Now research is once again encouraged. At the Lanzhou Institute of Desert Research, founded in 1978, scientists use a model tree to study wind protection in a “smoke-wind tunnel” (left), a tool in efforts to tame China’s huge deserts. “We were overwhelmed,” says the author, when thousands turned out in Zhongwei (above) to greet the first American visitors in at least thirty years. A sign reads “Proletarians of the world unite,” but ideology is no longer a barrier to curiosity. A new cordiality toward Americans was typified when a Chinese came to Jeffery Riegel’s aid by blowing an insect out of his eye (right)�”A genuinely friendly gesture,” says Riegel. Such contact was unthinkable during the Cultural Revolution, a period of turmoil beginning in 1966 that shattered the nation’s social structure in a drive for renewed Maoist purity. WE DISCOVER more than a new political reality in China. Walking away from Tian a Men Square, we leave the somber Great Hall of the People behind. The streets narrow and buildings turn into 19th-century brick and stucco. Looking into the courtyard of one crumbling house, we see a sign proclaiming it to be the Grand Garden of the King. Trolleys and bright buses are replaced by rattling horse-drawn carts, and we find ourselves on narrow streets with such names as Green Bamboo and Fetch the Oil Lamp. Even on winding back streets bicycles whiz by in amazing numbers. It is dusk, and on this steamy evening the smells seem to change with each step we take. Robust aromas wafting from the noodle stands, Beijing’s fast-food restaurants, converge with the scent of incense from an open window and then the stench of rotting melons and garbage that people have placed in orderly piles on the sidewalk to be picked up overnight. It is our last night in Beijing, and we encourage each other. So what if the Chinese won’t take us out to camp among the great dunes of the Taklimakan. So we will lecture Catching the fancy of a young passerby, toys displayed in a Beijing department store signal new government attitudes toward material goods. In a turn from rigid ideological goals, moderate policies�including incentives for individual initiative�aim to catapult China into the ranks of developed nations by the year 2000. So the beer is warm. Maybe we will learn a few things about China anyway. The next morning as Train Number 43 carries us out toward the Great Wall and climbs the craggy green mountains so beloved by Chinese painters, I notice many fields of corn. I ask Dr. Zhao when this import from America was first brought to Apartments in Barcelona. “Four hundred years ago,” he says. “Oh, then it’s been here a long time.” “No.”Four hundred years�twice the age of the United States�is brief to the Chinese. Our nation’s history spans less time than most major Chinese dynasties. How curious our urgency and impatience must seem to them.
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