Postcards From the Middle Kingdom, No. 1

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XIAN, China: President Clinton just arrived in what must be the longest motorcade the Chinese have ever seen. He has the Treasury Secretary, the Secretary of State, six congressmen and this huge entourage with him -- it just went on for miles. All along the drive through the city, which took at least half an hour, the route was lined with people, sometimes five or six deep. There were maybe 100,000 people out on the street, just to get a glimpse of President Clinton driving by in his limo. The impression was that they were drawn by the spectacle -- they weren't cheering and clapping, they were just staring at the huge motorcade. The Chinese met Clinton at the south gate of the city with an elaborate ceremony -- fake fog machines to add atmospherics, all these people in Tang dynasty costumes with elaborate headdresses, lanterns and weapons; a traditional emperor's greeting revived especially for the President. Clinton appeared to be enjoying himself and gave a nice people-to-people speech, staying away from politics. He noted that he was in China's heartland, and was from America's heartland himself. He said a nation draws its strength from its heartland. The good stuff will come later.