit China in 22 years and that I was married to a woman from Shanghai. I'll never top this experience in terms of drama.

Of course, we spent a good deal of time on the plane, discussing what the strategy would be in talking with Zhou En-lai and the Chinese. I had read very carefully the materials we had prepared over the previous several months. I don't have the precise time with me, but we landed at the military side of the airport outside of Beijing. We were met by Marshall Yeh Jien-ying (葉劍英), a well-known Chinese general from the Long March. I don't know whether he was on the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, but he was a very important figure. So that was a fairly high level reception. Also there to greet us was Huang Hua (黃華), who was later Chinese Foreign Minister. We entered limousines with curtains drawn, so people couldn't see into them. Then we drove into Beijing through Tiananmen Square and past the Great Hall of the People to a place called Diaoyutai, which is the guest house compound for very important visitors. We were then secretly ensconced there.

I don't recall how soon it was before Zhou En-lai came over to greet us, but I'm sure that it was right away. We had a banquet that night, sitting around with Zhou En-lai. We had discussions with him which, according to Kissinger's book, lasted for 17 hours. We were in China for a total of 49 hours.

The major challenge, of course, was to work out an agreement that President Nixon would visit China and to develop some rough sense of what the agenda would be. We agreed in principle that there would be just a brief announcement, which both sides would issue simultaneously, after we got back to Washington.

However, the real negotiating, and this went on for hours, was about the following. We wanted to make it look essentially that the Chinese wanted President Nixon to come to China. The Chinese essentially wanted to make it look as if Nixon wanted to come to China and that the Chinese were gracious enough to invite him. So we went through our first, agonizing process of negotiation on that issue. At one point we broke off the negotiation, not in a huff, but just recognizing that we were at an impasse. We thought that the Chinese were coming back to the negotiations within a couple of hours. Kissinger and I and the others walked around outside, because we knew that we were being bugged, and we couldn't discuss strategy and tactics unless we walked outside. Probably the trees were bugged, too. Who knows? I remember that we waited for hours and hours. The Chinese were probably trying to keep us off balance and were probably working out their own position. Most likely, Zhou En-lai had to check with Mao Zedong.

Finally, the Chinese came back, and we resumed the discussion and worked this issue out. I forget the exact language used in the brief communique which was made public. The formulation used went something like this: "Knowing of President Nixon's interest in visiting China..." And in fact he had expressed an interest in visiting China in general. The formulation went on that the Chinese had invited him. So it wasn't as if the Chinese wanted Nixon to come to China and were going out of their way. They used the formulation that they invited him because they had heard about his interest in visiting China. On the other hand, Nixon wasn't begging to go to China. So it was a fair compromise. This matter was covered in a few sentences, essentially, but it was tough to work out.

In the midst of this negotiation we also did some sightseeing. The Chinese closed off the Forbidden City of Beijing to tourists so that we could visit it privately and on our own. We had the head of the Chinese Archeological Museum and an expert on the area take us around personally as our guide. I'll never forget it. It was a very hot, mid-July day. I was carrying either one or two of these very heavy briefcases. We had to take them everywhere with us. We didn't dare leave them anywhere for security reasons. Of course, it was dramatic to see the Forbidden City all by ourselves. It was also very hot, carrying those damned briefcases around.

After that we had a Peking Duck luncheon-banquet hosted by Zhou in the Great Hall, I think.. The main topic of conversation was, in fact, the Cultural Revolution. Here we saw just how clever Zhou En-lai was. We know that he, himself, was aghast at the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, which had been unleashed by Mao. At one point he himself had been imprisoned in his office by Red Guards. However, he hadn't survived this long by suddenly being disloyal to Mao and on an issue of that importance.

The way Zhou recounted this experience was basically as follows. He went through how he had been locked up in his own office. He talked about some of the exchanges he had had with the Red Guards, in a very clinical way. He then used some phrasing like the following. He said: "Chairman Mao is, of course, much more far-seeing and prescient than I am. He saw the need for the 'Cultural Revolution' and all this upheaval and destruction to 'cleanse' the revolution." I don't recall exactly how he phrased it. Zhou continued: "I wasn't so prescient. I saw the excesses, the problems, and the down side." He said something like that.

If Mao read the transcript of what Zhou said, he couldn't have complained, because Zhou En-lai was saying that Mao had a better vision than Zhou did and saw the need for the Cultural Revolution. At the same time Zhou was signaling to us that the Cultural Revolution had gotten out of hand, had become rather brutal, and there were excesses. So it was a typical example of cleverness by Zhou En-lai. He was keeping his flank protected with Mao but was also making sure that the people he was talking to knew that he was a much more reasonable and pragmatic person. It was a fascinating performance. I'm sorry that Smyser missed it because he was sick.

When we finished drafting the communique, we got back on the plane and returned to Pakistan. We successfully re-inserted ourselves in the charade which had been worked out in Islamabad. We then went on to Paris the next day. It so happens, and we'll get back to this, that while we were publicly in Paris, we secretly snuck off and met with the Vietnamese Communists. Indeed, this was one of the more forthcoming meetings with them. Afterwards Kissinger and I thought, somewhat naively, that we had pulled off two, historic encounters in one trip: the opening toward China and moving toward settling the Vietnam War. That latter idea was a wildly premature judgment. I remember that we debated which was the more historic and important, getting the war over with or arranging for the opening to China. We said, wasn't it a great achievement to do both in one trip?

Meanwhile, I had brought back with me for my Chinese wife a small sampling of Chinese soil.


This trip, four decades ago, set up President Nixon's historic visit in February 1972. The opening of relations between our two nations caused tectonic shifts in the global geopolitical landscape. It has proved to be one of the seminal events since World War II.

There were immediate repercussions, including a dramatic improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington. In the 1970s and 1980s Sino-American ties were driven importantly by the shared goal of balancing the Soviet Union. Since the end of the Cold War our foundations have broadened greatly, with increasing areas of cooperation, competition, and conflict.

Today and for coming decades our bilateral relationship is arguably the most consequential and complex in the world.

[Photo caption: "Banquet at guest house the first night of the secret trip to Peking, July 1971." Clockwise from the author(at the lower left-hand corner): John Holdridge, Henry Kissinger, Dick Smyser, an unknown Chinese official, Wang Hai-rung(王海容), Yeh Jien-ying(葉劍英), Ji Chao-zhu(冀朝鑄), Zhou En-lai(周恩來), Nancy Tang(唐聞生), Huang Hua(黃華), an unknow Chinese official, and Zhang Wen-jin(章文晋).]

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:53
John Kamm (康原) is an American businessman and human rights campaigner active in China since 1972. He is the founder and chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation, based in San Francisco California with an office in Hong Kong. Kamm was awarded the Department of Commerce’s Best Global Practices Award by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights by President George W. Bush in 2001. In September 2004, Kamm received a MacArthur Fellowship for “designing and implementing an original approach to freeing prisoners of conscience in China.” Kamm is the first businessman to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, which recognizes “individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary originality and dedication to their creative pursuits and who have contributed importantly to society through their work.” (Photo: Karen L. Ding -- The Harvard Crimson)

I left America for Macau in August 1972, and by the end of 1975 I had lived most of the time in Hong Kong, and hadn’t had an opportunity to travel to the mainland. My chance came in January 1976 when, as a freshly minted representative of the National Council for US-China Trade, I was asked to go to Shanghai to attend the China Feather and Down Garments Minifair (中國羽絨服飾小交易會) put on by the China National Native Produce and Animal By-Products Import and Export Corporation (CHINATUHSHU, 中國土產畜產進出口公司). My visa only came through at the last possible moment, enabling me to make the flight to Shanghai from Guangzhou on January 6.

After crossing the border at Lowu, and waiting for several hours in the train station’s dining area from which one could view a drab farming village (the future Shenzhen) in the distance, I and fellow trade fair attendees took the train up to Guangzhou. I was accompanied by a young American entrepreneur who had become a leader in manufacturing down garments, then quite the rage in America, and an Australian businessman and scholar and his wife. Upon arrival at the Guangzhou train station we hopped into grey Shanghai sedans for the run to the airport. We arrived at Hong Qiao Airport in Shanghai after nightfall, but there was no one to receive me.

Eventually Mr. Ma from the Shanghai Foreign Affairs Bureau materialized and I was taken to the Shanghai Mansions, the old Broadway Mansions, where the trade fair was taking place. I was given an immense apartment with balconies overlooking the Whampoo, Suzhou Creek and the Bund. There was a big radio circa early 1940s in the living room.

The next day, January 7, I visited the trade fair itself, and registered with the liaison office. One of my jobs was to write an article on the minifair for the National Council’s magazine, so I put in a request for an interview with the trade fair’s leadership. My request received a cool reception. I was told to go to my room and wait for an answer. This was a sensitive time for people doing business in China, and minifairs, an innovation introduced as a modest reform in 1975, were under fire as examples of the “roots of capitalism” being introduced by Deng Xiaoping. I wondered if I would get an interview in Shanghai, or have to wait until I got to Beijing, where a Fur Products Minifair was about to open.

Rather than heeding the liaison office’s instructions, I decided to take a walk along the Bund and up Nanjing Road. I have always visited bookstores on trips to China, and my first trip was no exception. I walked into the large Xinhua Bookstore on Nanjing Road, passing through thick canvas curtains meant to shield the building from the bitter cold outside. Upstairs I walked into the room that held internal publications sold only to cadres with the right documents. I was quickly and unceremoniously told to leave.

I wandered back to the hotel, stopping first at the office of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, located in a small building on a side street not far from the compound housing the Friendship Store and the Seamen’s Club. The compound had previously served as the sprawling British Consulate in Shanghai. I was greeted by the bank’s British manager with more than the usual British reserve. He and his colleague from the Standard Charter Bank were at the time the only resident foreign businessmen in Shanghai. Unfortunately they could not conduct business. They were in effect hostages of the Chinese government to insure that China’s holdings with the banks wouldn’t be expropriated. Their colleagues had in fact been detained during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. They couldn’t leave Shanghai until colleagues arrived to replace them. The fellow I met expressed relief that he would be ending his assignment later that year.

I decided to stop by the Friendship Store, a dreary place selling shoddy goods far below the quality found in Hong Kong’s Chinese products stores. I then walked over to the Seamen’s Club. In those days these establishments were the hubs of entertainment for foreigners in China. They served cold beer and one could almost always find a sailor willing to tell tall tales of his visits to China. I struck up a conversation with a young Hong Kong sailor who was working on a tramp steamer registered in Hong Kong and operated under the Chinese flag. Together we went back to the Shanghai Mansions where we had a simple dinner and played pool for several hours, drinking beer and eating peanuts. The young sailor told me of his life on a PRC-owned vessel. He complained about the incessant political study sessions he and his fellow seamen had to endure. I listened attentively. Apparently, others were also listening attentively.

The next day, January 8, I was advised that my request for an interview would be granted. I was told to come to a room on the top floor of the Shanghai Mansions at 10 PM. I spent some time putting together my questions, and then prepared to join a tour of a Shanghai Commune. When I tried to sign up for the tour however I was told that I was not welcome to join it. I protested to the liaison office to no avail. I headed out on another walk, this time witnessing the arrest of a Shanghai citizen by a police officer. The officer frog marched the young man down a narrow alley, attracting a throng of curious onlookers.

I went back to the Shanghai Mansions, had dinner, and waited in my room for the interview. At the appointed hour I went to the assigned room and found about two dozen cadres waiting for me. The interview was a formal affair, no smiles or words of greeting. I was told the ground rules. I would first ask all my questions. Thereafter I would be given a brief introduction to the trade fair. No further questions would be entertained. I must have asked thirty or so questions, after which I was given the brief introduction. Few if any of my questions would be answered. The “brief introduction” started out with words of praise for the wise leader Chairman Mao Zedong and the correct policies of the Chinese Communist Party. I was then given the bare bones facts of the trade fair: how large the exhibition space was, how many provincial animal by-products branches were in attendance, how many traders from which foreign countries were in attendance. That was it.

I tried to slip in one more question. In 1975 China agreed for the first time to sew into garments intended for export the labels of the western company that had ordered them according to their specifications. This was a welcome reform as Chinese labels like Peony, Snowflake and the like didn’t appeal much to American and European consumers. Suddenly, at this minifair, traders had been advised that this policy had been cancelled. No more foreign labels would be sewn into Chinese made garments. There was much unhappiness about this sudden change, and I wanted to ask a question about why this step had been taken. I never got a chance to do so. I was cut off and reminded that there would be no more questions and told that the interview was over.

Shortly after returning to my room the phone, an old black apparatus with a solid feel, started ringing. It was the young sailor I had befriended the night before. His voice was shaking, and I guessed he had company sitting nearby. Obviously distressed, he told me that he was leaving Shanghai early, and that I was not to try to contact him. He told me he would always remember our friendship. He rang off. A cold shiver ran up my spine.

I went to bed, but had trouble falling asleep. In the early hours of January 9 I heard a great commotion taking place on the barges on Suzhou Creek below me. Loud voices and the sounds of fighting. I dozed off and when I awoke I saw the streets lined with military vehicles, and all the barges gone. In the distance I could hear the somber music of a funeral dirge. I left my room and encountered an elderly floor attendant. What has happened I asked? He told me that Zhou Enlai had died. He was weeping.

I and other trade fair attendees went to the liaison office to find out more. The officer solemnly announced the premier’s passing, and then told us that “the Chinese people will turn grief into strength” and that they would carry on the great traditions of the revolutionary leader. There would not be interruption to the trade fair. Business as usual.

I went down to the lobby and ran into my Australian friend and his wife. They had just had a harrowing experience. They had gone for a walk and saw crowds of people reading the newspapers which had been posted on wooden bulletin boards. They were reading official news of Zhou’s death, and the couple decided to photograph the scene. Bad move. In those days it was against the law for foreigners to purchase or even read local newspapers like the Wen Wei Bao and Liberation Daily. The couple were swiftly taken into custody by the local neighborhood revolutionary committee and held in a small room until the police showed up. They were interrogated and lectured at length. Their actions were unlawful and violated the terms of their visit to China. They were eventually escorted back to the Shanghai Mansions.

A small group of us decided to try another restaurant for lunch, having sampled just about everything on the Shanghai Mansions’ menu. We walked to the Peace Hotel and took the elevator up to the dining floor. Sitting down, we noticed that the waiters were wearing black arm bands. One of the young men came to our table and explained: “We have been told not to commemorate Zhou Enlai’s death, but we are doing so anyway. We are not afraid. Let them come and try to make trouble.”

The next day I flew to Beijing where I attended the fur minifair, and visited one of the model communes on the city’s outskirts as well, of course, the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs. I also took part in the funeral of Zhou Enlai as part of the American delegation. Diplomats were all dressed in black, thin clothing for the bitter cold. China would be visited with much more sorrow that year, the campaign against the right deviationist wind, the Ching Ming protests and the deadly response, the July earthquake in Tangshan, and much joy when the Gang of Four was overthrown in October. I witnessed all of those events, making six visits to the country that year.

Upon my return to Hong Kong after attending Zhou’s funeral I was asked by a friend at Ta Kung Pao to write a eulogy for the recently departed premier. I did so, and the piece ran under my Chinese name given to me by a teacher in the United States: Kang Youhan (康又瀚). The eulogy was full of praise of Zhou. A few days after it appeared my friend told me that the article had been removed from the Reference News edition published in Shanghai. My friend suggested that I adopt a new name for any future Chinese language articles I might write. I adopted the name Kang Yuan (康原), and have kept it to the present day.

Postscript: More than 30 years later, I took members of the board of The Dui Hua Foundation to Shanghai. We went to the restaurant at the top of the Peace Hotel, and there I recounted the story of the defiant young waiter. Across the room I spied a man of roughly my age who was now the manager of the restaurant. He looked familiar, and I asked him to come to our table. He complied, and we quickly figured out that he was that young waiter I had encountered in January 1976. In excited voices we relived what had happened. Misty eyed, he asked me a favor. Would I be willing to come back and talk to his young charges? “Young people have no idea how we lived then. And they aren’t interested. You can help. Please come back.” I agreed to do so, but when I returned a few months later the restaurant was closed for renovation. I subsequently found out that Mr. Zhang the manager had retired.

(All photos were taken by the author.)

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:55
Anita Chan (陳佩華) is a research professor at the China Research Centre of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and has published nine books about China, several of which are about the era of Mao’s rule. She was author of “Children of Mao: Personality Development and Political Activism in the Red Guard Generation,” which had a Chinese translation print-run of 120,000 copies, and is co-author of “Chen Village: Revolution to Globalization.” She was formerly editor of “The China Journal” for 13 years. A specialist in Chinese labor issues, she is the editor of two forthcoming books, “Wal-Mart in China” and “Labor in Vietnam,” that will be published this year.

The year I ventured into China for the first time was 1971, as a 25 year old. My experience there was entirely different from all the other first trips published thus far in this series. Theirs were official visits; mine was a private visit. They were China’s “guests”; I was an unwelcomed guest. They were young “China specialists”; I was a young China ignoramus. But perhaps the most fundamental difference was due to my formative years as a member of Hong Kong’s first generation born after World War Two.

Growing up in a lower middle class family of very modestly educated, apolitical parents; schooled at an anti-Communist Catholic school that made little girls attend church; spoon-fed by an exam-oriented educational system that regarded Hong Kong and Chinese history as having terminated in 1911; furiously taking notes in a course on Chinese geography at the University of Hong Kong on the exact whereabouts of Chinese mountains and rivers to make sure I could regurgitate this at the three-hour year-end examination; never hearing words like Marxism or communism in any of the classes I attended, I was a white sheet of paper on which anything could have been written.

Like most Hong Kong students at that time, I barely read anything that was not useful for passing exams. I did have a vague image of China, though—it had to be a horrible place. People were dirt poor and were ruled by a “gongchandang” that made almost nothing available to its people. I knew this as a child because when some relatives went to visit relatives across the border they brought with them bundles of old clothes and light bulbs. How can people not have light bulbs!?

My father’s twelve siblings were split into two groups—one group, like my father, returned to Hong Kong in 1945 after fleeing Hong Kong’s occupation by the Japanese army, and another group did not come back to Hong Kong after the war. Many years later, when I finally got to know them personally, I understood that they had socialist inclinations and had wanted to work for the motherland, and that most of them ended up suffering for their idealistic patriotic choice: because of their Hong Kong background, after the Cultural Revolution erupted in 1966 they were considered politically unreliable.

One of my aunts who had remained in Hong Kong, Fourth Aunt, liked going back and forth to keep in touch with her brothers and sisters in China, and from the 1950s onward she came back telling everyone it was not so bad there. Her Hong Kong siblings did not believe her. I heard sly remarks about her liking the Communists. But except for when Fourth Aunt insisted on giving us news, our close relatives in China were not a subject of conversation in the extended family circle. My parents never communicated with any of them. I think my father’s attitude was: it serves them right to stay behind after the War.

The image I had of China worsened in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution when bashed and decomposed bodies, sometimes tied up in pairs by ropes, floated down into Hong Kong waters from the West River. Seeing disturbing photos of them in newspapers, I could not stop worrying when I went swimming in Repulse Bay that I might bump against one of the corpses, and I had to keep reminding myself this was impossible because the beach is on the southern side of Hong Kong Island.

In 1970 I returned to Hong Kong after studying for a Masters in Geography at York University in Canada. I soon became acquainted with some American postgraduate students who were in Hong Kong to study China. Several of them were members of an association called the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, which had been founded by opponents of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. As a result, my acquaintances received an invitation from the Chinese government in 1971 to visit China, where Zhou Enlai hosted them at a banquet. They were among the very first Americans allowed to go to China, and they considered themselves trailblazers. On their return to Hong Kong they sang the praises of the new China and excitedly related what they had experienced. One fact that stuck in my mind was that the Chinese were so honest that they would chase after them to return small items left at hotels and money dropped on the ground. Since I knew so little about China, I had no idea what to think, except that this was a very different China from my imagination.

It so happened that my new boyfriend, Jonathan Unger (to whom I am now married), was a stringer for the “Far Eastern Economic Review.” Shortly after our American acquaintances returned from their exciting trip, he managed to get himself invited to cover the Canton Trade Fair, the first American journalist ever to go. The day that he crossed the border into China, I thought: I don’t want him to come out and tell me all that stuff about how good China is. I have to go to see it for myself. So I went to my Fourth Aunt, the one who was pro-China and had China contacts. She gave me the name and the address of a distant relative in Guangzhou, an old lady who was once the concubine of one of my great uncles. I did not tell my parents for fear they would object. I’d go for a couple of days.

I took the train to Lowu. I handed in my Hong Kong I.D. card at immigration on the Chinese side of the border. They would not let me pass. One officer after another came over to interrogate me: why was I going to China? Why did you fill in “British subject”, not “Chinese” in your I.D. card? I was dumbfounded, not knowing what I had filled in. Who are you going to see? They went through my address book and pointed to names and addresses, demanding to know who they were: who is this person, who is that person. The same questions were asked over and over again by different people. I was petrified. Never in my life had I encountered anything like this. In the end they let me through. Even today I do not know why I was singled out for questioning.

On the other side of the border the panorama that greeted my eyes was a drab grayish hue of low-lying old houses interrupted by patches of red—flags and banners covered with slogans. The previous year I had journeyed overland back to Hong Kong from Canada (I was an adventurous young woman) and I had seen very poor places in Turkey and Iran, but the scenery from the window of the Chinese train seemed oddly drab. It was a vast contrast from the colorful billboards and lights of Hong Kong.

I arrived at Guangzhou by nightfall and was able to find the old relative. She was a wizened old lady in a rundown shared house. She seemed alarmed to see me and nervous about our being seen together at the front door. She urged me inside and brought me to her tiny room, with walls blackened with age, large water marks and a gaping hole in the ceiling. She soon found an excuse to leave me there, and shortly afterwards came back with someone in uniform. This person then took me somewhere in the neighbourhood, sat me down and began interrogating me. Much like at the border, several people fired the same questions at me again and again. I gradually realized I was at the “paichusuo,” the local police station.

The next scene I can recall was one of them bringing me to a dirty and unlit big room. I could make out there were beds with people sleeping in them. I was brought to a bed and was told this was where I had to spend the night.

The next morning it was decided that I was simply a young visitor from Hong Kong. I was escorted to a tricycle and a man pedaled me to a park, probably the Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) Memorial Park. I walked around, not knowing much about Chinese history and not interested in being a “tourist” in this unwelcoming place, nor the prospect of spending another night in some grungy bed. I had seen enough. I headed back home.

My first trip to China lasted close to twenty-four hours. The China that I experienced was worse than what I had imagined for years. Now I could say to those American China experts and Jonathan Unger, the China I know is the real one.

An afterword: I happened to be in China at the height of the darkest days—the time of the One Hit and Three Antis Campaign (yi da san fan yundong 一打三翻運動). My distant relative the old lady must have been one of the four-bad-class elements (sileifenzi 四類份子), and for the past two decades an easy and frequent target at class struggle sessions. My sudden appearance from nowhere could have brought calamity to her, for l was living evidence of her bourgeois “overseas” connections. My Fourth Aunt wore blinkers on her eyes, and my father, who knew so little about China was, after all, right. Later, when I became a China specialist like my American acquaintances, the bleak impoverished landscapes, the haranguing barrages of questions, the frightened look in the eyes of the old lady and the awful tiny room she called home, all contributed to my understanding of the underside of the Maoist period.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:56
林和立博士,日本秋田國際大學和香港中文大學兼任教授/講師,多年從事中國政治、外交與文化研究。著有Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era(紐約M E Sharpe出版)等。 Dr Willy Lam is Adjunct Professor of History at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Adjunct Professor of Chinese Studies, Akita International University, Japan. He has written six books on Chinese affairs, including Chinese Politics in the Hu Jintao Era (M E Sharpe, 2006).

Willy Lam

It was July 1973. 30-odd students from several Hong Kong universities – including former Hong Kong legislator Choy So-yuk (蔡素玉), noted writer Hung Ching-tin (洪青田) and myself, then a final-year undergraduate at the University of Hong Kong – heeded the call of the motherland and took our very first trip to the PRC. The worst of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was over, and the United Front Department in both Beijing and Guangdong wanted to re-establish contact with college students in Hong Kong. The Chinese Communist Party authorities also seemed keen to tell the world that China was on track to normalcy.

Yet for most Hong Kong residents, horror stories of tightly bound corpses – apparently the victims of bloody clashes among rival Red Guard gangs – flowing down the Pearl River were still fresh on their minds. Many regarded the PRC with extreme suspicion and didn’t want others to know that they had toured China. Students feared that a visit to China meant they couldn’t pursue further studies in the United States. It was only toward the end of our three-week sojourn that I found out that some within our group were using false names to hide their identities.

We went by train and by air to cities including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing, Wuhan and Zhengzhou. China was still in the throes of the Ten Years of Chaos. All colleges were closed; tens of thousands of factories and plants were idle or in disarray. Wherever we went, we were regarded as aliens from a distant shore. In Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, we walked up the February 7 Pagoda in the heart of the city to have a better look around; but what we were most amazed about was that in no time, several hundred people had gathered at the foot of the pagoda eyeballing us!

The people were desperately poor: both males and females were wearing white shirts and blue pants. A wristwatch was considered a luxury. No foreign goods were on sale. However, special products from comradely countries in Eastern Europe – as well as famous Chinese brands that were in short supply – were available in the Friendship Stores. In those days, scarce merchandises could only be bought with foreign exchange certificates, which were used by foreigners and tourists. I was glad that I could purchase a Phoenix bicycle in the Guangzhou Friendship Store for my cousin, who was a worker in the nearby county of Foshan. That was the only thing I could do for my relative, who told me wistfully that his high-school studies had been disrupted by the Cultural Revolution.

Beijing was eerily quiet. The vast East Chang’an Street was devoid of traffic. Cars and trucks, which were often outnumbered by horse-drawn carts, belonged to either the government or state-owned enterprises. There were hardly any taxis. We were put up in large rooms in the Friendship Hotel in northwestern Beijing – a huge complex that was constructed in the 1950s to house Soviet and other foreign experts. But in the early 1970s, most of these specialists had gone. We toured the Great Wall, the Western Palace built by the Empress Dowager Cixi, and the cavernous Great Hall of the People, where nothing seemed to be going on. What most impressed us was the rabbit warren of underground passageways. Responding to the slogan “Dig deep tunnels, store enough grain,” (深挖洞,廣積糧) the proletariats in Beijing had built labyrinthine underpasses in the capital, which could serve as bomb shelters in case China was attacked by either the American imperialists or the Soviet revisionists.

The Red Guards had disappeared; but internal power struggle, mainly between the pragmatic faction led by Deng Xiaoping and the Gang of Four ultra-radicals, was in full swing. Mao, knowing that his days were numbered, was, at least in the diplomatic arena, trying to undo some of the wrongs he had done. He sanctioned the Richard Nixon visit in 1971 and okayed moves to establish diplomatic relations with Japan in 1972. In domestic politics, however, the Great Helmsman was still in cahoots with the Gang of Four – and distrustful of Deng the “Capitalist Roader.” Yet the outside world had little inkling about these intrigues. Our tour guide, a young woman surnamed Lin who had attended a couple years of college before the Cultural Revolution, reassured us that “the future of the motherland is as bright as the sun.” Ms Lin said she wanted to become a diplomat; but we found out that she knew very little about foreign countries. Lin didn’t give us stern orders such as never wandering around on our own. Yet with no means of transport, it would have been difficult for us to go on unauthorized trips.

At Peking University, we were taken to see master philosopher Feng Youlan (馮友蘭), who, we later found out, had cooperated with the Gang of Four in the notorious “Criticize Lin Biao, Criticize Confucius Campaign.” (批林批孔運動) Like renowned academic Hu Shih (胡適), Feng had studied under the revered John Dewey at Columbia University. He was the author of the world-famous “History of Chinese Philosophy.” Unfortunately, like most intellectuals at the time, Feng was under tremendous pressure to re-tailor his work to suit the requirements of Marxism-Leninism. When we met him, Feng was 78 and in obvious poor health. His hands were shaking. But he expressed approval of our “patriotic fervor” and even wrote some calligraphy for the group. Years later, I interviewed Feng’s daughter, the gifted poet and novelist Zong Pu (宗璞). Zong, who continued to live in their old house at Peking University after Feng’s death in 1990, told me sadly: “My father had a tough time.”

Everywhere we went, we were met by municipal officials of up to vice-ministerial rank. Even though we knew very little about China, we could guess that these senior cadres were following the same script. The rituals soon became familiar. In their briefings, our hosts always recited elaborate economic and production figures to demonstrate how the “New China” had made progress since 1949. There was nary a word about the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, news and rumors about which had been widely reported in the Hong Kong media. In Shanghai, we were taken to a new apartment building, where we chatted with a bunch of model workers. In what we later learned was a routine called “remembering past bitterness so as to better appreciate today’s sweetness,” (憶苦思甜) they attempted to convince us that after Chairman Mao Zedong had driven out the corrupt Chiang Kai-shek regime, it was pretty much paradise on earth.

Shanghai itself looked surreal. The great metropolis earned the sobriquet “Paris of the Orient” in the 1920s and 1930s. As late as the 1950s, Shanghai, China’s foremost industrial and commercial center, outshone Hong Kong in terms of vigor and glamour. Yet from 1949 to the mid-1980s, the city seemed frozen in time. While various ministries in Beijing put up a dozen-odd Soviet-style towers in the capital in the 1950s, the skyline of Shanghai remained practically unchanged. A numbing sense of historical stasis assailed us as we took a walk along the Bund. It was still the Shanghai that we learnt from the great naturalistic novels of Mao Dun and Ba Jin. I asked our guide to show us the French and British concessions, and was struck by the fact that pretty much all the European-style buildings had survived intact.

We had a strange encounter with the Nobel Prizewinning physicist Chen-ning Yang (楊振寧) at the Hubei Museum in Wuhan. He was accompanied by a senior local official. Our guide asked us not to disturb this eminent Chinese-American guest, one of the few big-name overseas Chinese who dared return to China in that murky era. The museum itself was devoted to the leitmotif of class struggle. Historical relics and objects of art from antiquity were displayed to illustrate just one theme: exploitation of the proletariats by the nobility and the filthy rich.

We took the slow train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, arriving on July 24, 1973. Soon after the train pulled into the old Tsimshatsui Railway Terminus, word somehow spread among the passengers that Bruce Lee (李小龍) had died four days earlier. It was the biggest piece of news in the global Chinese community that month. Yet the Bamboo Curtain was so air-tight that nothing, not even petty gossip about movie stars, could percolate into China. I was overwhelmed by a bittersweet feeling as I left behind a country still struggling to find its soul. Bitter because I empathized so much with the young men and women whose lives seemed wasted, sweet because I had the good fortune of getting to know them, if only from a distance and for so short a time.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:57
Simon Long (朗西蒙) is “Banyan”, The Economist’s Asia columnist. He took up this post, based in Singapore, in August 2010. Before that, he had worked in London for four years, as the magazine’s Asia Editor, and for four years prior to that as South Asia Bureau Chief based in Delhi.

Twice in my life I have been in China as its history was being made. Looking back with regret at how much more I could have made of the experiences, I find myself making excuses for myself. In Beijing, as a BBC reporter in early June 1989, the thing that is easy to forget is how little sleep we had all enjoyed in the previous weeks.

On my first trip to China, as a language student arriving just a month after the Tangshan earthquake in 1976 and ten days before Mao Zedong’s death, I was not tired; merely young. I had just graduated from university and spent the summer working on a campsite in the south of France with my girlfriend. My year’s study in China had been thrown into doubt by the earthquake. I was discombobulated—and heartbroken at leaving her behind.

It was my first trip outside Europe. I still remember the sensation of being mugged by heat and humidity as our plane stopped over in Calcutta in the early hours of the morning. I was both frightened and exhilarated by the exotic frenzy of Hong Kong, where we stayed at the YMCA in Kowloon, ate at “dai pai dongs” in Central and I was taken on a tour of Kowloon tenements by a British Trotskyist who wanted to display our imperialism at its worst. I had been much impressed at the time by Water Easey’s pamphlet “Hong Kong: A Case to Answer”.

After the heat, the crowds, the noise and the nervous tension of travel, China—or at least the train station at Lowu—was lovely: soft arm-chairs, anti-macassars, cold wet towels, tea, some Mao quotes and pictures and hardly anyone around. The soft-sleeper train ride to Beijing through what seemed to a young Westerner the picturesque poverty of rural China was an unfamiliar taste of luxury. It would be the last for nearly a year.

I was with 14 other British students. We were, I think, the fourth year to go to China on British Council scholarships. There were similar contingents from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and from European countries. Most of us were Chinese-studies graduates, though I think the idea of the scholarships was to take graduates in other subjects and teach them Chinese.

We all started at the Languages Institute in Beijing, to be farmed out according to academic discipline to a handful of other authorised universities—Beida, Fudan, or, if you had made the mistake of choosing the wrong course, Liaoda in Shenyang. I stayed at the institute until after Chinese New Year in 1977 when Nanda in Nanjing opened up as the location for history studies, or, as the modern-history course was more accurately known, “the history of the two-line struggle”.

The institute also housed Chinese students preparing to go and study abroad. Having skipped ten years of school during the Cultural Revolution, they tended to be older than their callow roomies. There were also large numbers of disgruntled Africans (whose luckier classmates were having a better time in Moscow) a few Pakistanis and other third-world (as they were still called) students. The North Koreans—just a dozen or so—kept themselves to themselves, looking rather smart in their suits and Kim Il Sung badges.

Life soon settled into a routine of morning exercises, language classes, canteen meals, evening showers and constant battles with the authorities, represented by a man we knew as “Frank”. He always said he wanted to “be frank with us”, and in that sense alone, he was. On Friday nights, the British embassy would send a bus to take us downtown and we would embarrass ourselves in “The Bell”, the curiously authentic pub in the embassy compound in Guanghua Lu.

My teacher was an inspiring young woman who gave every appearance of believing every word of the texts we used about Norman Bethune, the foolish old man who moved the mountain, the cruelties of pre-liberation Tibetan serfdom and the Chengdu-Kunming railway. My tonal deficiencies seemed to cause her genuine agonies.

My room-mate, a physicist from Huhehot, did his best. We alternated days of English and Chinese speaking. In both languages we struggled for things to talk about. My interests before coming to China had been those of a typical British student—ie, literature, cinema, human relationships, especially of the sexual kind, drugs and soccer. If he had views on any of these topics, he wasn’t prepared to share them.

Foreigners were still a novelty. Africans would find people rubbing their faces to see if the charred blackness came off; many would assume a Caucasian like me must be Albanian. I would attract a crowd just buying a stamp.

Off-stage, as it were, China was in ferment. The “first Tiananmen incident” at Qingming in 1976, following Zhou Enlai’s death that January, still seemed like an action awaiting its reaction. Then came the earthquake, which as well as obliterating Tangshan, had battered Beijing badly. All through the winter of 1976-77, large numbers of people lived in makeshift roadside shelters. And it was a bitterly cold winter. When the showers in our dormitory block broke, and we had to go to another building to wash, hair would freeze on the return journey.

There was one particularly fierce aftershock. An Ethiopian student broke a leg jumping from a fourth-floor dormitory window into a tree. We were evacuated to tents on the football pitch—or would have been, had the British contingent not taken refuge in a drunken stupor on the floor of the British Embassy’s archivist and the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent, Nigel Wade.

Not long after we arrived, a few of us cycled one afternoon into town—which, hard to believe these days, involved passing through farmland, retching at the stench of nightsoil. Unbeknownst to us, a pre-announcement had been made of a forthcoming important news bulletin. The streets cleared; shops emptied; sobbing and wailing could be heard behind grim grey walls; we listened to the broadcast. Mao was dead. I remember having to look up the formal phrase used for his passing ( 逝世了).

We went to see the body. I remember writing to friends how hairy his nostrils were. We attended the mammoth funeral rally in Tiananmen. My most intense memory of that is of the acute discomfort I suffered as my bladder filled. We made our way to the big rectangular open-air latrine dug in the south-west corner of the square. I found the scrutiny of several thousand observers rather off-putting.

At the time, the grief at Mao’s death seemed real enough. Yet a month later, we were back in Tiananmen to celebrate the “smashing” of the Gang of Four, and the beginning of the process that would lead to the dismantling of much of the edifice that Mao had built.

In January 1977, on the anniversary of Zhou Enlai’s death, apparently spontaneous demonstrations sprouted at the north end of Tiananmen, much of which was boarded off for the construction of Mao’s mausoleum. Little poems and bigger wall-posters were stuck to the boarding. One I remember enjoying for its simple accessibility: the character “Deng” or “waiting for” (等) and a crude drawing of a little bottle (“Xiaoping”). China would be waiting until the following summer. When the jaunty little man reappeared, I was confined for a week on the Trans-Siberian, reading, I am embarrassed to recall, “Lord of the Rings”.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 18:59
Michael Yahuda (葉胡達) is a Professor Emeritus of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, where he served from 1973 to 2003. Since then he has been a visiting scholar at the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, the Elliott School, George Washington University, except for 2005-2006 when he was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has acted as an adviser to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. His main fields of interest are China's politics, foreign policy and the international relations of the Asia Pacific. He has published six books and more than 200 articles and chapters in books. He is joint editor of International Relations of Asia (2008) and is currently preparing a revision of his single authored The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific.

My first visit to China took place in April 1976 and it coincided with a major political upheaval. I was with a group of British younger academics who arrived in Hong Kong on April 4th, who were due to enter China the following day for a two-three week visit at the invitation of the Ministry of Education. Although we held different political views, none of us was as committed as our American more radical equivalents.

On the morning of the 5th we worried as to whether the visit would take place at all. Overnight the wreathes in memory of Zhou Enlai (周恩來) and his mourners were forcibly removed from Tiananmen Square, giving rise to what was then called “The Tiananmen Incident.”

Nevertheless our group proceeded as normal on the train journey to Canton (Guangzhou), having to cross the famous bridge on foot with our luggage to the station of the Shen Zhen fishing village, where we received by representative of the Education Ministry, as if nothing had happened. We were then taken to a small museum on the outskirts of the city and we stayed there for five very long hours without explanation.

Suddenly we were summoned to the bus and taken to the airport, where the plane (a Trident jet) was already moving towards takeoff. Before we had properly sat down the plane started to roar down the runway. Our fellow passengers were mainly military people who were laughing and smoking without wearing any seat belts. We then heard an announcement asking those with guns and explosives to hand them over to the stewardess.

We arrived late at night at the Beijing Hotel and a few us then walked to Tiananmen Square where fire-trucks were still hosing it down. Soldiers with fixed bayonets stood every ten yards surrounding the Square. It was a grim sight. The following day we were taken to see the sights, as if all was normal. But tension was evident as we vainly sought explanations from our minders.

On the third day we woke to the sound of drums and cymbals. The decision to remove Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) from all his posts had been announced. That day we saw processions of tens of thousands of people from the various government and academic work units on the way to the Square to “celebrate” the event. Many looked as if they were just going through the motions.

The following day we visited a primary school and heard the children sing anti Deng-Xiaoping songs. I was amazed how quickly the propaganda people had done their work. Earlier in the visit we had been taken to Peking University to see worker, peasant, soldier students and some teachers, but the only ones who spoke to us were older academics, who had been at universities in the West in the 1930s and 1940s. It seemed as if they alone were deemed to be of the appropriate academic quality to engage with us. They told us how much they had benefitted from the Cultural Revolution, but I don’t think any of us took that at face value.

We then went to Nanking (Nanjing),which had been a scene of anti-leftist incidents a week earlier and where anti Jiang Qing (江青) slogans could still be seen on walls. Perhaps that was why we were housed in a government guest house a few miles away. When our bus arrived in the city center we went our different ways and each one of us was surrounded by throngs of people, who had evidently not seen Westerners since the 1950s. They were pleasantly inquisitive and eager to touch our clothes. It was a vivid demonstration how isolated China had become.

We visited several communes and had the usual “brief introduction” from a local peasant leader. They all recounted with seemingly great vigor and intensity the history of their unit replete with various production statistics as it went from rags to relative riches. The one I enjoyed most was a silk producing village near Canton, where the process of production seemed to me to be exactly what I had seen in pictures from the Song Dynasty. It summed up what I took to be one of the contradictions of China at that time: revolutionary politics amid traditional farming practices.

Although we knew that these were “show” places, I saw them as examples of the best that could be done. A year later I found out that it was all make believe from beginning to end. I spent the summer of 1977 in Beijing, with an indirect attachment to the Foreign Languages Press and one day I was asked to see if I could improve the draft translation of a Chinese travel book. I was astonished to find that it covered all the places then open to foreign visitors, including the places my group had visited. These recounted word for word what calloused handed peasants had told us so convincingly about their communes.

I was very excited on my first visit to a China that I had studied from afar for more than 15 years and while I was skeptical in many ways, I was also impressed. I had visited India briefly five years earlier and from what I could see from the train journeys and from closer at hand, China was very much a developing country, but in better condition than India.

It was my first visit to a country under a dictatorship and I did not take things at face value, but I did not appreciate until much later the lengths to which the authorities went to deceive us and, more importantly, the Chinese people.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 19:01
Perry Link (林培瑞) is Professor emeritus of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California, Riverside

My father was a radical leftist professor. He led study tours to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and later admired Mao Zedong (毛澤東). For me, that influence, in addition to the passion in the late 1960s and early 1970s within the American student movement against our country’s war in Vietnam, a movement in which I was not only a participant but an activist, led me to look at socialist China with very high hopes.

The first time I tried to go to China was in 1967, the year after I graduated from college. I was living in Hong Kong and wrote a letter to Beijing. A few months later I received a charming reply: two sheets of paper that appeared as if a Red Guard with little English and a faulty typewriter had spent days laboring over, a letter in which it was explained that the Chinese people had nothing against me, but that I was from a predatory imperialist country and could not visit the People’s Republic. Before I left Hong Kong I bought four volumes of “The Selected Works of Mao Zedong,” and, rather grandiloquently, ripped the covers off of them so that I might carry them safely back to the imperialist U.S.

Meanwhile, I found a corner of Hong Kong that was still legally part of China, and I settled for going there. The Walled City of Kowloon (九龍城寨), formerly an outpost of the Qing empire, had been abandoned for decades by both Nationalists and Communists, and had been disowned by the British as well. It had become a fetid labyrinth of alleys and tunnels, the lawless bailiwick, I was told, of drug dealers, prostitutes, and gangsters. A group of Baptists ran a primary school there—and yes, there were children. I volunteered to teach English at the school. I knew this wasn’t socialist China, but it was “China.”

The first time I set foot in socialist China was May of 1973. A year earlier, in April 1972, the Chinese ping-pong team had visited the U.S. to break the diplomatic ice of 23 years, and I had served as an interpreter traveling with the Chinese and American teams. Chinese officials on that tour got a good political impression of me, in part because I led four of the six American interpreters in a boycott of the teams’ meeting with President Richard Nixon at the White House. (Nixon had ordered a bombing of Haiphong just the day before; to me, small talk in the Rose Garden just didn’t seem right that day.)

Anyway, a year later we U.S. interpreters asked if we could visit China, and the answer was yes. During four weeks we visited Guangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xi’an, Yan’an, Beijing, and Tangshan. The bill for the trip—room, board, airfare, rail, sightseeing, everything—was $550 U.S. It was a friendship rate.

But it was during that trip that cracks began to form in my ideal image of the People’s Republic. I carried a small camera and took walks on my own, in search of “real life.” I had learned in graduate school that there were no flies in China after the “Four Pests” campaign of 1958. When I saw a fly on a white stone table in Suzhou, I photographed it. I thought I had something.

In Yan’an, when four of us foreign guests boarded a crowded bus the driver shouted “waibin!” (外賓!) Immediately four seated passengers stood up, offering us their seats. The old man who stood up next to me did not, in my impression, seem to want to. I said, “Please, you sit,” but he said nothing and remained standing. Embarrassed, I remained standing, too, and for the rest of the ride the people on the bus endured the ludicrous spectacle of an empty seat on a crowded bus.

We foreigners always rode “soft sleeper” class on the railroad, while most people on the same trains were riding “hard seat” class. I asked our guide about it.

“Why is there a soft-sleeper class?” I said, my socialist principles in mind. “Who rides in it, besides us?”

“The leaders,” the guide replied.

“Why?”,I asked, unaware that it was a stupid question.

“They are busy. They have many burdens. They need soft-sleeper.”

My image of a classless society had suffered a blow, and it suffered a few more blows before the tour was over. The example that sticks most in my mind happened in Tangshan, where we visited the huge Tangshan coal mine. We descended in an elevator far below the earth’s surface. (This was three years before a Richter 7.8 earthquake buried countless workers in that same mine.) Riding small railroad cars through a maze of tunnels deep underground, I noticed various signs: “slow!”, “sound horn!”, etc. The signs were in traditional Chinese characters, not simplified ones, and I also couldn’t help noticing that there were no political slogans among them. All the signs were strictly business. This contrasted sharply with the surface of the earth, where slogans and quotations from Chairman Mao, on splendid red-and-white banners, or giant red billboards with gold writing and trim, were everywhere.

After emerging, I asked our guide: “Why are there no quotations from Chairman Mao down there with the miners?”

Her immediate reply: “Oh, it’s too dirty!” She seemed a bit irritated at me for suggesting such an inappropriate location for the Chairman’s thoughts. To me, though, it was a hard fact to swallow: the dirt of the mines was OK for the working class but not for the thoughts of its leader.

The inner insecurity of the guides became apparent to me in something that happened in Shanghai, when I bought a souvenir of my trip for my mother. My mother was born on a farm in Nebraska and was a salt-of-the-earth type. Her name was Beulah, she ate wheat germ, and brown was her favorite color. In a small shop I found hand-brooms that I knew she would like. They were crafted of sorghum stalks, light brown with dark flecks. Lovely. And symbols of the dignity of labor—which I knew she also would like. I imagined that she might hang it on a wall in her home, so I bought one.

Afterwards one of our guides, very nervous, accosted me. He seemed torn between handling an emergency and trying to maintain politeness.

“Why did you buy this?!” he asked.

I explained about my mother.

“Let me get you a better one!” He took the broom back to the shop and returned with another—not much better or worse, to my eye, but in his view more nearly perfect. Then, sitting next to me on the mini-bus ride back to the hotel, he began a deeper interrogation of me.

“Doesn’t your mother like silk? …China has silk. China has jade carvings, China has cloisonné. Why do you buy a farmer’s broom to represent China to your mother?” I began to realize that the guide saw what I had done as “unfriendly.” My mother and I were looking down on China.

And this started me wondering: did this guide, deep inside, respect China’s working people, the wielders of brooms—and want my mother to have the impression that “China is silk” only because he guessed that she, from a bourgeois society, would respect silk but not brooms? Or was it maybe worse than that? Was he participating in a societal hypocrisy that pretended to value brooms over silk but in reality did not?

From time to time during the trip I tried to strike up conversations with ordinary citizens, people with whom meetings had not been arranged. This was not easy. People constantly formed crowds to look at us, but kept their distance and stayed quiet. I have a vivid memory of one man—I would guess he was about thirty—who was part of a crowd but made eye contact with me. When I tried to address him personally—“What’s your name?”, “How are you?”, etc.—his lips and eyebrows contorted wildly, from what seemed to me like severe pain, so I stopped.

Children were a bit less inhibited, and plainly curious about us. Any walk of ten minutes or more on a city street attracted a long train of them, as if we were pied pipers. I was amused to note, one day as we were walking past the gates of the Beijing Zoo, that some children who already held tickets to go see hippos and giraffes chose instead to come out of the zoo and follow us.

During one meeting with children—this was in Xi’an—a number of them gathered around us and seemed willing to talk. I asked a boy what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I want to go to the toughest place and serve the people!” (我要到最艱苦的地方為人民服務!). He pronounced the words in a sharp, confident, high-pitched voice.

“And you?” I asked another.

“I want to go to the toughest place and serve the people!” A sharp, confident, high-pitched voice—and exactly the same words.

I asked three or four more, of slightly different ages and of both sexes. All the answers were identical. I do not believe our handlers had prepared this scene for us; it had come about in too casual a manner. And I don’t know how much of the conformity resulted from training in how to answer this question and how much may have come just from others seeing that the first boy had produced a good answer and wanting to play things safe by doing the same. In any case, it left me with a deep impression.

In the years since 1973 I have learned much, much more about how wrong I was in the late 1960s to take Mao Zedong’s “socialism” at face value. I could not have been more mistaken. I am a bit puzzled that others among my leftist-student friends from the 1960s sometimes seem reluctant to face this obvious fact. Is it embarrassing? Why should it be? We were naïve, yes. We believed lies. But we were not the ones who spun the lies. Aren’t the lie-spinners the ones who should be embarrassed? Besides, I feel no need to explain any reversal in my underlying values, because I don’t find one.

In the late 1960s, I admired Mao because I felt strongly about things like peace, freedom, justice, truth, and a fair chance for the little guy. Today I detest Mao and his legacy. Why? Because I am drawn to things like peace, freedom, justice, truth, and a fair chance for the little guy.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 19:03
Mark Selden (薛爾頓) is a Coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, a Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University, and Professor Emeritus of History and Sociology at Binghamton University. A specialist on the modern and contemporary geopolitics, political economy and history of China, Japan and the Asia Pacific, his work has addressed themes of war and revolution, inequality, development, regional and world social change, and historical memory. He was a founding member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars in the 1960s and for more than thirty years edited The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (later Critical Asian Studies).

I was a fellow traveler in the 1972 Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars trip to China with Richard Bernstein and Jonathan Mirsky . . . and in other ways with Richard Kagan and Edward Friedman who followed in 1975 and 1978 (Friedman and I visited rural Hebei in 1978 and then spent the next quarter century trying to fathom and write collaboratively about China’s rural transformations). All five of us were or had been active members of CCAS, two of whose primary goals were ending the US War in Indochina and opening diplomatic relations with The People’s Republic of China.

My experience in this first China visit was framed by my recent experience with CCAS and the anti-war movement, and my understanding of America’s Asian wars, military base structures, and the US-China relationship, as well as my research on the Chinese revolution.

Reading these accounts more than thirty years later, I am struck by the powerful influence that first experience in China had on all of our thinking and, indeed, our subsequent lives. For Bernstein and Mirsky, within days of their arrival in China, any illusions that they might have cherished about China and the Chinese revolution were shredded. (Can those illusions have been larger than life given the sense of betrayal that resonates in their accounts decades later?)

What replaced them were images of a manipulative totalitarianism that would drive their subsequent careers as leading China journalists. A theme that unites all four reports is the determination not to be duped by Chinese Potemkin villages or official lies.

That first visit left an indelible stamp on each of us in the course of lives substantially devoted to writing about China. Indelible . . . but in multiple and diverse ways, including not only our perceptions of China, but also of America. Richard Bernstein spells this out most clearly: for him, it was not only that “China was so backward,” but, “we’re better than they are.” This was doubtless in part a response to the over enthusiasm of some of our fellow travelers. Still, I wonder, can this provide a clue to the American passion for world travel: it allows us to return home with renewed conviction that we’re number one?

What strikes me in three of these accounts is the absence of another theme that was central to the intellectual movements of the sixties, including the currents that gave rise to CCAS and to my own thinking then and since: that is the imperative to understand other countries in light not only of their own history and culture, but also of the workings of global power, particularly American power.

Mirsky, Bernstein and Kagan were among the coauthors of “The Indochina Story,” the work primarily of Harvard Asian Studies graduate students and perhaps the finest achievement of CCAS in providing a comprehensive, informed and accessible critique of the US Indochina Wars, one that reached a significant readership as a 1970 Bantam paperback. Not only that, Mirsky and Kagan had contributed critical chapters on American blinders on China, and on US war making in Laos, respectively for a volume that Friedman and I edited. That was “America’s Asia: Dissenting Essays on Asian-American Relations,” which appeared in Vintage the following year. Both were among early works that sought to rethink the reigning parameters of Asian Studies, above all in light of America’s global role and the history of empire.

Reading these accounts, which rightly remind us of the need to exercise independent judgment when visiting another country, I discern little of the kind of critical thinking that animated some of our work at that time that was preoccupied with the American exercise of global power that impinged on China and others and that led to ways of thinking not only about China but equally about ourselves, that is, about the US-China relationship.

Mirsky and Bernstein appear to have been astonished to discover that China was a poor country, and Jonathan was outraged that the Chinese would go to great lengths to conceal that poverty and put forward the best possible face for one of the earliest groups to visit China at a time when the two nations were groping toward establishment of diplomatic and economic relations.

As a student of Chinese history and the Chinese revolution, having earlier spent a year studying in Taiwan and another in Japan, I was reflecting at that time on China’s decline from its position as a major world power as recently as the eighteenth century as a result of the disintegration of the Qing dynasty, the impact of an invasive imperialism setting off a century of war, above all the decimation of the country and the loss of 10-30 million Chinese in the China-Japan War of 1937-45 and many more in subsequent revolutions.

In particular, I was recalling both a US-China World War II alliance and the quarter century that followed during which the US and China were perpetually at war, including US intervention in the 1947 civil war followed by the US-Korean and US-Indochina Wars, as well as American attempts to isolate the PRC internationally in geopolitical and economic terms.

During that trip, I certainly anticipated neither the speed nor the character of China’s subsequent hyper growth and social transformation. But viewing this poor, proud and determined country, it seemed to me that its poverty was hardly either unusual or surprising in light of conditions in much of the post-colonial world at the time, and in light of China’s modern history of war and revolution. Indeed, there was much that struck me positively about China’s achievements at the time.

I felt hopeful that the re-establishment of diplomatic, trade and cultural relations that seemed imminent could support positive trends in both our countries, the Asia region and the world. This was a sense reinforced by the nocturnal discussion magisterially presided over by Zhou Enlai (周恩來) in the presence of other Chinese leaders. Knowing of my interest in Japan and my recent book, “Open Secret: The Kissinger-Nixon Doctrine in Asia,” our hosts arranged several opportunities to speak with Chinese specialists on Japan and on US-China-Japan relations, at a time when these relations all seemed to be in flux. Chinese international relations specialists were deeply concerned about the revival of Japanese militarism at the time, even more, apparently, than they were about American militarism.

My own thinking centered rather on Japan’s postwar subordination to US power under the AMPO framework, and the uses and abuses of US base expansion and multiple Asian wars. But we shared a sense that Japan then (as now) had yet to fully come to terms with the crimes committed during the invasion and occupation of China and much of Asia. The discussions helped me to understand the deep legacy of the China-Japan War in framing China’s international perspective and to think in fresh ways about the prospects for US-China relations.

On the other hand, I shared with Mirsky and others in our group the disappointment that our Chinese hosts blocked our attempts to arrange a visit to the North Vietnamese Embassy to discuss the ongoing US-Indochina War. This underscored what we knew prior to the trip: that China-DRV relations were deeply troubled, the conflict rooted not only in the longue durée of China-Vietnam relations but also in the China-Soviet rift.

It is a bit difficult to recall nowadays, at a time when China is among the nations most plugged-in to the international economy—far more than the US, Japan or Europe when measured by the extent of foreign trade or foreign investment as a share of GDP, or in terms of its grip on the US economy with the purchase of approximately $1 trillion in US treasuries—just how isolated China was in 1972 from world trade and contacts with the West. And how proudly it wore its self-reliance. That self-reliance, I understood to be the product in large part of protracted guerrilla warfare, and above all, a fifteen-year resistance to Japanese invasion in what became the national mythos.

But it was also, of course, the response to the US ability to isolate China from world markets . . . a pattern that was just beginning to reverse as the US opened the way for China’s entry into world markets and world councils (above all the United Nations) as part of a strategy of isolating the Soviet Union and encouraging the opening of China’s economy, with US trade and investment to the fore.

What could we learn about China during an officially sponsored and organized trip? Not surprisingly, we learned a good deal about the issues that preoccupied the Chinese party-state, our hosts, both directly and indirectly. Meaning, also, of course, that there was much that we did not learn about: it was difficult for us to discern the nature of ongoing tensions in society in the late years of the Cultural Revolution decade when the party had regained power without resolving underlying tensions; we learned nothing about the way in which the “hukou” system divided society, about the devastating toll of the Great Leap Forward or about the structural foundations of Chinese poverty; and little about the early stages of reform that were just getting underway without fanfare, particularly in the countryside. And much more.

We were perhaps better able, by reading between the lines, to gain a rudimentary sense of the ravaging of the universities during the Cultural Revolution, just beginning to resume teaching and with worker-peasant-soldier students chosen primarily for their activism in place of the previous examination system.

For me, most memorable was our three day rural visit to the Red Flag Canal in Henan province, inevitably a national model of self-reliance which proudly featured an “Iron Girls Brigade” comprised of young women who had distinguished themselves in physical labor and the embodiment of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) thought. Living in villager’s homes for a few days gave us our first limited opportunity to talk with farmers and gain a first glimpse of rural life.

But what were we seeing? Was it perhaps a caricature of rural reality, precisely because we had been taken inevitably to a model village and because the families who hosted us were party loyalists? Most of us recognized, I believe, that we were seeing the state’s display of its model agricultural community and its self-reliant policy, indeed, I would later realize that the presentation of the model to us shared much in common with the Party’s use of models to define its policies for the Chinese people.

That experience in Dacaiyuan village set off the desire to seriously investigate Chinese rural society, which I had been studying at a distance in the US. Over the next six years, a series of applications to conduct research in rural China languished until 1978 when the United States and China established diplomatic relations and, as Friedman has described, we began (with Paul Pickowicz) the research in rural North China which would continue over a quarter century and produce two volumes on the theme of village and state in the epochs of war and revolution and of reformist transformation.

Aware as I am today of just how difficult it is to fathom the social dynamics of a village, let alone Chinese (or any other) rural society, what stands out is the value of that first visit in whetting my appetite to learn more, and the value of that experience as a first step in thinking about the issues, including the limits of “viewing flowers from horseback.” Perhaps above all the visit deepened awareness that our understanding of China and other countries is closely bound up with our place in and grasp of the global role of the United States.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 19:04
Richard Kagan (柯義耕) is a retired Professor Emeritus from Hamline University. He was a founder, chairman, and editorial board member of the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars. He has written books on North Korea, and Taiwan and many articles and lectures on the Vietnam War, and East Asia. He was the Taiwan history consultant for the movie, "Formosa Betrayed."

I made my first trip to China in January, 1975. My itinerary included Hong Kong, Canton, Shanghai, Beijing, Yenan, Xian, Lungmen, and Changsha. I was a co-leader with Professor Lu chung-tai. We had 12 students on the three week trip.

My attitudes toward China were quite different from the usual groups that traveled there.

In the late fifties and early 1960s I had been deeply involved in the civil rights movement in Berkeley and in the South. In the early sixties I also became involved in the teach-ins on the Vietnam War. From 1965-67 I studied in Taiwan, and did research in Hong Kong and Japan. In Taiwan, I became deeply involved in anti-war activities. Information was gathered and published on the movements of the U.S. Army and demonstrations were prepared against America’s policies in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan.

These two commitments to civil rights and anti-American imperialism led naturally to a sympathy for the Taiwanese—especially those in southern Taiwan—who had been abused by the Kuomintang troops and secret police. America’s support of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) martial law in Taiwan, and the use of the Republic of China as an ally in Vietnam fueled my protests against Chiang and the War.

During my studies in Taiwan, a group of scholars and I, formed an organization which called upon the association of Asian Studies to allow for some political dissent and more academic freedom. We organized around two issues: anti-Chiang and anti -Vietnam War. After I returned to the U.S., this group became the nucleus for the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars.

Recognition of China was a major policy of the Committee. For them, the issue was one of American imperialism. Some did idealize China. For them, China was creating the new “man,” and a new pattern for foreign policy. A few did feel betrayed by the false promises of the Chinese revolution.

In order to understand these reactions and the consequent reflections on China, the political context of the 1970s must be taken into account. The anti-communism and pro-America campaigns were still aggressively applied to students and intellectuals alike. The key fuel to the protests of this period was the Vietnam War. China seemed to be the only major Asian power that stood up to American imperialism.

In addition, there was a great deal of powerful testimonies describing China’s positive revolutionary success. For me, Jack Belden’s “China Shakes the World,” and his writings on the war in Asia and Europe were a fascinating counterview to the popular American views on war in the Pacific and in general. And of course there were the foreigners like William Hinton and Rewi Alley among many others. None of us really knew what the social, economic, and political situation was in China. We were feted with great meals, happy people, kind tour guides. It was a well-designed theater of deception.

While I was deeply committed to teaching about China, and supported America’s recognition of China, I was not without severe doubts. I was put off particularly both by those groups who continued to condemn it and those who looked to it as a model of a better world.

To compound my own reservations, I had to suffer with my co-leader, a Professor of Economics at Hamline University. I only learned later that he was invited to travel to China because Beijing was trying to win him back to the motherland. He and his wife came from two large and powerful warlord/landlord families in Manchuria. He was related to Chang Tso-lin (張作霖), the warlord in Manchuria. Where ever we went he was treated like royalty. He acted super patriotic to our hosts. He would tell them in advance to be careful talking around me because I knew Chinese. The students felt abandoned by his behavior and his insistence that nobody criticize the hosts or ask embarrassing questions and many felt very threatened and frightened.

One consequence of this was that I wanted to distance myself from him as much as possible. This led to many adventures and to many disagreements.

Visit to the May 7th Cadre School. (Changsha?) . We sat in the typical conference room—a large table, tea cups, and book shelves against the wall. The lecture covered the usual topics: the role of Mao, the mass, line, the need to work like the farmers, and the role of the cadres. They boasted of their library, and stated that at night they read and had study groups.

At this meeting, I developed a ruse that I have used in various modes at many times in China, and during the martial law period in Taiwan. I asked to go to the bathroom. I was taken there. At which time, I made it clear that it would a while and I could return on my own. Then, without much ado, I hurried through the rooms. In the case of the May 7th Cadre School, I made my way to the library. (Like chicken feed for the academic in me). I took the books off the shelf. They were published in the old fashioned way—the pages still needed to be cut. And they were not. Furthermore, these cadres who had been working in the fields, with the pigs, and the wells, had not left any dirt on the pages. The books were squeaky clean—in both the brightness of the pages, and the sounds of opening them. This was a Potemkin library.

I returned just in time for questions. I pointed to the book case in the room and asked which books they had read. They said they had read them. But I could not get them to comment on which ones. I did not offer to take them off the shelves.

We were in Yenan in mid-January. It was cold. There was ice and snow. Luckily I was dressed like a Siberian Minnesotan. This is where I broke down any friendly views about China’s leaders.

I bought some cans of fruit and made my way into the night up into the hills. I came to a cave with a quilt-like covering over the entrance. Inside there was an old, very poor family. The grandmother had no teeth. But a great smile. I only understood a few of her words, but her body language was warm and inviting. We sat and ate and talked. They warned me not to tell my guides that I had visited them. When I returned to the hotel, I was interrogated. Where did I go? What did I do? I was threatened to be sent back to Beijing.

There was a famous hill top pagoda in Yenan. I was able to leave my group and climb the hill and then enter the pagoda. At the top I took a picture of the area. On the inner walls, there were inscriptions. Tourists would write their names and their units. My favorite was an intriguing message in French, which read, “Je etait un mauvais etudiant” (I was a bad student). I often have thought of him or her, and why this would be written. When I returned from the pagoda, I asked our guides if we could go there and climb up. They told me that it was closed. And people could not go inside.

I had many other similar episodes. There was one that inadvertently exposed my pro-Taiwan attitudes. My guides asked what countries I had visited. I told them: Israel, France, Japan, and Taiwan. The next morning they descended on me with anger. How could I call Taiwan a “country”? They ranted for quite a while.

I left China for a day or two in Hong Kong. I gave a report to some pro-China people in Hong Kong. I was not well-received. Upon returning to St. Paul, I gave talks to the U.S.-China Friendship Committees. My criticism of China drew hisses from the audience. I soon gave up talking to these groups.

In my teaching career I have tried to balance the many views of China: from human rights abuse to economic success; from being a Party state to promoting educational achievement. I find the problems in teaching about China similar to the problems of teaching American history. How does one balance the very negative with the positive? How does one prioritize the different levels of experience?
Going to China was a trip that has deeply affected many lives. The trip was a reaction to American values. For some it made them further alienated and critical. Some were blacklisted and left the country for careers and lives abroad. For others, it made them feel betrayed by the realities they saw. They became bitter and hostile to China.

When I read Richard Bernstein’s New York Times article, I was incensed. His nationalistic narcissism creates America as the only or best standard of the world. He and I have lived in a different Americas and different Chinas. Paraphrasing Judy Collins: I have seen China and America from both sides now—from the KKK to Martin Luther King Jr., from the Communist Party to the Chinese people who have stood for human rights and who have created artworks that reveal the human spirit. Our war in Vietnam is not superior in purpose or in practice than Beijing’s actions in Tibet. Our treatment of the Native Americans is not a standard to apply to the world. And neither is China’s threat to Taiwan’s freedom.

Bernstein is not alone in his Occidentalism. As teachers, we daily face the problem of inappropriate comparisons, stereotyped descriptions, hyperbolic fears, and selective sculpting of facts and generalizations. The paradigm of the “discovery” of China in the 1970s still controls our perceptions. The division is between those who still see China as a positive personal experience in terms of visiting it and helping it develop, and those who see it as a threat. As teachers and citizens, it is necessary to pull back from the extremes of blind loathing or admiration.

yangharrylg 2012-09-06 19:05
Jonathan Mirsky (梅兆贊) was East Asia editor of The Times (London) based in Hong Kong from 1993 to 1998. In 1989 Dr Mirsky was named British newspapers' International Reporter of the Year for his coverage of the Tiananmen uprising. He has accompanied Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries to Peking, has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Lee Teng-hui, and during long residence and travel in Asia visited Tibet six times.

[Editor's note: Veteran journalist Richard Bernstein recalled his first trip to China, through Hong Kong, in his farewell column titled "A Bridge to a Love for Democracy" in The New York Times recently (see below). Jonathan Mirsky, who went on the same trip, recounts his experience here.]

I went to China in 1972 on the same trip as Richard Bernstein, and my painful memories of that journey remain the same as his.

The details are slightly different: I wasn’t a graduate student. I was teaching Chinese and Chinese History at Dartmouth, an Ivy League college, and at 40 I was older than most of the group. Beijing had issued an invitation to the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, a radical coalition devoted to stopping the war in Vietnam and persuading Washington to recognize Beijing. The Chinese would pay for our six weeks in China.

All of us had studied Chinese and related subjects, and while some, like me, had studied in Taiwan, none of us had ever set foot in China. We were excited at the prospect of going there during the Cultural Revolution, now in its sixth year. As we reached the middle of the Lowu Bridge and crossed the dividing line into China we hugged each other and were greeted by our hosts, or minders, as they turned out to be, for our entire trip.

That night in Canton we had the first of many welcome banquets and were asked if the next day we would like to meet “a typical Chinese worker family.” Absolutely! We were driven the next morning to a high-rise block of flats and ushered into the brightly painted three rooms plus kitchen, bathroom and toilet where the family enthusiastically welcomed us. They were father, mother, granny, and two children, one of them an infant. They had a radio, television, colorful satin covers on their quilts, and several shiny bicycles. We knew already to have notebooks and ballpoint pens handy and the father briefed us on his factory work: the number of workers, their pay, and how many owned wristwatches and bicycles.

We were encouraged to ask questions so we enquired why, if there was no crime in China, as our hosts had assured us, the windows were barred? We were told that the flats had been built in 1949, before Liberation, when there was crime, and the same explanation was given for why the bicycles had built-in locks: they were pre-Liberation models from when there was bike-stealing, and the model hadn’t been changed. We loved this family, their warm welcome, and we loved that they seemed so prosperous.

The next morning I woke up very early, happy to be in China, and eager to go outside and join the throngs I saw walking to work. By an amazing coincidence I soon found myself outside the same block of flats we had visited the day before and in front of the door stood our typical Chinese industrial worker feeding his baby from a bottle. He gestured to me to come in and have some “white tea” - boiling water. But it was a different flat, shabby, poorly painted, only two rooms, no private kitchen or bathroom; such amenities were shared with the neighbors. There was no television, the quilts were gray and well worn, and the man owned only one well-used bicycle, which was locked.

I have thought for years that I had been in the presence of the bravest man in China, never equaled by anyone – and I met many brave Chinese - I was to meet over the years until my expulsion in 1991. He told me we had been in the show flat, arranged by “shangmian,” (上面) the authorities, for “foreign friends,” and that while the building looked old it had been built only ten years before, in 1962, and the reason there were bars on the windows – and on all bicycles – is that there were plenty of thieves about. He disclosed all this to me matter-of-factly, rather as he had briefed us the day before, and didn’t ask me not to tell anyone what he had said.

I returned to the hotel, stunned by what I had seen and heard. In the foyer I met two of our minders who asked me where I had been. I said I had been for a walk. They pressed me hard, wanting to know exactly where and expressing alarm that I might have fallen down ill in the street. I observed that I could speak Chinese and could have dealt with any emergency. When I declined to tell them precisely where I had been they picked me up under the arms, carried me into the lift and to my room, which they locked from the outside telling me I would be let out when I apologized.

After some time my fellow trippers liberated me from my detention but I told them nothing about what had happened until lunch, when the minders were away. Several of my friends wondered if the man was a Taiwan spy who had somehow inveigled himself into a position of trust in China in order to betray it. Others insisted that there was nothing too bad about the day before; after all wasn’t it just a case of a host putting his best foot forward to make a good impression on a guest? Only Richard Bernstein shared my distress and alarm.

For the rest of the trip, surrounded by Maoist enthusiasm from the Chinese around us and from our companions, Richard Bernstein and I were treated, as he says, like political deviants. Both of us were now suspicious of every venue, every briefing, and every account of how everything should be understood. Every school, every hospital visit, every commune, every discussion with intellectuals seemed suspect to Mr. Bernstein and me and I confess we seemed to our companions at best a pair of sourpusses, at worst turncoats.

After three weeks I announced my intention to return to the US but I was subjected to what might be called a “douzheng,” (鬥争) struggle session, by several of my companions who were all to become well-known academics. Their central point was that if I returned it would give comfort to reactionary people like Lucian Pye (白鲁恂), a distinguished professor of Chinese politics at MIT, a well-known disparager of positive claims about Mao and the Cultural Revolution in particular and the People’s Republic in general. I am ashamed to admit they convinced me to stay.

When we arrived in Beijing we wanted to visit the embassy of the People’s Republic of Vietnam and were told, for the first time in our trip, that a wish could not be granted. We went anyway and were told, discreetly but plainly, by the Hanoi ambassador that the US and China seemed to be making a deal to end the war. This turned out to be true.

When we saw Premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) as a special treat at the end of our trip, as usual with him after midnight, he departed briefly from his celebrated courtesy and banged on the table, demanding we tell him what the North Vietnamese had said. We were too frightened or discreet to tell him and he dropped the subject.

Several years later, after Mao’s death in 1976 and the end of the Cultural Revolution, I chanced on one of our minders in the street in Shanghai. Over a cup of tea he disclosed to me in detail how our trip had been managed. Almost his last words were “we wanted to put rings in your noses, and you helped us put them there.”

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