Chinese friends of Paul Speltz, an American businessman spending a few months in Peking, have been asking a lot of questions about his salary since they saw a special program from Washington on Chinese television last week.
The Chinese television crew profiled a family in the Washington suburbs who had, Speltz said, "what the Chinese commentator claimed was the average U.S. family income, $34,000 a year, and $32,000 after taxes.... I'd like to know more about that guy's tax deductions, but anyway, the Chinese here have made up their minds that we are all incredibly rich."
For the past week, each night at 7 and repeated at 9, television in major Chinese cities has been revealing the wonders of American life as seen during the U.S. visit of Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping.
Along with daily front-page news stories, Peking's media have provided a glittering, ever-smiling portrait of the United States. The Chinese reporters have made an amusing mistake here and there, but provided little or no coverage of the capitalist failings that usually punctuate Peking reports on American society.
The nightly television specials, varying in length from 35 minutes to more than an hour, have included a John Chancellor-narrated appreciation of Washington scenery with a Chinese voice-over, a long look at Atlanta skyscrapers and luxury hotels and a view of Teng in cowboy hat at a Texas Rodeo.
"It has given an incredibly inflated view of American life," said an American resident of Peking, interviewed by telephone.
The official New China News Agency's English-language wire has stumbled occasionally in its reporting of unfamiliar America, although probably no more than do American reporters seeing parts of China for the first time. Apparently unmindful of California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.'s celebrated bachelor status, the Chinese agency reported that "Governor and Mrs. Brown were on hand at Palmdale to greet Vice Premier Fang Yi.
A Chinese agency dispatch from Atlanta movingly described Teng's visit to the grave of America's black civil rights leader but consistently referred to him as Rev. Martin Ruther King Jr.
The official People's Daily, criticizing personality cults in the Chinese leadership, said Thursday it was "absolutely wrong to deify leaders, give them lavish and overdone praise or exaggerage their personal roles." That did not deter the agency from extensive coverage of Teng, or from reprinting quotes such as that of Atlanta auto worker Walter Hood, 28, who chatted with Teng at a Ford Motor Co. assembly line.
"He's really a nice man. I'm so sorry I forgot to say something nice to him," Hood told a Chinese reporter. At the end of the evening's entertainment at the Kennedy Center, the agency said, "Vice Premier Teng kissed some lovely little American friends as he did his own grandchildren."
The reports of the visit in the official Chinese press, at least those that have reached here, say little of the anti-Teng demonstrations in the United States. Chinese coverage of the opening ceremonies on the White House lawn carefully avoided mention of the two American radicals who were dragged from the stands after calling Teng a "traitor" and "murderer."
Neither the raucous leftist demonstrations protesting Teng's alterations of many polices of the late chairman Mao Tse-tung, nor the more sedate picket lines by pro-Taiwan Americans, appeared on Chinese television, Peking residents said.
While American television crews and reporters sent to China to cover ceremonial visits invariably do stories on Chinese poverty and social restraints, the Chinese reporters covering Teng seemed unwilling to mar a great moment in Peking diplomacy. In reports on a tour of the United States last summer, Chinese reporters had discussed slums, traffic congestion and pornography. This time the most critical reporting appeared to be a short review of the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit.
Peking Radio had played some music by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on the eve of Teng's visit. The Chinese news reports rhapsodized on the Kennedy Center performance, especially the appearances of the Harlem Globetrotters and the song, "I Love Peking's Tienanmen," by 200 American school-children.
Apparently under the spell of John Denver, the New China News Agency reporter wrote of the show that "all the items are rich in national, rural and life flavor, leaving an impression of health and freshness on the audience."
In a lengthy report on Teng's final appearance at the White House, the Chinese agency concluded that "since World War II, the history of international relations has come to a crucial turning point with the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States."
Without any reference to public opinion polls, which still show American doubts about the relationship with Peking, the official Chinese agency told its Chinese readers, "The prevailing feeling of the U.S. public today" is "let's forget the unpleasant things in the past and look forward to the future."