October  29,  1999

The seven band members, their wives, and about two dozen friends and fans toured Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou from October 3 through 17.  In addition to the usual tourist features, an emphasis of the tour was on music.  The band gave a total of 7 jazz performances, several of them in conjunction with Chinese musical groups.  A discussion of jazz in China will be the subject of another article to follow.  Emphasis of this paper is primarily on the presence of the Communist government on our daily life.

The total experience was one of excellent sightseeing, outstanding meals, some never-to-be-forgotten jazz moments, observation of a booming capitalistic economy, and experiencing those special insights into another culture that each of us had in one way or another.   As for the jazz, I was delighted that we had considerable contact with youthful Chinese musicians and perhaps influenced their musical future.  Also we had some wonderfully enthusiastic reactions in the form of clapping with the music and even some impromptu dancing. 

One lasting impression I will always carry with me is the existence of many, very new skyscrapers surrounded by streets full of bikes, cars, buses and trucks going every which way, and the thousands of tiny, one room shops on the side streets selling bike parts, beverages, haircuts, shoe repair, etc.  As for history, I had read about the artifacts from civilizations nearly 7,000 years old but to actually stand only inches away and look at them was something I just can't describe. 

Every day I became more and more fascinated with the daily influence of the government of the People's Republic of China on our tour. Following is a brief summary of some of the anecdotes and happenings that caught my interest.

The first indication of control occurred months before we left when I was told to submit the lyrics of all songs that would be sung in China since they wanted no anti-government or controversial content presented. I told them that our jazz did have some tune titles and lyrics that were quite suggestive sexually but not politically oriented --I guess that sex was OK since I heard no more about the matter. 

I am convinced that our Chinese tour guides were checked out and approved by the government before being given their jobs.  Therefore it is not surprising to have received a number of  "party line" replies to questions that we asked.  

The biggest shock I received in China came the morning that the bus attempted to get to the Summer Palace in Beijing and ran into that terrible traffic jam.  Curious as to why the guides   didn't use their cellular phones to find out what routes were open, I was told that two different marathons were being run that morning and that the government had closed numerous freeways without any forewarning or information on specifics of routes involved. (Can you imagine what would happen if that occurred here?)  One of our tour members expressed the opinion that the government did not want large groups of people assembling unless they had strict control of those groups - hence the marathon and traffic news blackout.  This theory would also explain the truckloads of soldiers present at the Fireworks Festival.  Our group had to enter through two checkpoints to reach our seats at the Fireworks Festival,  each manned by a dozen or so soldiers.  Also, at one of these checkpoints a soldier was occupied taking photographs of our group (and others) as we came through one by one.  I don't think these were destined for his souvenir photo album. Incidentally, the vast number of tourists seen in China was Chinese from other provinces - we saw relatively few Caucasians. 

Other incidents were noticed. We were told that we ate at government owned restaurants because "the others can't be trusted to give the quality we want you to have."  I was told that I was being too democratic regarding the band member's opinions, and that as leader, I  "should make the decisions for the band."  We were told that the work conditions for the women at a silk factory "were not important because they realized they were making items of great beauty and that was their reward."  At the band's performance in the Hangzhou hotel nightclub, I was told "the Americans should sit separately from the Chinese because of security reasons."  We were told to avoid buying souvenirs from the independent hawkers in tourist areas because they overcharged, only to find those items absent or priced similarly in the government owned Friendship Stores where we had been dropped off later.  Our guide in Beijing, when asked about the student deaths in Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989, replied, "We must not have been informed of that.  However, we do know that the students were being used by other groups."  

I guess the final communications glitch was when we were told that our flight home would be a non-stop from Shanghai to SFO and instead we ended up flying first to Beijing, getting off the plane with all of our carry-on luggage, and then, finally, reloading to continue the journey home. 

It was revealing to learn that only one of our three hotels advertised email availability and that particular one was "not functioning" the only day I asked to use it.  However, one day in Shanghai, Dee, Ginna, and I spent about 1 1/2 hours finding an email outlet and actually did access the internet to receive and send messages - also, AOL world news was available on that connection. 

Well, if this were one of the many 16 course Chinese banquets that we enjoyed, it would be time to serve the watermelon for this particular bit of correspondence since that dish signifies the end of the meal.