Having signed the deal with the Minister of Electronics, we celebrated by holding our own 27-course banquet inside The Forbidden City. We crossed a bridge straight out of the Wedgewood Willow Pattern.
The room we used had wooden pillars that had tens of coats of lacquer and we had two round tables. Senior staff from the Ministry of Electronics joined us and Pat McGovern, who had enabled our trip, arrived with his new lady, Lore, and her two sons.
Beijing’s Forbidden City
On my table we began to talk about humour. I explained to the sons that in England we told jokes about the Irish, just as they did about the Poles. They were a tad surprised that their mother’s new partner was considered the equivalent of a ‘Polack’ in England. We turned to the top man of the Ministry and asked him who did the Chinese tell jokes about. You have to appreciate that, in part this question was inspired because he looked so much like the genial Chinese character immortalised by Benny Hill. He surprised us by saying they told jokes about the Mongols and told us this joke:
The Chinese joke: A Mongol lived next door to a Beijinger and saw him about to cycle off. He asked him where he was going? The Beijinger said he was going to the market to buy a new (hand) fan. The Mongol was confused because he still had the one he had been given as a child. He asked had the Beijinger broken his? The Beijinger was perplexed because his fans usually lasted perhaps four months. He quizzed the Mongol, ‘So, how do you use it?’ showing the normal hand movement. The Mongol said ‘No’ and showed how he instead shook his head from side to side.
Remarkable, that the Chinese tell ‘Irish’ jokes about the Mongols, but then the French tell them about Belgians, the Spanish about the Portuguese, the Dutch about Frisians… A Czech once told me a joke that involved the Chinese and a bike.
The Czech joke: A Czech was riding down a quiet road and saw a frog in the middle of the road, in avoiding it he crashed into a tree. Lying on the floor, the frog hopped over and asked, ‘How did you know I was a magic frog?’. The Czech replied ‘I didn’t, but I wouldn’t knowingly harm any creature’. The frog said, ‘Nonetheless I am magic and can grant you three wishes, what’s your first?’ The Czech replied ‘That China invade the Czech Republic’. ‘Consider it done’ said the Frog ‘what’s your second?’. ‘That China invade the Czech Republic’. The frog was bewildered ‘It’s not often you get to meet a magic frog, you only get three wishes, so think carefully, what is your third?’ The Czech replied immediately, ‘That China invade the Czech Republic’. The frog asked, ‘Of course your wishes will be granted, why did you ask for the same thing three times?’ ‘Because each time they invade us they have to march right across Russia and back again!’
Richard, ever the publisher, kept a journal and as the trip was so remarkable, I followed suit. It was my wife Jane who subsequently pulled out my notes to show me that I had felt the tension in the city and forecast something like the Tiananmen Square incident, some 5 to 6 years before it actually happened.