Biking in Peking 1984


This is a first experiment with posting some of my old radio features from Beijing where I worked as BBC Radio News correspondent in the mid-1980s.

Click on the file above to access an MP3 recording of one of my earlier, rather naive although cheerfully observant, features for Radio 4’s Today Programme.

When I arrived in China with my trusty Condor bike in October 1984, the customs folk at Peking airport, as it then was,  were quite dismissive.

“Why do you need to bring a bicycle to China,” they asked. “We already have hundreds of millions of them, and you could get one here.”

Sue Boyd cycling in Beijing, 1986

The trouble with Chinese bikes in those days, however, was that they were all mighty heavy and usually of the sit-up-and-beg Flying Pigeon brand.

I wanted something more sleek and speedy, and was glad I took my own. I used to greatly enjoy cycling around Peking/Beijing, including sometimes on news stories.

And it was particularly rewarding to cycle out of Peking in 1986 eastward along the route of the Great Wall, through the depths of a little-reformed Chinese countryside. I was well outside the areas then legally accessible to foreigners and was duly, and promptly, arrested.

Thankfully, it was just before the Queen visited China, and I was able to argue that expelling the BBC Correspondent would be Bad For Friendship Between Our Two Peoples.

I even managed to explain that in Mandarin, and with a very friendly policeman, we worked out a form of apologetic words that would allow me to go free.

The ultimate compliment (well, I kowtowed sufficiently, I guess) was a parting “Your attitude is very good.” Ni de taidu hen hao…

Sadly, today, nearly 30 years on, there are far, far fewer ordinary bikes in Beijing, as everyone switches to cars, electric bikes perhaps, and the efficient new metro.

It will be fascinating to see this July when I’m back there again by bike how the city has changed, even further from the view here, which is how the Hutongs – the back streets – were already looking when I visited China in 2007, for the first time since Tiananmen Square in 1989.

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