The number of working SI journalists to visit China in recent months totals 17—seven writers, six photographers, an assistant managing editor, an art director, an executive editor and a managing editor. Such an invasion is a far cry from what prevailed in China's forbidden years, a time when it seemed that more Americans had landed on the moon than had been allowed to enter the People's Republic. And that is exactly the idea behind our special report on sport in the new China: to let the world look in on the games the Chinese are playing in the vast and endlessly mystifying country that 1.1 billion human beings call home.
Because SI's journalists kept arriving at different times, all bent on different missions, all unfamiliar with the language and with Chinese ways, the project might have encountered tough going. But we had an anchor in Beijing: Jaime FlorCruz, 37, a reporter in the Time Inc. bureau who happens to be president of the Beijing Foreign Press Club—as well as an expert troubleshooter, red-tape cutter, translator and world-class conversationalist. He is also a Philippine citizen who has lived in Beijing for 17 years and has known China from the daunting perspective of an exile who dared not go home.
It all began in 1971, when FlorCruz, then a 20-year-old politically radical student firebrand from Manila, went to China with a group of other Philippine students on a three-week tour. While FlorCruz was out of the country, President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus throughout the Philippines; for FlorCruz, it meant that he could have been arrested as a Communist sympathizer and jailed without trial if he had returned.
"My friends told me that my name was on at least one of many blacklists—probably more because of my activities in college journalism and protest theater than my visit to China," FlorCruz says. "The worry about going to prison made me decide to wait it out in China."
The first months were "extremely trying," he says. "I spent nearly a year working on a farm, and I whiled away the afternoons playing Ping-Pong and basketball with Chinese farmers." He eventually mastered Chinese and in 1977 enrolled at Beijing University, where he earned a degree in Chinese history. Time Inc. hired him in 1982. In 1983 he was issued a new Philippine passport and was able to return to his native land.
FlorCruz has been back and forth a dozen times since then, but he has made his home in Beijing—along with Ana, his Philippine wife of two years, and their nine-month-old son, Johai. Of course, we're delighted he stayed; we suspect you will be too after reading our China report, which begins on page 36. We couldn't have done it without him.