When Communist Party superiors in Hubei Province heard that a few young constuction workers had recently taken a vacation trip to Lu Mountain, they sternly denounced it as a gross violation of "the principle of frugality."
Their comment caused an immediate uproar, for after years of hard work and Maoist politics, more and more Chinese feel they are entitled to a vacation. "Tour for young people should be encouraged, not criticized," a group of veteran workers complained to the official China Youth News.
The young workers had paid for the trip themselves through overtime on weekends and lunch hours and after all, as anyone visiting China's leading tourist attractions realizes these days, this is a nation full of frustrated sightseers now on the rampage.
Peking has not released any figures on vacation travel by Chinese themselves, preferring just to cite the record 2.2 million foreigners and overseas Chinese who visited the country in the first six months of this year. oAt several popular tourist attractions this summer, however, the Chinese clearly outnumbered the visitors, and as more Chinese begin to explore a number of resourceful ways to combine work and pleasure, their numbers are expected to increase. At Beidaihe, a resort on the shore of the Bohai Gulf northeast of Peking, the beaches recently were full of high school students from Tianjin, coal miners from Anhui and school teachers from Shanghai, all paying group rates to stay at hotels, or in some cases camping in tents.
Evan Davis, 65, an American tourist from Claremont, Va., grew up in a missionary family in China and remembers when Beidaihe was a foreign retreat, off-limits even to wealthy Chinese. Recently he and his wife, Harriet, enjoyed drinks and ice cream at an old German beer garden, Kiesslings, still operating under Chinese management.
One young Chinese interpreter has worked out a work-and-play vacation. He spends some time taking foreign tourists to see such sights as the summer mansion of the late defense minister Lin Biao, now a popular villain in Chinese lore. In return, he gets a month free board and beach privileges away from his job with the Canadian Embassy in Peking.
Some Chinese are even more resourceful. Chen Wei, a cement factory manager in Yunnan, obtained letters of introduction to cement factories in three other provinces, then proceeded over two months to visit every scenic Chinese city imaginable -- Shaoshan, Guilin, Canton, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Xuahou, Jinan, peking and a few other. He ignored a midtour telegram to come home.
Chen's adventure eventually cost him his job but many Chinese have found safe ways to mix business and pleasure. In scenic Hangzhou, where then president Richard Nixon toured the famous West Lake in 1972, about 50 people in colorful costumes swarmed through Tiger Spring, a favorite stop. They were delegates to the national minorities participatory conference, which had just closed in Peking. All were taking a long way home via Hangzhou and Shaoshan, the birthplace of the late chairman Mao Tsetung.
On the top of Yellow Mountain, a mecca for energetic sightneers in Anhui, several delegates to a special meeting of prefecture-level women's departments at nearby Tunxi were enjoying the view.
"We talked about the liberation of women, but now we are climbing the mountain," said one delegate, giving an inquiring male foreigner a big grin. "We even went up the dangerous side," something she knew the foreigner had avoided.
Zhang Xinshan, 34, works for a coal machinery factory in Heilongjiang, in northeast China. What was he doing recently at the Sun Yat-sen memorial on lovely Purple Mountain outside Najing? "We're here to buy some equipment. I thought we might as well see this while I was here," he said.
Some Chinese workers, at least in large cities such as Shanghai, have joined tours organized by the China Travel Service, which up until recently catered only to foreign guests.
Bai Zhouchu, 58, a Shanghai factory worker, joined a three-day tour of Hangzhou with his wife. The cost was $47, about a month's wages but still well within the range of most Chinese family savings. The Chinese travel agency has even begun to advertise: its recent listing for a tour of Beidaihe brought hearty response.
Residents of Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan of Chinese cities, appear to be the most accomplished travelers, and also the ones most likely to assume the role of the "ugly American" in a new era of Chinese tourism.
A hangzhou official wrote a Shanghai newspaper, the Liberation Daily, to complain that on a tour of West Lake, "I saw some young men and women speaking the Shanghai dialect and wearing bizarre dress. Some of the young men and women were kissing against trees along the lake, and others were embracing and necking on benches. Others, behaving coyly, were posing for pictures. Yet others were teasing their lovers by showing false displeasure or were quarreling out of jealousy. Their conduct was so mean and disgusting as to spoil other people's fun."
At the Sun Yat-sen memorial, a large signboard at a prominent gateway has so many lines of finely wrought characters that a foreign tourist would assume it is a scholarly explanation of the history of the place. What it says, actually, is: "Be quiet, keep your clothes clean and tidy. No smoking. Don't bring any weapons, guns, pistols or sticks. Don't pick the flowers, or climb trees. No spitting or littering."
Spoilsports notwithstanding, the Peking leadership gave its blessing to the summer holiday vacation craze last month in a very special way. The official magazine New Sports carried a picture of China's most important leader, Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping, 76, swimming off the beach at Qingdao, one of Shandong Province's best resorts.