The communists took over the Chinese mainland in 1949, but in Washington's Chinatown the battle rages on.
The focal point of this latest skirmish is Mayor Marion Barry's announced plan to erect a large and ornate Chinatown archway over H Street NW, a $1 million project that would be equally financed by the city and the government of the People's Republic of China.
A vocal group of Chinatown's residents, business leaders and other Chinese-Americans in the Washington area, many of whom fled their homeland during the communist takeover, wants nothing to do with the archway, which is designed to symbolize the District's sister-city relationship with the Chinese capital of Peking.
More than 75 opponents of Barry's archway, which is planned to be built this fall just east of Seventh Street, trooped to a National Capital Planning Commission meeting yesterday to vent their frustrations at "the communist arch" and their continuing anger at the atrocities they said were committed against their friends and relatives during the revolution 36 years ago.
Charles R. Donnenfeld, an attorney for the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, a group of 21 civic groups with an interest in Chinatown, said placement of the communist-funded arch in Chinatown would be akin to building a monument to Fidel Castro's Cuba in the staunchly anticommunist Little Havana section of Miami.
"It's regrettable the mayor went to Peking and accepted the arch," said Bosco Lee, chairman of the association and Chinatown's unofficial mayor. "I do not want to see a communist arch in our capital. Day and night you would look at this monument and be reminded of the painful experiences of the past. The only thing you could do would be to move away."
Lee said his group wants to build two arches, costing a total of $600,000, over H Street, one at Fifth Street and the other at Ninth Street, the eastern and western entrances to the small and somewhat deteriorated community.
"I'd go along with three arches," including Barry's planned arch, Lee said. But city officials have not committed themselves to building anything other than the gold arch financed partly by the Chinese government.
Fred Greene, the city's planning director, told the planning commission, which reviews Washington-area projects in which there is a "federal interest," that the city has "not ruled out the possibility of another archway. If we conclude it's possible, then we'd support it."
But after the meeting, Greene said, "I'm not sure that corridor can support three arches. That may be overdoing it. We'll study the proposal , but we're going forward."
A city spokeswoman said the District's $500,000 share of the arch cost is included in the current budget.
The arch dispute has generated such conflict that when Alfred Liu, the Washington architect who designed the 47-foot-high span, started to tell the commission about his plan, one opponent, Lawrence Locke, muttered, "You traitor."
Liu said the archway "does not bear any political statement. This is an art work."
"Now you tell me," Locke asked later. "If you accept money from the communists to build it, isn't that a political statement?"
Greene said he is convinced that the planned arch will help revitalize Chinatown and that numerous people also support it.
For its part, the planning commission decided to duck the dispute. It simply passed a resolution saying it found "no significant federal interest in the Chinatown archway plans, but suggests further sensitive consultations with the Chinatown community."