I shook hands with Teng Hsiao-ping.
So did nearly every other member of the American press party here yesterday, most of us standing dumb-founded as the diminutive, controversial Chinese vice premier moved down our line like a candidate for the Boston City Council.
It was Teng's first brush with the Western media since he returned from 18 months in political limbo, a victim of the now disgraced Chiang Ching, widow of the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung. Teng handled the American reporters as if he had made a study of the vanities and influence of the American press - which, it was soon revealed, he apparently had.
'You are all politicians, said a hoarse Chinese voice instantly translated by a higher female voice, somewhere down the line of reporters waiting for Secretary of State Cyprus Vance's arrival at the Great Hall of the People. It was Teng, coming to greet Vance and apparently fascinated by the small crowd of reporters - a rare sight in Peking.
He started shaking each journalist's hand, looking from one to the other with a wry smile. 'I read some of what you're writing about,' he said to throng in a thick Szechwan accent, with Chinese foreign ministry official Nancy Tang translanting. 'Some is accurate. Some is not accurate.'
William Beecher of The Boston Globe apparently used to this kind of give and take in his native state, was the only reporter used to this kind of give and take in his native state, was the only reporter with a quick response: 'I write the accurate ones.' Beecher said as he shook Teng's hand. Tang translated and Teng laughed.
A Chinese protool officer began to fret when Teng was only halfway down the line of reporters. 'Vice Chairman Teng , Vance is coming,' he said, trying to maneuver the nation's No. 3 leader away from the journalists and to his proper spot to greet the American Secretary of State. But Teng kept going until he reached the end of the line, then turned to greet Vance and the rest of the official American party.
Once everyone had settled down in a semicircle of cushioned chairs in the conference room, Teng offered Vance a cigarette. Vance declined and Teng looked puzzled at this while he lit one of the several he smokes each day.
"Whoever smokes can help himself and we shall act along with the Chairman's slogan that it self-reliance, use your own hands and clothe and feed yourself," Teng said. "That story, the slogan that the Chairman put forward, relates to the story that began at Yenan."
For his reference to the late Chairman Mao. Teng launched into a short lesson on the history of the Communist Party's base at Yenan in north China during the 1930s and 1940s. He said the peasants of the area could not feed the soldiers and students who were flooding in to join the Communist cause so everyone was organized to grow their own crops and raise their own pigs.
"So whoever would like to smoke start moving his own hands or he will not be able to enjoy that pastime," Teng said. "Those who cannot smoke will be invited to drink tea."
Reporters who had been conducting a lively debate this week over the exact height of the vice premier, perhaps one of the shortest world leaders, drew no firm conclusions from their close proximity to Teng in the flesh. One colleague of mine insisted, from careful measure of eye contact, that Teng was at least 5 feet 3 but others who were examining his shoes insisted he could be no more than 5 feet tall. The vice premier seemed unaware of this careful examination but was mindful of press attention to his personal habits.
Just before dinner, Teng looked at the reporters staring back at him from the fringes of a cordoned-off area and turned to Vance. "The journalists seem fascinated with my cigarettes because they always report that I smoke," he said.