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This Op-Ed was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 8, 2001, the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 10, 2001 and the Chicago Tribune on July 13, 2001.

Party hits the Wall

Steve Friess

As dawn broke July 1 on the 80th anniversary of Communism in China, Zhang Lu was showing party loyalty by puking on the Great Wall.

This was several hours before China's president, Jiang Zemin, would get rolling on an enthralling two-hour speech to the nation from the Great Hall of the People, but Zhang already felt herself welling up.

The lightening sky revealed the exquisite mountainous horizon where China's greatest architectural accomplishment stretches for mile after unseen mile. Hundreds of sweaty, breathless dancers stomped to the DJ's blaring beat, turning to face the fast-arriving sun from the east in a space once intended for guards to stomp fast-arriving Mongolian invaders from the north.

Most of the expatriates and tourists who scaled the Wall that night for what was billed as a "rave" would sleep off hangovers and rest their leg muscles that afternoon instead of tuning in for Jiang's talk about the greatness of his Party. They missed little; few of the president's Party-goers looked like they were having nearly as good a time.

And yet, the so-called "ravers" atop the Wall were in synch with Jiang and his followers, embodying in many ways the duplicitous spirit of modern China just as well as the so-called "Communists." Indeed, it's hard to know which bizarre scene set Chairman Mao's allegedly preserved body spinning faster.

Sure, that pasty grin would have been wiped off the dead dictator's face by the sight of young compatriots staining this most honored Chinese landmark with vomit and broken beer bottles while giant subwoofers shook the countryside. But so too, no doubt, would Jiang's efforts to somehow squeeze the current edition of the People's Republic -- hallmarked by unrestrained capitalism -- into the socialist tradition of Karl Marx.

Neither gathering -- Great Wall or Great Hall -- were what they seemed, largely for the same reasons.

The claim that China is ruled by "Communists" is a farce, but using that word is supposed to make everyone feel included. The Party was founded to pursue goals of full employment, financial equality and womb-to-tomb government care, but it now behaves more like the governing body of the largest corporation the planet has ever seen, PRC Inc.

Sure, CEO Jiang put on a heck of a pageant for the billion or so employees/customers who were watching at home. It looked lovely, lots of red flags and flowers everywhere. But what of the promises of the "Communist" revolution they gathered to celebrate?

Chinese people today are grabbing private-sector jobs at foreign companies as fast as they can before government-owned enterprises lay them off. Many also pay for their own health care and watch anxiously as the state tries to fix a bankrupt pension system.

It must be tough for Jiang and the PRC Inc. board of directors to find time to laud Communism while being so consumed by the hope of securing the 2008 Olympics for Beijing and ensuring China's entry into the World Trade Organization this fall.

Jiang's oratory referred endlessly to these goals and to developing China's market economy. It would have been anathema to the folks who gathered in Shanghai in 1921 to avow themselves as Reds.

The Great Wall rave was guilty of similar truth-in-advertising infractions. A few inspired Beijing club owners borrowed that word, hired some buses to cart patrons two hours out of town and then paid off peasants and local officials in a remote section of the Wall to stage an all-night party.

A more ordinary rave at an abandoned inner-city warehouse is at once a hideous and beautiful concept, a drugged-out celebration of peace and love where folks of all races, sexualities and hair colors pound the night into morning. It's almost a political statement of how well anti-materialistic people can get along amid a form of anarchy.

At the Great Wall, however, the most popular drug was alcohol. A concession stand marketed expensive chicken drumsticks, baked potatoes and mystery-meat burgers. An easy majority of attendees were well-heeled expatriates or tourist novelty seekers -- some wearing Ralph Lauren clothes.

The crowd was certainly peaceable, but few would likely have given a Dennis Rodman the time of day. If this was a rave, it had to be the most bourgeois rave in world history.

And yet many of these party-goers believed they were upholding the tradition of raving simply by drinking and dancing until dawn at the Great Wall, just as the 6,000 Party-goers members believed they were upholding the traditions of Communism by letting their butts go numb inside the Great Hall.

Both scenes are comical. The Party's modern goal is to maximize profits and avert social instability by allowing market competition, knowing that capitalism is the world's most efficient means of delivering goods and services to the greatest number of people. Party-goers are the ruling structure. They want to keep it that way, which makes sense, but there's nothing Communist about their ideology anymore.

As for those who returned to Beijing from their night at the Wall with bragging rights to having "raved" at such an exotic locale, they could stand to 'fess up, too. They attended a really cool party, and some copulated right there on a World Heritage Site. For their perseverance of hanging out for as many as 16 hours, they earned the rush of watching the sun rise over a spectacular portion of the Great Wall of China.

The Party would never admit it, but it would have liked the party. The two events had a lot in common.

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