“Those people came here to welcome the Vice Governor,” the young man from the provincial government turned back to us and explained gravely, “Among them are the Secretary of the X City Municipal Committee, the Mayor and the Vice Mayor who’s in charge of industry. In that police car is the Director of the Public Security Bureau.” Then he added, “This is a routine for them to come and welcome provincial governors.”
He was talking about the row of vehicles waiting by the roadside. Two well-armed policemen on motorcycles headed the row. Behind them was a Santana 2000 police car. A potbellied policeman standing by the car saluted our motorcade with his serious eyes. Following them were three shining sedan cars, by each of which stood an official and a young man (maybe the assistant). At the end of the row was a van marked “X City TV”.
We were on a trip to a county to check on a coal chemistry project with an expert team lead by the Vice Provincial Governor. Thanks to him I had the honor to witness a routine welcoming procedure a provincial governor receives in his precinct. During the two hours’ drive, we stopped three times for three welcoming groups (respectively X city leaders, county leaders and leaders of the local company we were visiting), and our motorcade expanded from five vehicles to 23 vehicles.
We were invited by the provincial government to join an inspection team sent by the central government to give our suggestions to the team from the perspectives of an enterprise and a potential investor. It was such an important inspection that the Vice Province Governor in charge of industry decided to lead the team himself.
When we set out from the capital city that morning, the motorcade consisted of only five vehicles: a police motorcycle, a van for the Vice Governor, and tree vans for the inspection team members. It was really a very small motorcade for a provincial leader in China. “What a modest leader!” I admired in my heart.
Half an hour later, we saw a banner standing in the middle of the highway, saying “Welcome to X City”. The young man from the government told us we were already in X city, and the motorcade would stop for a break. That was when I saw the vehicles and people waiting by the roadside as I mentioned in the beginning.
The welcoming crowd ran up toward the Vice Governor’s car, and talked to him excitedly through the widow. Five minutes later, the policeman who guarded us from the capital city saluted to the Vice Governor, bid him farewell and drove back towards the capital city. His position of clearing the way for the motorcade was filled by two X city policemen on motorcycles and the Director of the Public Security Bureau in his car. When our motorcade set out again, it was a much bigger motorcade of eleven vehicles: two motorcycles, four sedans, five vans.
The motorcade was not only added with more vehicles, but also noise. On top of the loud siren was the Public Security Bureau Director’s voice shouted through the car speaker, “Caution, caution, get out of the way, get out of the way…” All vehicles within earshot pulled off to the side of the road to allow our motorcade to pass by, as if they were avoiding a plague.
I couldn’t help laughing at my previous admiration for the “modest” governor. But I did not know it was just the beginning of the “routine procedure”.
After another 20 minutes, the motorcade stopped again. This time I was too disgusted to ask why. But the young man from the government did not need our invitation to give an enthusiastic explain, “We have arrived at Y county. The Secretary Governor, Deputy Governor and the Police Chief of the county are welcoming us here.” I just returned him with a nonchalant “ok” and closed my eyes.
I opened my eyes again when the motorcade set out for the third time, only to find the motorcade grew to 19 vehicles. One director of our company said “Government officials are indeed different from common people. What a spectacle.” The young man turned back, laughing, his face beaming with excitement and a most sincere complacency.
When the motorcade stopped again after ten minutes, I got really impatient. “What now?” I asked, “Is it township leaders this time?” The young man replied in a tone that reminded me of CCTV newsreaders “According to standard procedures, comrades from the enterprise should be welcoming our governor here.”
I stuck my head out of the van and saw two Audis and two BMWs driving toward us. On approaching us the four cars made a U-turn and drove in front of the motorcade, leading us toward their company.
When we finally arrived at our destination, a large herd of people hurried to cluster around us. They automatically spread to each of the vehicles to help the passengers alight. A peasant-looking old man in formal suits reached out his hands to me with a big smile. I hastened out of the van before he could get hold of me, at the same time promising to him I could get out safely without his help.
I stood as far as I could from the herd and watched them with curiosity. The Vice Governor was surrounded in the middle of the crowd like a great leader. He shook hand with people like a great leader, and like a great leader he greeted the crowd with “Comrades, you’ve been working hard.” The crowd replied his greeting with big smiles and thunderous applause. The government staff ran back and forth like fleas; the policemen yelled into their walkie-talkie like pop singers; cameras flashed continuously; female journalists jumped around with excitement. It was quite a scene, as jolly as a celebration of the New Year.
I looked back and counted the number of vehicles in the motorcade: three motorcycles, three police cars, nine sedans, nine vans (I don’t know exactly when another van joined). The motorcade had got twenty-three vehicles in total, spreading out for over 100 meters (328 feet) on the road.
A five-car motorcade expanded to 23 vehicles in only two hours’ drive. I was told such a scene was just a part of the routine etiquette which I guess no government official or people around them can avoid. If not for this trip, I may never know such etiquette exists among our honorable governors, and I cannot help wondering what other etiquettes those people are following when out of our sight.