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Beijing, China  |  July 19, 2000

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On a hot and hazy day in Beijing, Mary, my mother, and I stood at the base of the southern gate to the Forbidden City. The huge portrait of Mao Zedong gazed placidly over us towards the expanse of Tianamen Square. The dull orange glow of the evening sun set a warm caste over everything and everyone. Families strolled from one end to the other. Groups of young people sat in circles playing cards on pieces of newspaper they had spread out. Kites of all descriptions bobbed in the air. Their owners, tied to them by a string, danced around avoiding other kite flyers. Old men in
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their undershirts sat and watched, some read, enjoying the cooler part of the evening. Young couples sat at the base of the monolith in the middle of the square – the Monument to the People's Heroes – foreheads touching, whispering and giggling. At the far end of the square, the Golden Arches gleamed yellow in the evening light.

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Wait…the Golden Arches. What?! Sure enough, the golden arches of McDonalds were clearly visible by all, including Mao! Do you mean to tell me that one of the bastions of capitalistic culture has established itself in the heart of the People's Republic of China, Beijing? Even more, that it has instituted itself on Tianamen Square –- where just over 10 years ago tanks rolled down the broad martial avenues and troops brutally "put–down" a student democratic uprising? Sitting on the southwest corner nonchalantly, the McDonalds shares it honored position with the likes of the Great Hall of the People, China's congress, and Mao's Mausoleum. As I stood there dumbfounded, a young Chinese couple sauntered past us munching their McDonalds' fries, sipping from a McDonalds' shake.

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There is a new revolution brewing in the PRC these days; it has nothing to do with Marx, Lenin, or Mao. Capitalism has resurfaced into the Chinese consciousness and taken hold with a vengeance. Beijing is at the center of this revolution.

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Historically, the Chinese have always been a business-oriented people. While Europe was floundering in the Dark Ages, the Chinese were extending their economic and cultural influences throughout Asia and Southeast Asia. During the Tang Dynasty (approximately 618 - 907 AD), the Chinese gained control over the silk routes and established trading centers all over China. This began an unprecedented period of trade that extended to Persia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan. With the influx of new ideas brought by the traders from these various countries, China was to enter what some considered as its greatest period historically. Just as foreign traders established themselves in China, Chinese traders established enclaves in these foreign lands.

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Every country Mary and I have passed through has had an ethnic Chinese population. They have often played a pivotal role in the economic development of each country. This however, often has led to ethnic strife. Less than a year ago, Indonesians were burning stores owned by ethnic Chinese because they resented the wealth held by this minority.

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The Cultural Revolution interrupted what would have been a natural progression towards the construction of a modern Chinese economic machine. If you have ever visited Taiwan, you get a sense of what China might have been like if not for Mao and other forces. Taiwan, once known as Formosa, was established in 1949 when Chiang Kaishek and his followers fled in defeat from the Chinese Communist forces led by Mao. With them they took all of China's gold reserves, as well as a vast storehouse of art and historical treasures. Since that time, Taiwan has experienced exponential economic growth and has, in 50 years, established itself as a modern economic power.

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On Mainland China, Deng Xiao Ping's "Open Door" policy appears to have put China back on the path it was originally destined to follow – to become a world economic power. Everywhere you go, not just in Beijing but in the whole of China, you see signs of commerce and opportunity. Having come to join us on the China leg of our trip, my mother really wanted to see the Great Wall. Mary had seen it once before so she chose an area that hopefully wouldn't be overrun by massive tour groups and "nature sounds" piped in over large speaker systems. Simitai, one of the Eastern sections of the Wall, seemed the perfect location.

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Once again it was a hot day, the sun blazed down on us as we climbed a precipitous path to the crest of a mountain range. On top the Wall wound its way like a great snake. About half way up the mountain path, we realized that we might not have brought enough water with us. We were sweating out about a liter a minute (that's about a quarter of a gallon for us non-metric holdouts). We finally reached and mounted the Great Wall through one of its lower watchtowers. Almost immediately we were set upon by women offering us ice-cold water, at an only slightly higher price than what was available at the base of the mountain. Every watch tower we passed through we were greeted by another smiling face holding up a cold, wonderful bottle of water that had been hand carried to these great heights. "No problem," these women – some of whom were much older than my mother – would say, they did this every day. Every day! And, here we thought we were going to die after just one day's climb. As we reached the next-highest rampart and cleared the watchtower, there below us stretched a row of several vendors who had set up veritable cafés, complete with ice cream freezers, TV's playing Chinese soap operas, and umbrellas to shade you from the sun.

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