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PART ONE This page intentionally left blank A MAN OF THE WORLD We are being feted at a banquet in Beijing, in one of a restaurant's many private banquet rooms. The room is drab and charmless; the food is wonderful. Our hosts, members of the Beijing Writers Association, are mostly men and women in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties. They are people who have witnessed, participated in, and in some cases sacrificed for, the liberation of China. In their early lives they saw civil war, and world war, and foreign occupation, and more civil war—all turning around in January 1949, when Mao's Communists, many of them veterans of the 1935 Long March, walked into Beijing. They deposed the local warlords and made it their capital. By the fall of that year they had taken the big port cities on the east coast. It was all over, essentially, but the shouting, which has continued on and off ever since. The Cultural Revolution, which lasted ten years until 1976, was only the most recent and ruinous of a series of internal purgative campaigns. Most of the Chinese people in this room, as intellectuals,were to various degrees among the Cultural Revolution's victims. Some of them, however, were bureaucrats who were canny enough to stay out of trouble. My attention now is on one of our many hosts, seated beside me. Wu Fusan, I will call him, is a politically powerful man in his late sixties or seventies. I have watched him in action for days; he is the sharpest of sharpies, the smoothest of smoothies. The others at the table interest me more, I think, but here he is—beside me, speaking English. Wu Fusan is a tall, soft-voiced old man with a ready, A Man of the World 11 mirthless laugh. His arms are long; his fingers are light and knobbed, like bamboo. He wears a tailored gray jacket. He jokes a lot, modestly, about his powerful position. When he laughs, his face splits open at the jaw, revealing a lot of gum and teeth. His white hair is just long enough in front to hold the suggestion of a part; the hair shoots out diagonally in two directions from this part, giving him a windblown look, as if he were perpetually standing in the bow of a ship. He is infinitely relaxed. He lounges in his chair; he tilts back his long head and brings out his words slowly, crooningly , from deep in his throat. He makes no effort to be heard; if you want to hear him, you must lean into him and lower your head, as if you were bowing. We chat. His eyes do not seem to be involved in his words at all. Instead, from their tilted-back position, his eyes are studying you with a bored, distant, amused look—the way we would watch Saturday-morningcartoons on television for a minute or two, if we had to. He laughs his mirthless laugh at whatever you say, and at whatever he says, as if some greatly successful joke has been made, or some wonderful coincidence has been discovered, which makes the two of you accomplices . Usually this is the laugh of a nervous woman in society—but the woman uses her eyes, and Wu Fusan does not. He nods vigorously and tightens his legs; he is absolutely breathless with laughter; the lower half of his face is broken with laughter; he murmurs "Yes, Yes," in an educated British accent—and his eyes continue their bored appraisal . I have written him off as a hack, a politico, a man of the world without depth or interest. I am, as usual, wrong. I learn later that Wu Fusan's class background is excel12 Encounters with Chinese Writers lent: his father wasa poor peasant. I learn still later—in a manner I will shortly relate—that hispersonal background is soimpeccable that in the Cultural Revolution he lost only his books. Red Guards confiscated them because he spoke English and wasknown to have relatives overseas. It is rude to drink alone in China. When someone atyour table wants to drink his mao-tai, he raises his glass to you, and youare obliged to drink with him. Our host, Wu Fusan, has offered several formal toasts to us foreign guests seated at this table. Now, as the conversation splinters, and the beautiful, fragrant dishes pass before us one by one, he raises his tiny crystal...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780819571991
Related ISBN
9780819551306
MARC Record
OCLC
713030306
Pages
117
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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