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,
Party hits the Wall
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
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
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
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
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
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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