Autumn in Peking: a temple, a museum, a footrace
One day the sun smiled and the swimming pool at the International Club was full of sunbathers. That night there was thunder and lightning and a great blew.
The next morning, on the broad boulevard outside the International Club, the cyclists on their way to work were bundled up in blue, gray, or khaki Mao jackets. A troubadour could welll lament, "Where have all the pretty blouses gone?" "Peking is like that.
The trees are still clad in green. The red foliage of the fragrant hills is yet to come. The smell of roast chestnuts has yet to hang on the air. But Peking residents know that once the September moon festival has come and gone, it is time to think about storing Chinese cabbage for the long winter.
In one of Peking's surviving buddhist temples, a morning service is in progress, as it always is on the 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd of the lunar month. Among the congregation of about 40 in the cavernous hall, perhaps seven or eight are young people. The worshipper who leads the chanting is elderly, as are the men and women who sound the gong, drum, and cymbals. In the front row, a woman with white hair combed straight back, recites the sutra from memory.
"Many young people are coming to the temple these days," said one worshipper after the service. "We Buddhist are patriots. We tell our parishioners, love the country, and love religion. Young people love science, but they come to a point where they have questions science cannot answer. That is when they come to us."
The Lu Xun museum has reopened after having been closed for three years. A new, more spacious exhibit hall in northwest Peking tells the story of modern China's greatest writer from his birth and upbringing during the declining years of the Qing (Ching) dynasty, warlordism, the struggle between the Kuomintang and the communists, and the resistance against the Japanese.
Lu Xun never became a communist, but he looked to the party led by Mao Tse-tung as China's potential savior. On Sept. 25, the centenary of his birth, a grand celebratory meeting was held in the Great Hall of the People on Tian An Men Square.
It is a far cry from the fulsome rhetoric of that occasion to the modest courtyard in which Lu Xun spent two of his most productive years as a writer.
The courtyard, in the premises of the museum, is preserved as it was when Lu Xun used to entertain student visitors, or sat at his desk in the study he dubbed "the Tiger's Tail" looking out on the two huge date trees that shaded his back garden. In the courtyard itself, on each side of the door to his living quarters, lilac trees planted by Lu Xun still bloom each spring.
Tian An Men Square has seen many historic occasion, from Mao Tse-tung's proclamation of the People's Republic in 1949 to the outwelling of popular feeling for chou En-lai that exploded in the demonstration of April 5, 1976.
On the last Sunday in September, it played host to another kind of occasion: China's first international marathon. A dense crowd enthusiastically and impartially applauded every participant as he ran, loped, or padded into the square.
It was a splendid day. All the sweeping roofs of the Forbidden City glinted golden against a cloudless sky.
One thing in Peking's favor as a place for marathons is that it is almost entirely flat, and the main east-west road leading out to the Heroes' Cemetery and the Capital Iron and Steel Company is broad and straight. But once the runners reached the halfway point and turned back toward the square, there was too much head wind to allow any record-setting runs.
"It was a good course, level and straight," said the winner, Kjell Erikstahl of Sweden. He said he preferred a little head wind to having "a lot of curves."
The best American participant, Chuck Hattersley of Eugene, Ore., came in sixth. The best Chinese came in 15th.
"Ai-ya," exclaimed a young spectator, "we Chinese have a lot of catching up to do.