Two or three times a week, says an overseas Chinese with family here, a few lucky individuals are quietly escorted to a back room of a local post office and, by some mysterious process, allowed to telephone relatives in Taiwan.
That such calls violate international telephone regulations, and are officially denied here, just adds to the shadowy quality of life sometimes encountered in this remote but vital southeastern Chinese province. At times during a week's visit, Fujian seemed like a few frames from a movie of China as Hollywood saw it in the 1950s, with spies, hostile youth and fawning worship of chairman Mao Tsetung.
Fujian may be a laboratory for modernizing China, with new processing zones and economic autonomy, but there is still resistance here to the up-to-date image of cosmopolitan China that Peking wants to promote.
After refusing to answer several questions about Xiamen University's curriculum, a marked departure from the openness now shown by Peking officials, the university's vice president, Pan Maoyuan, stunned 24 visiting foreign reporters from Peking with an paean to Mao, far more obsequious than has been heard in China's official press recently.
"Chairman Mao's works are the most important theoretical works," he said. "Chairman Mao was the greatest leader and he was one of the greatest Marxist-Leninists. His works should be studied by everyone in the world."
Later, a group of Americans, Japanese and European reporters filed in to hear answers to 14 questions on practical matters of trade and military preparedness in the province, submitted 24-hours in advance. The mayor, Wu Xingfeng, formerly of the revolutionary model oil field at Daquing, stonewalled on nearly every question. He even passed up a chance to promote the economic opportunities here by explaining Fujian's development plans.
One Japanese reporter tried to object as the mayor briskly walked out after refusing to take questions. "If you have problems, go see my foreign affairs staff," the mayor said.
Next day, the group was escorted around the campus of the overseas Chinese university. In the student library, a few Japanese reporters discovered on open display, a report from the Central Committee in Peking, covering several of the points they had tried to get out of the mayor. They began to read, taking notes. "Stop that, please," a university official said, and ushered them out.
Students at the universities here are told that there are still Nationalist Chinese spies on the loose, brought into Xiamen at night from the offshore islands controlled by Taiwan. Alleged spy conspiracies have been a tremendous drain on life here. Hundreds of people were falsely accused of involvement with a nonexistent Nationalist and U.S. spy ring in the 1960s. Interest in such things, however, seems to rise with political nervousness.
Here, on nights when the few non-Chinese visitors venture out on the streets, young toughs occasionally offer antiforeign insults. One group of American reporters heard Chinese youths at a cafe calling them "big noses" and "ugly ones." Schoolchildren followed another couple with similar taunts that showed a level of hostility and rudeness rare in other parts of China.
In deference to the many Chinese with overseass relatives who live here and receive money and visitors from abroad, the authorities have overlooked government customs restrictions and allowed open sale of foreign cigarettes and pirated cassettes on the streets.
The telephone calls to Taiwan, which Taiwan authorities tried to cut off, may also spring from stretching regulations and using friendly operators in Paris. The small stands with British and American brand cigarettes give Qyanzhou, the coastal town where they are most prevalent, the look of Saigon in the 1960s, or China in the 1930s, -- not the sort of image Peking has wanted to convey.
But if the Chinese authorities had planned to ease Taiwan's fears of invasion with this trip for foreign reporters by providing a frank look at the Fujian's demilitarized status, the message did not get across. All questions about military matters were ignored. A taxi driver was finally asked to drive to a local beach where artillery emplacements were said to be. The man fretted and drove to the places, never quite getting to the desired location.
Finally, he pulled up in front of a building on the Xiamen University campus. Its front door was flanked by two crumbling cannons, apparently archeological finds from the Ming dynasty, which ended in 1634. The cab driver turned to his passenger in triumph: "There is some artillery," he said.