Of paintings, politics, and pianos
In Peking October is the loveliest of year. Days of golden sunshine follow each other. The persimmons in the city's courtyards vie with the imperial orange roof tiles of the Forbidden City.
Each year, at this season, the palace museum in the forbidden City brings out a selection of its best Tang, sung, and Yuan dynasty paintings for display.
If you wish to avoid the crowds, you have to go promptly at 8:30 in the morning, when the doors open. Even then, you will run into at least a few eager young students, clad in rough cotton blue or khaki Mao jackets, as they intently copy masterpieces by Gu Kaizhi and Ma Yuan, Ni Tsan and Liang Kai.
There is another palace museum, and it is in Taipei, capital of the Republic of China on Taiwan.
Peking is in the midst of an intense peace offensive against Taiwan, aimed at starting unification talks between the mainland and the island. The latest offer, made by Party Chairman Hu Yao-bang, was for Taiwan's President Chiang Ching-kuo and other leaders to visit the mainland -- no conditions attached.
Of course, Peking is eager for mainlanders to be allowed to visit Taiwan as well -- not as invaders but as tourists.
Mainland newspapers abound with photographs and articles extolling the scenic beauties of Taiwan. In the entrance hall of the Great Hall of the People, as Chairman Hu delivered his speech inviting Taiwan visitors, bookstall was doing a roaring business selling books commemorating the 1911 anti-Manchu uprising -- a revolution whose heirs both Peking and Taiwan claim to be. Among the books as a tourist guide and map of Taiwan.
A quick look at the pages dealing with Taipei finds the palace museum and other sights prominently mentioned. You will not, however, see mention of any government buildings or of foreign embassies, nor of the enormous blue-tile-roofed memorial to China Kai-shek in the center of the city.
"If you take this book with you when you visit Taiwan," the book editors say, "you can use it as your guide. But because our materials were limited, we could not avoid mistakes. We welcome corrections."
If October is golden in Peking, it is even more so in the surrounding countryside. The harvest is gathered, and fat pigs have gone to market.
"last year my wife and I made 1,600 yuan [about $1,000]," said Zhang Baosheng , inviting a visiting journalist into his home 30 miles to the east of the capital.
"Next year, we except a one-third increase in our income. No, we don't miss being in peking at all. We do better than most city-dwellers."
Mr. Zhang lives in a model commune, where the land is flat and water is available for irrigation the year around. Still, he is much more pleased with the agricultural policies of today that of those during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), "when we all ate out of the same big pot."
Today, he said, "The more you work, the more money you make."
A lot of the work is not agricultural. Mrs. Zhang, for instance, sews pajamas in a clothing factory whose entire output goes to Arab lands.
American embassies around the world are used to aiding US citizens in distress. But Ambassador and Mrs. Arthur Hummel were called on for an unusual service soon after their arrival in peking.
New York-born Berenice Lipson-Gruzen, one of the world's foremost interpreters fo Chopin and Debussy, had come to Peking to give a concert and make a a recording -- but where was the piano?
The was a Steinway, which had been used by Isaac Stern's accompanist two years ago. Miss Lipson-Gruzen found to her distress that it was sadly out of balance, far too bright and tinny in the treble for the caressing Chopin she wanted to record.
A frantic search turned up a Yamaha that seemed just right -- "very even, very lovely," the artist recalled. It sat in the Hummel's living room, and the ambassador graciously consented to loan it.
The recording, the first to be made by a Western artist in China, went beautifully, as did the public concert with Peking's Central Philharmonic, conducted by fellow-American David Gilbert.
Miss Limson-Gruzen also taught one master class for student at the conservatory here. She says she was "very impressed by the musicality of Chinese musicians."
Playing was technically superb, but too percussive, especially for Debussy. "Debussy loved cats," she told her students, painting for them a picture of the late 19th-century background of his times and art. The student drank it all in, amd the change in their playing was immediate. "There is great potential here," Miss Lipson-Gruzen concluded.