On the final day in Shanghai, the last stop before Peking, the American track and field party was taken cross-town in a caravan of honking buses to the Lu Wan district Children's Palace for what, except for one moment, was the most warming occasion of the trip. As passersby crowded around (a single foreign face can tie up an intersection in most of China), the children met the buses at curbside, smiling and clapping their hands. Each disembarking American was taken in tow by a Chinese boy or girl who grabbed a hand and became a personal escort for the next couple of hours. "American friends," they called us through interpreters. "American aunts and uncles," they called us.
Inside, we were taken through a cornucopian children's world of table tennis, badminton, ringtossing, tree-house climbing and simulated bicycle racing; through busy art classes and bustling handicraft shops; and into ready-to-roll music recitals. Through the courtyards and up and down the four-story building, through one happy room after another, we over-sized human vessels were tugged and nudged along by our tiny nephews and nieces.
I was told by one interpreter that they were no more than garden variety Chinese neighborhood kids, getting two extra hours of school fun a day. But our own faithful interpreter Sun Chen-kao—escort for the International Travel Service, devout Ping-Ponger, card-carrying Communist Party member and friend of the oppressed working press, who I believe would swallow his tongue before calling less than 12 a dozen—told me they were children who had earned the privilege. Many districts, he said, had children's palaces. My own little escort held my forefinger like an affectionate crab, directing me to preferred seating at the mini-recitals and fetching me the paddles and balls to play the games with. I showed him snapshots of my children, and let him take pictures with the expensive camera I carried. He thanked me profusely.
Then, toward the end of this extraordinary interlude, the American athletes and officials were brought to a small auditorium and given the usual cups of green tea in which the leaves float like hyacinths. The finale, presented on a small stage at one end of the room, was a special performance of singing and dancing groups, each little entertainer rouged and costumed in colorful prerevolutionary styles no longer fashionable (or acceptable) in gray-uniformed, baggypantsed socialist China. Ordinarily no interpretation was necessary beyond the titles of the numbers. They followed familiar inspirational themes—factory workers uniting to serve the masses, Little Red Guards routing the revisionists, tractor drivers pushing the Communist cause to glory, usually under the steam of a sentence or two from Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung
The showstopper was a soloist, a pretty, wide-faced girl no more than 12, fully made up and dressed in bright red brocade. She hit all the high notes and gestured artfully and with great expression. It would have passed as just another delight for the senses, except for a longtime China watcher in our group, a man who speaks the language. He told me the history of her song. It is called
Taiwan Compatriots, he said, a song about the long-awaited overthrow of the Republic of China on Taiwan. The key words, "We shall certainly liberate Taiwan," were delivered with an upraised fist. It was the song, he said, that had been added belatedly to the repertoire of the Chinese Performing Arts Troupe, forcing the U.S. State Department to cancel that group's tour of America last March. The State Department found it embarrassing in view of the U.S.'s own uncle-to-nephew relationship with Taiwan.
What to make of this? Looking for footholds on a bare mountain after a mere 15 days in China, it would seem not much. After all, it was only a small if passionate plug for nationalism that went almost wholly unnoticed or, perhaps, a tiny rebuke of a precipitous American slight, or, conceivably, it had no significance at all. Even if there was an ulterior motive for the inclusion of the song in the Shanghai recital, it is excusable enough for a social order that is still skittish, if not paranoid, about invading influences and in which every avenue of expression—movies, plays, operas, sports—is hyped with the numbing repetition of revolutionary propaganda. In light of the overall good and the overwhelming (and I think genuine) friendliness surrounding the invasion-by-invitation of 95 American track and field athletes and officials, apparently not much should be made of the incident.
Yet the People's Republic of China as a government of Orwellian controls and restrictions is nothing if not calculating. " 'Calculate everything, distrust everyone,' is the theme of China's relations with the world," a State Department man had said in Hong Kong. (I find two notes, otherwise unrelated, in my diary of the trip: Chang, another interpreter and an aspiring party member, telling me that the Russians were definitely out to get the Chinese. "They are revisionists, capitalists and imperialists," he said. "They want to make China a colony"; and Sun telling me in more subdued tones that they were still digging bomb shelters in Peking. "Chairman Mao says to 'dig in deeper,' " he said.)
The Republic of China on Taiwan has been a boil on the People's Republic's right hip for 25 years, inoperable by any military means short of a massive, mutual bloodbath. Bloodbaths are considered repugnant in these days of Ping-Pong diplomacy and d�tente. If athletics are not the cutting edge of this new diplomacy, they are at the very least a recognized tool, another means to the end. The Republic of China has been booted out of the United Nations and now is being treated as summarily in the sports world. I am reminded of what Tung Yi-wan of the All-China Sports Federation told this magazine (SI, Sept. 24, 1973) after the Ping-Pong visits of 1972. "Now things are much better than before the Cultural Revolution. People have a better understanding that they can promote their health and thus build socialism through sports," he said.
So I search for voices to accompany the pretty little soloist in Shanghai. They are not hard to find. In a stadium filled with 10,000 sweltering Cantonese I am taken into the stands by an interpreter named Chiong for a "spontaneous" interview. Of all those people in agrarian South China, he happens upon a medical intern sitting next to a student of philosophy, the latter an animated 23-year-old woman named Chen Hen-gu. Chen not only perceives the great warmth and friendliness of the occasion but sees it as part of a natural progression "following the revolutionary line in physical culture."
The coach of the Chinese regional team the Americans ran against in Canton is a fit, graying man of 40 named Ou Wei-tan. He is dressed in an all-red sweat suit. When I ask Ou what the Chinese track and field intentions are and what his hopes might be concerning Olympic participation, he says, "The Chinese athletes would be very glad to take part in the Olympics—to increase our friendship with foreign athletes and to raise our standards of performance. But we are opposed to the two- China policy [of the International Olympic Committee]. We think the People's Republic of China that represents 800 million people can represent the whole of China."