A gweilo in 1980s China – Chapter 21

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Written by Tai Pan

Read part 1 by going to the ‘Story of my life’ section and click on the strating chapter of a Gweilo in 1980s China.

CHAPTER 21 – SHANGHAI AND THE “POLITICAL-EXAMINATION”

After the beautiful trip to Fujian, where I actually travelled as a tourist instead of being a businessman and do some negotiations, I got to Shanghai.

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Because this was my third trip to China in less than a year, the Chinese officials I met in Italy suggested I asked for an annual visa to enter the PRC.

Indeed, the annual visa allowed businessmen to travel in and out of the country over a period of 12 months without any kind of problems.

I followed their advice and applied for an annual visa, but I then realised that the whole process was quite long, so I also had to apply for a single trip visa to enter China the third time.

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Anyway, while I was waiting for my visa application to go through I heard few strange stories about it…some people told me about the political-examination process, which was part of the visa application. Basically the Chinese questioned people (foreigners), who asked for an annual visa, on their political views.

The ‘funny’ thing about this political-examination was that it was completely informal and unofficial, in that the ‘examination’ was organised so that the person examined wouldn’t have realised heshe was being examined!!

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At first I found this whole thing quite strange, invasive and uncomfortable, but then I forgot about it as I was in the middle of a business transaction.

It was my third day in Shanghai when after few exhausting meetings I decided to take a break and literally do nothing for a whole day. At that time I was staying at the Peace Hotel, located on the corner of Nanking Road and the Bund.

After having a lovely lunch I went to the hotel bar to have a relaxing drink. The bar was quite full of people who were drinking, talking and some were even eating. I ordered a normal coke, and after that I opened my book and started reading it, since I was there alone and I had no one to talk to.

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After a couple of minutes of quite reading, I heard a male voice saying (in English): “Excuse me sir, would you mind if I ask you a question?”

At first I thought that the man was not talking to me, but then I moved my eyes from the book and realised that there was a Chinese man, probably mid 30s, who was actually trying to make conversation with me!

I answered: “Of course…”

Always standing right next to me the man began to talk to me. I explained that my English was not amazing because I was actually Italian and not English, Australian or American.

He smiled at me and started telling me that because he was learning English, he was trying to meet as many foreigners as possible to practice.

As the conversation was getting more and more intense, I invited him to join me for a drink. We talked about everything from Italy to China to business…I told him all about my family and my hometown and we spent hours sitting at that bar chatting and laughing and getting to know each other.

All of a sudden, just like a curious kid, he asked me about the political situation in Italy, and which political party I was for.

I explained that I wasn’t really into politics – which was true – and that I preferred to concentrate on business and on my future in China.

I told him how much I admired (and still do) the Chinese people and their culture, and how much I enjoyed travel to the PRC to do business with them.

We had a really nice chat that lasted for a couple hours, if not more, and at the end of our pleasant conversation we said goodbye and never saw each other again.

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The day after, I invited a couple of Chinese officials for dinner at the Jinjiang Club, where my friend, the manager, was waiting for me!

While I was walking to my table I noticed that mister Zhang, the man I talked to for two hours more at the bar of the Peace Hotel.

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He saw me as well so he stood up and said hi. As I went to shake his hand I noticed that my friend (the restaurant manager) was really surprised and worried…so I asked whether everything was alright and he explained everything.

Mister Zhang worked for a political apparatus in Shanghai, and in particular, he dealt with foreigners and foreigners’ visas applications.

Then I realised that I had just been examined!! That was the political examination test!! Had I passed it or not?

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I actually did pass it, indeed, few weeks later, when I was back in Italy, the Chinese Consulate contacted me to inform me that I was being given an annual visa to enter and leave China whenever I wanted over a period of 12 months.

Anyway, the young gweilo – me – was extremely proud of his achievement, he passed the political-examination test with very good results!!!

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In the next chapter I will tell you about the first time I invited some Chinese officials for dinner at my place back in Italy. This time I will tell you about the Chinese reaction to the Italian cuisine! See you soon!

(All photos are from Google.com, and they all belong to their original owners)

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