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Rave on the Great Wall
And the authorities in Beijing knew nothing about it

It was 2.30am when a rat ran across my legs that I decided it was time to quit the Great Wall of China and head for the small hotel at the bottom of the valley. I had been sitting on a stone stairway looking at a harvest moon. It wasn't only the rat. It was also the music -- decibels and decibels of pumping house, techno, funk and trance. I had wanted to see the sun come up, but decided I preferred silence to sunrise and staggered down the wall, past the watchtowers with a torch in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, to bed.

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"Another Brick in the Wall," the organizers of the June 17 event called it. Another kick in the pants, more likely, for this was decorous anarchy with Chinese characteristics and one more step down the road to artistic mayhem. It was a rave [dance party] on the Great Wall at Jinshanling, about a three-hour drive from Beijing. It was not the first -- that was in 1998 -- but it was certainly the grandest, with fireworks, endless beer, tequilas and a barbecue. And the authorities in Beijing knew nothing about it.

It was all above board, though. Permission had been given by the local municipality which took 20,000 renmimbi (about $2,400) in rent for the use of three watchtowers and about 200 meters of wall for one night. The police wages were 2,000 yuan ($240), and then there were the medics. They seemed to spend most of the night trying to stop a couple of comatose kid drunks from rolling down the wall from one watchtower to the next.

It was a ticket-only affair, costing 300 renmimbi (about $35), that pulled in about 400 ravers. News of the event was spread by word-of-mouth through the bars of Beijing. "We had to keep the rave fairly closely under wraps," a spokesman for the organizers said. "If the Beijing authorities had found out they would have banned it and we couldn't take that risk."

You could see why. The wall, of course, was one reason; it could not be desecrated. And the music was probably considered subversive. The leading band was a punk group of Chinese dropouts with dyed-blond hair called the Anarky Boys. The singer wore a T-shirt emblazoned with 'Junkie's Baddy Powder' and spent most of the act using the F word in English. It was tame for the foreigners stomping to his beat and probably went straight over the heads of the Chinese there and the police. Only the group of Mongolian hookers who were giving old fossils like me the glad eye probably got the message.

But it looked wild. And appearances seem to matter more than ideology in today's China. Even the rave's organizers -- The China Pump Factory -- expressed their political solidarity with the ruling Communist Party, and chose a portrait of that great icon of community spirit Lei Feng for their logo. This "rustless screw" of communist propaganda -- whose short life was devoted to helping his neighbors -- died in the 1960s when a telephone pole fell on his head. His image this time was at the Great Wall shaking the night away on foreign and Chinese chests.

I can't see why Beijing should get upset. After all, bands and dancing have been central to the life of good communists. Mao and the old guard were slow-slow-quick-quick-slowing to the tunes of Glenn Miller through the caves of Yennan and the pavilions of Zhongnanhai every holiday. We don't know what President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji prefer. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it wasn't rock 'n' roll. No, on second thoughts, it's probably country and western.

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