Office of the British Charge
19 APRIL, 1969
Making Friends with foreigners
On Sunday, 6 April I had an unusual encounter with some Chinese which is worth reporting. It took place when I was walking with my wife in the park of the Altar of the Sun, very close to the office. I have of course reported it to John Denson and James Allan and they thought you would be interested to hear this account.
2. In the course of a short conversation with some particularly friendly and interested visitors to the park, about the significance of the various buildings, I was referred to another rather surlier and scruffier person who was nearby. We two then had ten minutes discussion about whether or not it was right to keep such relics of the past. He maintained that Chairman Mao taught that everything old should be completely scrapped, but he didn't take offence when I suggested that they might be kept as good negative examples, (indeed I felt rather pleased with that one; the audience of, by now, ten or twelve all murmured appreciatively.)
3. I took my leave of him after about ten minutes and my wife and I strolled over to a little pavilion on a hill. We were extremely surprised to meet our friend again who had taken a short cut apparently with the object of speaking to me further. Indeed he made no bones about it; he said he wanted to take this rare opportunity to "make friends" with a foreigner (ken waikwo jen chiao peng yu). We then sat down in the sun and engaged in everyday conversation in the course of which I told him who I was. It emerged that he was a factory worker, 28 years old, married with two small children (below school age) and he lived in Hsitan (the street to the west of the city). Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of about thirty children, on an outing with a female teacher, who surrounded us. My friend became slightly uneasy in pursuing his conversation. Soon, however, another man came up and asked my friend who I was. We then began a conversation between the three of us which lasted upwards of forty minutes and covered a multitude of topics. The third man was a cadre, very intelligent, with a good grasp of things outside China - he knew for instance of Oxford and Cambridge. It was from him that I obtained the snippet about foreign language teaching in schools (my letter of 8 April).
4. I only report the above in some detail because of its extraordinary sequel. As I made to leave them, my original factory-worker friend accompanied my wife and myself as far as the park gates. I had already given him my (Chinese) name and told him where I worked. He now stopped, produced a notebook and asked if I minded writing my name down for him. I pretended inability to write the characters hoping to dissuade him. But he proceeded to write it down himself quite unabashed and with the help of two of the schoolgirls from the school outing. As he walked on he said he would like to write me a letter because he wished that he should meet again. He even spoke of meeting "at home". I asked whether he meant his home or mine. He said he supposed he would be unable to come to my house anyway. I confirmed this, trying to be apologetic, while all the time wondering if he could really be so naive as to want to invite a foreigner to his house. I tried to suggest to him that making friends with foreigners might be "difficult" for him. He brushed aside all my protests and finally shook my hand at the park gates.
5. The question arises whether he was a "plant" attempting to compromise me, or whether he was merely very naive. It is certainly odd to find someone as politically dogmatic (as he proved himself in our first conversation), yet so willing to be seen talking with a foreigner. He appears, however, to have had second thoughts about his letter-writing; nothing has so far materialised. To that extent the incident can now be considered closed. It was nevertheless a strange happening, although it is symptomatic of what probably constitutes a slight relaxation in official attitudes governing the ordinary man-in-the street's contact with foreigners. Foreigners are now at least no longer treated with overt hostility by the general public, which was apparently the mood until not so many months ago.
I am copying this letter to Miss Draycott in IRD, Brewer in RD, Weston in PUSD, Pierce in DIS, Spendlove in Washington, Hibbert in Singapore, McLaren and Ashworth in Hong Kong, Hewitt in Canberra and to Chancery at Tokyo.
(to: ) J.D.I. Boyd, Esq. ,
Far Eastern Department