Lockes' Reunion: Standing Room Only -- Officials And Media Horn In On Event; Family Village Gets 11Th-Hour Makeover
Seattle Times Staff
JILONG, China - Gov. Gary Locke's personal pilgrimage turned into public spectacle yesterday as a near-hysterical throng witnessed the reunion of four generations of his family in their ancestral village.
The crushing crowds made the reunion more stressful, but no less emotional. In fact, the usually stoic governor said he and his wife "came close to crying" when they saw the thousands lining the streets to greet them.
"I never expected anything like that," Locke said. "It was just so totally overwhelming . . .
"I was so touched that they could be so proud of us."
The visit to this centuries-old village was both solemn and joyous as the Lockes saw sites of birth, death and marriage.
This was the governor's first visit to the village, and the first time his parents had returned since they were married 50 years ago. Locke had worked hard to persuade his 80-year-old father and ailing 79-year-old mother to accompany him here from Seattle, and he hoped the 170 villagers would focus their attention on them.
But Chinese media and Communist Party officials made that impossible. They nearly made it impossible for the first Locke reunion in half a century to take place at all.
The politicians saw great opportunity in a visit by America's first Chinese-American governor. The road to the village was rebuilt. New electric lights and the first plumbed toilet were installed. Functionaries from the local, county and provincial
parties sat in on the most personal reunions, including some family photographs.
Before being taken to the village, Locke and his family attended a formal welcoming ceremony 20 minutes away in the county seat of Taishan. They were greeted there by about 2,000 children dressed in bright uniforms, playing in marching bands and drill teams, waving plastic flowers, colorful hoops, ping-pong paddles and pompoms.
When Locke went into lunch, the children were bused to the road leading to Jilong, creating a colorful curtain a mile long. When he began his village stay, the children were moved to outside the Shuibu kindergarten, where Locke made a quick stop in the playground.
As the crowds swelled, the children were shoved, and a few knocked over, by aggressive police guards and photographers fighting for position.
The children were obviously part of a well-organized welcome for Locke. But that was not the case with the thousands who watched from the side of the road and from windows overlooking the narrow street where Locke's motorcade snaked toward the village.
When Locke arrived in Jilong, waving through the open sunroof of his limousine, the entrance to the village was filled with reporters, uniformed and plain-clothes security forces, a drum-and-gong band, dragon dancers and more costumed children.
Guards linked arms and held hands to surround the governor's family and shoved their way through the crowds, sometimes pressing small children and elderly villagers against walls as they cleared the way to the home of Luo Yau Zhang, known in the village and in the Locke family as Sixth Uncle.
"It did not give us the opportunity to really reflect and spend quiet time with the family," Locke said later. "Even the distant relatives were clamoring to get into my dad's great-uncle's house, and they were so proud and wanted to touch us and show us pictures."
At one point, there were nearly 70 people in the tiny, two-room brick house. Locke handed out li shi, the traditional Chinese gifts of cash in red envelopes.
The two entrances to the home were blocked by police - but not the windows, so dozens of cameras from TV stations, newspapers and magazines were thrust through. Locke said later that one local Chinese TV crew had sneaked onto the roof and was lowering a small video camera into the room from a small passageway until he saw them and pushed them back.
"Drive me nuts," said Locke's father, Jimmy, as he looked at the chaos in the village he hadn't seen since his wedding day in 1947. "Drive me nuts."
There were about 100 reporters, most from China.
The family then made its way to the nearby house where Jimmy was born, squeezing down small arms-width walkways lined by open sewer trenches.
"It was all cleaned up for us, but you could imagine that under normal daily life, they are filled with garbage and human waste and the odors are much stronger," Locke said.
Jimmy Locke's house is vacant now, except for bicycles stored there and an ancestral shrine. The governor and his wife, Mona Lee Locke, did a brief traditional memorial to the ancestors by bowing two times to the shrine, burning with incense, which was supposed to bring them good luck.
What no one told them was that villagers wanted the couple to make the traditional gesture because they are hoping the Lockes will give birth to a son. "Pity," Sixth Uncle said when told before the governor's arrival that Locke and his wife had a baby girl this year.
"He said Gary is the 24th generation of Locke and needs to have a son to have more generations," the translator said. The great-uncle had three daughters. He gave Locke a gift of a porcelain religious object that he said would bring them a male heir.
Villagers worried about what they should and shouldn't say to reporters. Sixth Uncle explained that he missed Jimmy Locke's wedding party in 1947 because he was in the army. Several people tried to stop him when he was asked which army, but he pressed on and explained that he served in the nationalist Kuomintang army that eventually lost the civil war to the Communists.
A cousin, 74-year-old Luo Jibang, said Locke's visit was one of the most exciting days of his life. But when asked if he thought the visit had any implications for U.S. relations with China, Luo said, "That is a question for one of the foreign-affairs people." There were several in the crowd. "Being a civilian, I should not talk about those questions."
Sixth Uncle said before Locke's arrival that he and the governor's father had debated whether there should be a Chinese or Americanized memorial to ancestors.
Jimmy wanted something Western. The uncle wanted to make an ancestral offering of a roast pig at the family's nearby gravesite.
Jimmy and the pig lost. The animal was cooked whole, with its ears and tail wrapped in bright paper and ribbons, and laid on a dirt hill. Fresh fruit and bread were also laid out. Strong incense burned, as Locke and his extended family bowed to the ancestors.
Family pictures were taken without party officials in the way, and Locke and his family left, about five hours after arriving on a river boat from Hong Kong.
The visit to Jilong was the final leg of a 12-day Asia mission that took Locke and his party of business, political, education and cultural leaders to Tokyo, Beijing, Washington's sister province of Sichuan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
Although the state had paid for the rest of the trip as a trade mission, the cost of the side trip to Jilong came from Locke's own pocket.
Last night in Hong Kong, Locke said the trip had shown him how much he owes his father for the relatively comfortable life he's had in Washington state.
"Not everybody is rich and part of the new wealthy class of China," he said. "Most people are still living under very tough conditions."
David Postman's phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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