Watching a Sports Show with Nixon

In the middle of the Cultural Revolution, thanks to China’s ping-pong diplomacy and Kissinger’s efforts, relations between the U.S. and China began to thaw.In February 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon set foot on Chinese soil.

Among the series of welcoming events arranged for Nixon was a sports show organized by the State Sports Commission. I was fortunate enough to be selected to be an audience member at the Capital Gymnasium, and although I was one of nearly 20,000 people, I had to do rigorous political vetting, as well as a meeting to learn the precautions.

The requirements for that day were very strict, what time to arrive, which door to enter and exit through, what clothes to wear, and what expressions to make, all of which were specified in great detail. The clothing requirements gave us another problem, to dress beautifully and brightly.

February in Beijing is the coldest month of winter, and there are no pretty clothes to wear this time of year. And then there’s the question of how many people have saved their bright and colorful clothes since the Cultural Revolution began. I don’t have a flowered dress anyway, except for the blue ones that are gray or the defense green uniforms.

I went up and down, running back and forth looking for friends and colleagues and relatives to borrow clothes, but still no luck. The pink satin-colored jacket my aunt wore as a bride was very pretty, and I wore it appropriately, but I couldn’t tell if it was too much to wear during the Cultural Revolution, so I borrowed a flowered overcoat from a friend and put it on top.

On the evening of February 23, we went to the Capital Gymnasium as if we were on a solemn and sacred mission.

The stadium was packed, and five minutes before the official start, the organized crowd took off their cotton coats. I was stunned by the instant colors in the audience, a bit dazzled by the dark colors my eyes had long since adapted to over the years. I don’t know where these people find these clothes, but it seems that the old-fashioned four is still very incomplete, and today was definitely a big PK of press box clothing.

Most of the women in the audience wore very brightly colored satin and brocade jacket, (there were fewer men in the audience that day) some very old-fashioned (probably from before the liberation) but the colors were absolutely beautiful. That day, the 17-year-old me really opened my eyes.

At 7:30 pm, Premier Zhou accompanied the Nixon couple into the hall, the applause in the stadium is not very enthusiastic, the audience is not humble, not overbearing and subtle smiles on the face (this is a pre-determined).

After sitting down, the athletes enter, hundreds of athletes holding a red flag, accompanied by the athletes marching in a neat pace to enter, the field thunderous applause, the sound is shocking, the smile is natural, compared with a few minutes ago, really funny, very dramatic.

I don’t know how Nixon felt at that time, “Chinese people are interesting, they know how to put on a show”. Then came the sports show. I can’t remember the details, but I only remember the table tennis and badminton. The most memorable one was a fight between a bloated Zhuang Zedong and Zhang Xilin, which was not very exciting. Of course, there were other famous athletes’ performances, and the audience applauded very enthusiastically whether they were good or not.

After the show, we sent off the Nixons with the same controlled applause, and when we looked back at the audience, the colorful and dazzling images suddenly turned black and gray, as people put on their usual coats again.

The Cultural Revolution was a time of turmoil that killed so much beauty, color and happiness. How many tragedies, farces, and scandals were created during that time of turmoil? Can we forget?