In the first formal visit of a Chinese provincial delegation to an American state government, the dozen distinguished delegates from Anhui came to Maryland this week and were served fix-em-yourself hamburgers with french fries and soft drinks.
Chairman Wan Li of the Anhui Provincial Revolutionary Committee and his associates passed plates of hamburgers, cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato among themselves as their dining companions, the 4,400 middies at the Naval Academy in Annapolis punctuated the meal by pounding on tables and chanting, "Beat Army."
Although the most popular part of the meal for the Chinese appeared to be fruit cocktail, most of the officials at least munched on the hamburgers. But they all left the cheese -- dairy products generally are not eaten in China.
Hungry middies stuffed their pockets with stacks of cheese as they marched past the guests' empty tables.
If that didn't get the 11-day tour off to an all-American start, a reception later on Monday did.
Printed protocol guidelines, passed out to state officials and others who Thursday, suggested, among other things, that serving alcoholic beverages, other than a light wine, "might be embarrassing."
But when Gov. Harry Hughes welcomed Chairman Li to the governor's mansion that night and asked the chairman what he wanted to drink, Li said, "I'll have whatever you have."
With a twinkle in his eye, Hughes bellied up to the bar and told the bartender, "two bourbons and water." Moments later, the two chief executives were toasting each other in obvious enjoyment -- and in blatant violation of Protocol Rule No. 5.
Hughes, who initiated the exchange in hopes of spurring "trade and trust" with the central Chinese province, will lead a delegation of Maryland officials to Anhui later this year. Anhui is four times the size of Maryland, with a population 10 times as great, but the two areas have similar industrial and agricultural interests.
Tonight, the delegation, along with volunteer interpreters, will divide up and have dinner with six Baltimore families, where the fare for some may include Maryland's famous steamed hard-shelled crabs. If the host families follow protocol, they'll be waiting outside their homes for the visitors to arrive. And hidden away will be a small gift for the host to present if one is offered by the Chinese.
"We do not know if the Chinese will be following this custom or not," the protocol guide said. "It is suggested, therefore, that you have a simple, inexpensive gift wrapped and out of sight. If you are given a present, you may give them one in return. If you do not receive anything, DO NOT PRESENT YOUR GIFT. To do so on a non-reciprocal basis would be very hurtful to your guests."
Among the hosts will be an architect,teachers, a city official, a television news director, a steel worker, a union official, and drill operator and housewives.
Other instructions include warning the hosts not to use the words "Red China," which the guide says is "as offensive as any racial or ethnic slur to them. It is best not to refer to Taiwan."
Dress casually, the Baltimoreans have been told,and keep the evening informal. "A warm, enjoyable evening is much more important than any social or political knowledge they may gain from you or your from them."
And if the hosts are members of a "minority group," they should expect their Chinese guests to be "fascinated and trying very hard not to show it. These are quite sophisticated people at home, but they have been isolated from the world for a long time, and everything is a learning experience for them."
Such detailed instructions on how to behave prompted one of the volunteer translators, reporter Matthew Seiden of the Baltimore Sun, to write a column criticizing the sponsors for falling into the China syndrome, "the symptoms [of which] include a lot of bowing and scraping, bending over backwards and sudden fondness for green tea and platitudinous toasts."
Because of his public criticism, Seiden will not be left alone with the two Chinese for whom he will serve as translator at dinner tonight. A second interpreter has been assigned to go with him.
Lining up interpreters was a bit of a problem because most of the Chinese-Americans who live in Baltimore speak Cantonese, while the visitors speak Mandarin. Jimmy Wu, a prominent Baltimore restauranteur, had hoped to be a guide but admitted, "I don't speak a word of Mandarin."
So the translators were recruited largely from the academic and professional community. The official interpreters are Dr.Chuan-Shing Liu of the University of Maryland for Gov. Hughes and Dr. Chih Yung Chen of Johns Hopkins for Chairman Li.
Initially, the sponsors believed politics, rather than practial concerns such as language, would be a problem. Jerrie H. Tistel, program coordinator of the Baltimore Council of International Visitors, said when she talked to the State Department "the question of politics didn't even come up. They just wanted to be sure our translators spoke good Mandarin."
Professor Liu, who came to the United States from Taiwan in 1961, said handling the Taiwan issue is "easy for me. We all agree, Taiwan is a province of China. People on both sides of the street are Chinese."
Liu has found Chairman Li to be "a man of great integrity, intelligence and understanding and very devoted to strengthening U.S.-China relations."
The chairman also has "a great sense of humor," Li said, part of which is manifested by feigning an inability to speak or understand English.
During a tour of the Department of Agriculture's research farm at Beltsville, Chairman Li plucked a peach from a tree. As he prepared to bite into the hybrid fruit, someone suggested that the interpreter, Dr. T. C. Tso, ask the chairman how he liked it.
"Don't ask," interrupted an official of the research farm, "Because it's experimental, it may not be too good."
But the chairman, ever the politician, volunteered a response in Mandarin without waiting for a translation: "America is not only an industrial giant, her contributions to science and technology are great," he said, "but America is also a giant in agriculture."