Socialites Meet Socialism In Luxurious Weekend Benefit
BEIJING (AP) _ About 200 capitalists converged here Thursday for a weekend of caviar on the Great Wall, boat rides on an imperial pleasure lake and a display of opulence not seen in this spartan socialist capital since 1949.
The participants, from 21 countries, are spending $4,300 each to enjoy such Western luxuries as a masked ball and champagne breakfast at sites of past Chinese imperial glory.
For $5,200 more, 100 of them will spend 10 days touring China’s most famous scenic spots.
The weekend event, dubbed ″The Return of Marco Polo″ after the 13th century Venetian adventurer, was organized by a French group calling itself the Committee to Save Venice and the Great Wall, headed by public relations agent Daniel Vial.
The proceeds were intended to help restore the Great Wall, reduced in many sections by weather and war to a heap of stones, and to preserve the art and architecture of Venice, Italy.
But Vial said Chinese officials are charging such high fees for transportation, food, site rentals and services that most of the ticket receipts will be needed to cover expenses.
He cited a $54,000 charge by Beijing municipal authorities to rent a section of the Great Wall for four hours Saturday so the guests can lunch there on caviar and champagne.
″I’m not sure they (Chinese officials) got exactly the concept of a charity,″ Vial told a news conference this week. ″They charge us the maximum.″
The number of high-paying guests also is less than half what was expected, Vial acknowledged. He said Chinese delays in confirming arrangements made it impossible to advertise far enough in advance.
The organizers now say any funds to help the Great Wall or Venice will have to come from the final event of the weekend, a Sotheby’s auction Sunday of donated modern Western and Chinese art and rare objects.
Sotheby’s has estimated the 67 items, including a 1777 bottle of cognac, a pottery jug painted by Picasso and a painting by Deng Lin, the daughter of senior leader Deng Xiaoping, should fetch $695,400 to $869,000.
However, auctioneer Julian Thompson, chairman of Sotheby’s International, said no one is really sure what to expect. It will be the first auction of Western art in China since the Communist takeover in 1949.
The cheapest item in the sale is expected to be a Sevres porcelain cup valued from $215 to $320 - about how much an average Chinese factory worker earns annually.
Despite uncertainty about how much will be reaped for charity, plenty of cash will flash during the weekend.
The guests will be ferried about in black Red Flag limousines, entertained by Chinese acrobats and singers, fed on caviar, French cuisine and brandy and allowed to party at some of China’s most sacred national monuments.
They will boat at the luxurious 19th century Summer Palace and hold a Venetian masked ball and watch fireworks at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse.
They will breakfast at the Temple of Heaven, where the emperor offered sacrifices for a good harvest, dine in the Forbidden City, the imperial palace in Beijing and watch Chinese and Western performers Saturday night at the Great Hall of the People.
The guests gathered at the weekend’s first event, a cocktail party in the garden of the glass-plated Sheraton Hotel, serenaded by Chinese musicians playing ancient instruments.
An American businessman, asked why he was willing to pay so much, said with a shrug, ″To have fun.″
″We are not in Beijing now,″ said a Frenchman who, like the American, spoke on condition of anonymity. ″It’s as if we are in San Francisco.″
Organizers said several European and Arab nobility signed up for the weekend, but most of those at the party seemed to be involved in business with China.
Hundreds of police will shield the guests from contact with ordinary Beijing residents, among who the main topic of conversation lately has been 30 to 60 percent increases in the prices of pork, eggs and sugar.
Former Foreign Minister Huang Hua, when asked at the cocktail party if such displays of wealth were appropriate in impoverished China, call income differences ″an objective reality.″
″We are trying to make our country prosperous,″ he said. ″We need all kinds of help.″