January 1979. What I remember most about meeting Deng Xiaoping in January 1979 at the Great Hall of the People was NOT the lengthy session during which the new relationship with the United States was hailed and warnings of the dangers of “Soviet Hegemony” voiced. Rather it was the spittoon that was placed strategically and yet discreetly next to the “paramount leader’s” chair.
As each reporter in turn stood to ask a question, Premier Deng leaned back awaiting translation and took a well considered puff on his ‘Panda’ cigarette. Then just before the most important part of the question, he leaned forward and deposited a great wad of spit into the porcelain receptacle placed at the foot of his chair. Years later, Michel Oksenberg, a distinguished China scholar, told me that ‘spitting’ was his way of keeping questioners off guard. “An effective negotiating technique.” It was also characteristic of the earthy nature this leader from Sichuan displayed all his life. [more to come]