Xujun Eberlein is the author of Apologies Forthcoming, a story collection set in China, and Inside-out China, a cultural criticism blog. She is a guest blogger for The Atlantic. Read her on-going blog about China here:
In the summer of 1987, my future husband, Bob, cycled across China — I think he was the first American who did that — as he came to meet me in Chongqing. As a yet-to-be-betrothed daughter, I lived with my parents, because an unmarried person was ineligible for an apartment. My parents, who had both been underground Communists in the late 1940s and active protesters against America in the post-WWII years, were shocked to see an American with a bike on his shoulder walking through the door of our 4th floor apartment. At the time, either a bike or a foreigner was a rare sight in Chongqing the inland mountain city. Across China, Westerners had only recently — and guardedly — been allowed to travel about, provided that they did not break the country’s often invisible rules or court its untainted women.
My parents, temporarily held back by their traditional hospitality for guests (I told them Bob was my teacher at graduate school), tolerated Bob the American visitor for one day. The second day, my father could no longer bear his discomfort and ordered Bob to depart. Before laying down the law, he suggested Bob visit SACO – 中美合作所 (Zhong-Mei hezuosuo), on Gele Mountain in the western part of Chonqging.
“What is SACO?” Bob asked. I was very surprised. Having never set foot outside China, I thought every American knew the name SACO (“Sino-American Cooperative Organization”), just as every Chinese knew the name “Zhong-Mei hezuosuo.”