In 1993, as CNN’s Beijing bureau chief, I decided to retrace that trip to see how the country had changed in the intervening 20 years. I managed to find Yu and discovered he was now running a tractor repair shop. He lived in a new flat with a TV. As a beneficiary of the market-oriented reforms introduced by then-senior leader Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, his life had clearly improved.
As soon as local officials were out of earshot, however, Yu confessed that almost everything I had seen during my first visit had been an illusion. He told me that in fact, conditions then were terrible, and that even the food I had so enjoyed had been trucked in from the city by local officials the day before — just to impress the foreigners.