The Second Cultural Revolution?

Letter From Beijing

Cultural bridges are sometimes made of unlikely materials. One, for instance, is the hoary Steppenwolf rocker-stomper "Born to Be Wild," a favorite of the Western suds, studs, and leather crowd for three decades, and now, thanks to an accident of history, a fixture at the karaoke bar of Beijing's Minzu Hotel.

Although I protested my unsuitability to the task, I was pressed into service there to inaugurate the song, recently added to the Minzu's jukebox. I am now glad I did. There are many worse songs to sing in public, and my reward for performing the gritty tune before a crowd of 200 or so Chinese men and women was manifold: I was roundly applauded, offered dozens of drinks, and treated to a good-natured skewering from a Chinese stand-up comedian who looked eerily like Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's, with a dollop of Curly Howard thrown in.

I was also given an education in modern Chinese politics, for the comic had more pressing business than simply to make sport of me and my decadent Western ways. He disappeared from the stage for a few minutes, during which time a squadron of heartachingly beautiful models showed a line of clothing that melded the high style of Cheryl Tiegs' KMart fashions with the functionality of People's Liberation Army garb. When he returned, the comic, no longer smirking, was dressed in a Red Guard cadre's uniform, vintage 1966....

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