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THE PRESIDENT IN CHINA | REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

In Ancient City, Clinton Draws a Very Modern Crowd

China: President is greeted by a cosmopolitan cross-section of people as he arrives in Xian.

June 26, 1998|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

XIAN, China — On one side of the street was one of the world's largest KFC franchises, flanked by a 12-lane, South Korean-equipped bowling alley.

On the opposite side was a giant poster of Marilyn Monroe.

Mixed in the crowd of thousands who greeted President Clinton when he arrived here Thursday night were grandmothers in slippers, wandering minstrels from distant provinces, young women wearing miniskirts and stacked heels, and pizza delivery boys.

Punctuating the still night air on Da Nan Jie Boulevard was the constant chirping and trilling of cellular phones.

This is one of China's oldest cities, a famed spot on the Silk Road, surrounded by walls from a dynastic era.

But the crowd that lined the streets of the ancient Tang Dynasty capital to greet Clinton represented China's new diversity and internationalism.

Politically, the country is still locked in the grip of stilted socialist rhetoric. But in terms of personal lifestyle, there is the increasing sense that anything goes.

The president caught this mood in his opening remarks at the South Gate.

"This ancient capital of China seems very young to me tonight," Clinton said, "blessed with both a proud history and the promise of tomorrow."

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Chinese television stations devoted little air time Thursday to Clinton's arrival in Xian.

China's Central People's Television Broadcasting, the country's main national network, offered only a blurb on the evening news. Other local stations showed evening soap operas and replays of World Cup soccer matches.

One of the two Beijing channels, meanwhile, chose the occasion to broadcast a long documentary about homeless Americans.

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They still call it communism, and the ubiquitous red banners that once carried ideological slogans to inspire workers throughout the socialist world still festoon factory walls.

But in the new China, it's the message that's changing.

Draped from the facade of a new pharmaceuticals plant in the northern part of the city, just hours before Clinton's arrival here, was a banner with this inspiration: "We are responsible for our employees, we are responsible for our society, we are responsible for our stockholders."

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Allegations about Clinton's sexual improprieties may cause a stir in Washington, but many Chinese appear to view the episodes with a European worldliness.

Ma Yaoquan, 32, manager of one of Xian's most famous restaurants, the Jia San Tang dumpling shop in the city's Muslim district, described Clinton as a "very able president."

"I've heard all the stories," Ma said of the sexual allegations, "but as far as I am concerned, that's his private business and has nothing to do with politics."

If you want something steamy, Ma said, try one of the restaurant's famous "Jia San Soup Parcels," described on the menu in fractured English as "wrappers thin as paper, fillings tender with soup and spiced with the three uniques."

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On the western edge of this city is the Xian Electric Market, one of the sprawling computer casbahs that can be found today in most of the larger Asian cities.

Here you can buy Intel Pentium computer chips, color scanners, assorted computer hardware, and, until the Clinton visit, various pirated American movies and software on compact discs.

But a week before Clinton arrived, city police swarmed into the market and shut down the booths offering the pirated discs.

When a pair of foreign reporters entered the warehouse-sized market Thursday, stall operators nervously barked signals to other merchants deeper in the building. There were sounds of doors and cabinets being closed.

When the reporters asked about buying some pirated discs, they were told to "come back after Clinton leaves."

Times staff writers Tyler Marshall, Jim Mann and Jonathan Peterson contributed to this report.

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