National Geographic : 2000 Mar
numbers of people. That is why they arrested hundreds of adherents of the Falun Gong group, which practices breathing and exercise rituals to seek spiritual well-being. The gov ernment waged a vigorous campaign to ban the group in 1999, even though many of its members are elderly. The Falun Gong people did the unthinkable, protesting the govern ment's interference in their private affairs by turning out, 10,000 strong, to meditate quietly in front of Zhongnanhai, the imposing com pound where party leaders live. The group's organizational abilities unnerved those leaders. IN BEIJING people find their victories in small ways, as I was reminded one morning when the unmistakable sounds of Strauss drew me toward the Temple of Heaven complex, where emperors once communed with the gods about harvests. The place was filled with couples in their 50s and 60s, gliding over the dusty hardpan, twirling in 136 their measured joy to music from boom boxes scattered around the improvised dance floor. I thought back to 1978 and to a factory worker I met in a park. "The Chinese need the right to free expression," he had said. "But the thing we need most, and the thing I cherish most, is the right to dance." Now Beijing's youths gyrate to the throb of disco music at nightclubs like the Hot Spot, where the girls have tattoos on their shoulders and glitter on their eyelids. By day they visit the city's new cafes and bars and show off their beepers and cell phones, symbols of success. They seem fairly normal, following a deep impulse to be modern and to separate them selves from an older generation. I found Wang Yingchun and her boyfriend practicing their bowling technique in the base ment of an apartment building, where the crack of bowling pins mingled with piped in clarinet tunes. She was dressed in a fashionable short skirt shredded like Robin Hood's tunic, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, MARCH 2000 . 4.