In the last-minute frenzy to set up China Expo '89, Wai-Jen Jeffries received a disturbing phone call. The caller asked if a armored tank would be on display at the trade show featuring textiles, foodstuffs and other commodities from the southeast coast of China.
Today, two months after tanks rolled into Tian An Mien Square against the pro-democracy movement in Beijing, the San Marino entrepreneur finds herself in a difficult position. For the past 18 months, Jeffries has worked doggedly at organizing China Expo '89, which opens today for a six-day run at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles.
At one point she considered canceling the show. She decided instead that the show might help the people of China. Jeffries, a petite woman who speaks at rapid clip, decided that the 190 Chinese who have accompanied the show "should have the chance to show what they make. Also, the people who come here can see and learn the American way."
Jeffries, who came to the United States 23 years ago from Hong Kong with her husband, also had contractual obligations. But she did scale back. Two projects, a Chinese cultural week and an academic conference, were eliminated. Both were planned to run at the same time as China Expo '89.
The show is a private undertaking between Jeffries' United States Exposition & Trade Co. and the cities of Shanghai, Xiamen, Zhangzhou and Quanzhou. Jeffries was born in Zhangzhou in the province of Fujian, which she left at age 10. She returned for a visit in 1980 and has since opened three factories there.
Over the last two years, the Chinese government has encouraged local business and economic development independent of the central government. In the aftermath of the June 3-4 massacre at Tian An Mien Square, the Chinese government has been working hard to lure U.S. and other foreign businesses and travelers back to China.
China Expo '89 has no official Chinese government endorsement, but a spokesman for the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles, said: "We, the consulate, like to promote trade between the two countries. We like to see the exchange of culture, trade and education. That will benefit the people of the two countries."
A show scheduled later this month at the Shrine by the China Chamber of International Commerce was canceled. It is unclear whether two other shows in San Francisco and New York will go on.
"We have agonized over this decision," explained Jeffries' husband, Ray. "This was all done before Tian An Mien Square," added Ray, who has his own firm that imports and distributes truck parts and tools. "We were very angry about Tian An Mien Square. There was cruelty on both sides. We feel sorry about what happened there. But it important that our relationship continue, that we continue to talk."
His wife added: "We believe that, in order to push China further toward democracy, it is important for us to continue economic exchanges with Chinese people. We are doing what we can at the grass-roots level to promote people exchanges."
Forty-eight hours before the show opened, the Chinese visitors, dressed in jeans and bright polo and T-shirts, were hard at work constructing booths, unpacking boxes and making signs. More than 60 Chinese companies will display their wares, which include clothing and textile, oils, electronics, metals and minerals, medicines and chemicals and light industry.