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As we walked past the artifacts of our catacombic age we saw an old man dressed in gray calmly, gracefully, stoically performing his morning wu shu. His eyes flicked toward us once, but then he went on quietly with his slow and lovely moves. He was in the gentle tai-chi phase of wu shu, the classic exercise popularly (if inaccurately) known as Chinese shadowboxing. The old man moved like a specter from a thousand years ago, performing atop the burrowings of this frightened era the imperturbable timeless postures—Grasp Sparrow's Tail, Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain, Wave Hands in Clouds, Golden Cock Stands on One Leg, Step Forward to Seven Stars and on and on.
We strolled on down the wide street. Cyclists stared at us. Ahead, far ahead, we saw the graceful roof of a pagoda. Soon we saw a small boy leaping and spinning, posing in various acts of swashbuckling derring-do. He held a short frail stick in his hand as if it were a sword flashing in the long shadows of the early morning. He was practicing the more theatrical and volatile school of wu shu that involves weapons, kicks and fists. In his concentration the boy did not see us. A man, perhaps his father, standing nearby to coach the child, did, though. He spoke quietly to him and the two mounted their bicycles and departed.
It was a little after six now, and in a park near the pagoda we saw perhaps a hundred people gathered beneath low trees practicing wu shu as cheeping flocks of swallows dipped and swooped about and above them. A couple of dozen people performed in silent unison. No cadence was called for, the intricate routines were well known. Several dozen spectators looked on. They did not smile. They stared with an almost harsh intensity. A number of them followed us. It was only curiosity, but it made us nervous.
We walked along a flowered path that to our great surprise and ultimate awe led to the official soul of Red China, the famed Gate of Heavenly Peace Square, a mammoth 98-acre space flanked by the Great Hall of the People (another blocky Muscovite design) and the mystical reddish walls of the Forbidden City, where emperors since the Ming Dynasty 500 years before reigned in elite splendor and quasi-divine omnipotence.
Now four or five scattered white canvas umbrellas had blossomed on the vast pavement of the square and queues of patient Chinese had begun to form by them. These umbrellas belonged to photographers out to catch the crowds of tourists in from the provinces to see their monumental Mecca and to pose stiffly for their photographs.
Dazed by the immensity of it all, we wandered around for an hour or more, trailing a thin line of spectators. Then we departed along a street that was arched and shadowed by tall leafy trees. This had been Peking's embassy row. Its large mansions, courtyards and lovely driveways are occupied today by Chinese workers. As we walked we glanced into one courtyard and saw a woman hanging clothes, a man in an undershirt smoking a cigarette and, well, perhaps here was sporting China at its epitome—two small boys in ragged trousers and unbuttoned shirts, their faces so intent they were almost grim, slashing, slicing, cutting, hammering away at a Ping-Pong game. They were playing on a sun-dappled stone-based table, a wondrous thing, topped by cement, which looked to date from the dynasty of Ming.
Lovely Little Grenadier
One day, shooting pictures at a stadium, Cooke shouted to me, "Come here! She's magnificent!" His face was beaming as he crouched to photograph a small, frowsy, sweating girl, firm and determined and almost mystically transported by the mission at hand. She was tugging at a pair of long rubber reins, stretching them, grunting unashamedly, squeezing her eyes shut with the agony of it all, straining as if pulling those rubber straps kept the earth in its proper orbit.
At last she stopped, and her face was aglow with sweat and honesty and her stiff straight hair stood up as if the wind were blowing. Her cheeks were flushed, and she was puffing as she told me that her name was Li Chin-lin, and she was 13 and she was practicing for her specialty event—throwing the hand grenade.
The hand grenade? Yes, the hand grenade. Miss Li spoke in a slow, husky, very serious voice. "I began throwing the hand grenade in 1970, and now I am the district champion. I practice throwing it for three hours every day. I hope to continue in sports all my life." I asked her if she hoped to participate someday in the Olympic Games, and Miss Li replied with utmost seriousness: "Yes, I have heard of the Olympic Games. I would like to participate."