Maps of China
I. The getting-to-know-you years, page 3 of 5
We spent the first week of our three-week visit in Beijing. Of course, our first impressions in Beijing were of the vast crowds of people. It didn’t take long for all of us to factor into our thinking the importance of the need for control of this mass population in the Chinese government’s thinking. The clothing style was unisex—men and women both wore gray blue tunics and pants with cotton shoes (except high-level officials who wore leather shoes). All the women had bobbed hair.
Our Chinese host-escorts were from the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs. We were housed at the Beijing Hotel—then the city’s tallest building (eighteen stories)–which was located very close to Tiananmen Square. (Today that hotel is dwarfed by literally dozens of skyscrapers.) It was a great location from which to take early morning walks and view the Chinese morning routines—the men with their birds in cages, the unisex tai chi practitioners in the parks surrounding the Forbidden City, the street sweepers, the card players, the groups of small children in bright-colored clothing being herded to school (2).
Our Beijing stay lasted six days, during which we visited hospitals, cadre (Communist Party members) training schools, and neighborhood associations. We also met with officials from the People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Trade, and the Foreign Ministry.
It became clear from the start that our questions regarding politics and bilateral relations between our two countries were being “taken,” evaluated as to their content, and in most cases referred upward to a higher level, which in the end turned out to be Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. At that time, Deng was calling the shots, so to speak, because both Zhou Enlai and Mao were gravely ill. Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai had been diagnosed with cancer in 1972, and in the fall of 1975 his health was deteriorating rapidly; he died on January 8, 1976. Mao’s health was also failing, and he died in September 1976.
Throughout the first five days of our stay in Beijing, our ambassador, George H. W. Bush, made it a point to meet with our delegation every evening to learn about the day’s activities. Since the liaison office had no access to the high levels of the Chinese government, Bush was hoping our delegation would be asked to meet with Deng Xiaoping at which time he would be able to accompany us. Bush’s ambition was met. At the end of an afternoon meeting with the Vice Foreign Minister, he told us we would be meeting with Deng at ten o’clock the next morning at the Great Hall of the People.
It was for me, and I expect all of us, an unforgettable event. In a huge conference room in the Great Hall on Tiananmen Square, Deng sat beside Cy Vance with Nancy Tang---Mao’s interpreter who was born on Long Island and grew up in the United States---sitting behind them to handle the language barrier. The rest of us sat in huge chairs at tables in front of them with hot tea and biscuits provided. On the floor beside Deng’s chair was a spittoon. Deng was chewing tobacco, and he made frequent use of the spittoon. The first time he spit into it, there was a loud clang, and Vance was startled by it. Throughout the session Deng displayed his sense of humor beginning with his opening remarks when he said: “Let’s discuss things freely,” to which Cy Vance replied, “I agree,” to which Deng then responded, “See, not so difficult to reach agreement.” Then after Vance acknowledged the delegation’s appreciation for Deng’s taking the time to meet with us, Deng responded: “Perhaps Mr. Zhou [referring to Zhou Enlai] knows more about foreign affairs. I am just a country bumpkin. In Chinese our term is ‘clod of earth’ (tudigung).” Of course, all this was being translated by Nancy Tang.
During the almost two-hour session, the discussions covered everything from nuclear weapons to relations with Japan and Korea to the Taiwan question. At one point Deng said, “On a number of important issues of principle, there can be no common language between us. Nixon came to China out of ‘American national interest,’ and we think he put it very well. Also since the Shanghai Communiqué, our relations have moved forward with increases in trade and cultural exchange.”
At the close of the session the delegation lined up with Deng and the other Chinese participants near the entrance to the Great Hall for an official photograph, my copy of which I value highly. We spent our last day of our first week in China touring the Forbidden City.
We left Beijing and traveled to the Northeast, through the autonomous region Nei Monggol (3), and then onto the Heilongjiang province, where we visited Harbin (4) and the oil fields at Daqing (5) . There we had an opportunity to see the Chinese people at work and meet with their commune leaders. And it was there that I had my introduction to acupuncture, after injuring my back in an early morning Frisbee workout with Cy Vance. My treatment was viewed by other interested delegation members. I should note that it worked well.
Nanjing, Wuxi, Hangzhou, and Shanghai
Heading south, we flew back via Beijing to Nanjing in east central China. Ambassador Bush greeted us at the airport with a case of scotch, a very welcome piece of luggage since by that time we had had more than enough Maotai (6) . Nanjing was followed by Wuxi and Hangzhou before our final stop in Shanghai.
At each place we met with local revolutionary committees. The period of the Cultural Revolution was fading, but its governing structures were still in place.
Also at our final stop---Shanghai---we had the opportunity to watch an operation in which a golf ball–sized lump was removed from a young peasant lady’s thyroid gland in her neck using acupuncture for anesthesia. Since the patient was conscious and could talk to the surgeon during the operation, her vocal cords could be isolated to prevent them from damage–a frequent complication in that type of operation. Dr. John Knowles---former head of the Massachusetts General Hospital, but then president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a member of the delegation---was invited to dress for and watch the surgery close-hand. The rest of us were in a glassed-in observation booth looking down from above. Dr. Knowles said he was “flabbergasted.” He said, “What an unbelievable sight for a western-trained physician! No technology, no technicians, no massive anesthesia. Seeing is believing, and I saw it.”
I can’t describe this visit to China without some mention of our delegation’s first experiences with China’s food and drink. Chinese cuisine, as I’m sure you know, varies greatly from province to province. They learned early how to improvise with foods immediately at hand, and as a result, practically everything that is grown or raised is eaten, from lotus roots and chrysanthemum petals to shark fins and sea slugs. Chinese banquets can consist of as many as twelve courses, and politeness requires that guests sample every dish. So all of us in our group quickly learned to take a very small portion of each course and to pace ourselves. At less formal meals—which we also experienced—the Chinese consider it acceptable to put bones and other debris onto the table adjacent to one’s plate. Also, belching is done comfortably and indicates enjoyment or satisfaction. Toothpicks are available on the table for use, but etiquette requires that the person using a toothpick cover his or her mouth with one hand, while using the other hand to maneuver the toothpick.
Throughout their formal meals, the Chinese drink their locally brewed wines and beers. Maotai, a liquor distilled from sorghum, is particularly popular for use at banquets. I warned our group of its 100 proof power because the Chinese custom is not to drink alone. One either proposes a general toast or turns to his or her neighbor and offers a more private toast. Usually the lifting of the glass by the toast proposer is accompanied by the word ganbei—meaning dry glass, or in our lingo “bottoms up.” You very quickly learn a much safer return response of suibian, meaning as you please, which allows you to sip your drink. (Continue to page 4.)