EARLIER THIS YEAR, while he was organising the US premiere of his latest film, Together, the Chinese director Chen Kaige met Geoffrey Fushi. Fushi is the chairman and founder of The Stradivari Society in Chicago, and in that capacity he had arranged for Li Chuanyun, who plays the violin on the film's soundtrack, to borrow a 1714 Stradivari violin, which the young Chinese musician played at the film's opening nights in Los Angeles, Boston, New York City and Chicago. Chen was evidently, and understandably, dazzled by Fushi, a Gitanes chain-smoker who likes to affect custom-made, monogrammed shirts, self-designed cufflinks and cowboy boots. 'Chen Kaige kept looking at me and then he said, 'You're a real interesting guy',' says Fushi, who is today clad in chocolate-brown crocodile boots, a black Chinese-style outfit and chunky, violin-shaped cufflinks. 'He said, 'Would you consider acting in a movie?' He said that in a year he was going to do a movie called Gangs Of Shanghai, which would have some Italian mafia in it. He said, 'Would you do it? I'm serious. You'd be perfect as the godfather'.' Fushi, a large man who is amply spread out on one of the Hyatt Regeny's sofas, laughs softly. Every now and then, his cheerfully large son, Alec - who will later say to this newspaper's photographer, 'What's your name? Dickson? Dickson, I have to tell you something, when you photograph fat people, you have to photograph looking down' - re-emerges from another room and with varying degrees of intensity ('It's a circus in there') encourages his father, throughout the afternoon, to meet some unseen clients. Father calmly introduces son thus: 'He works with me. He's also a salesman of instruments.' This is the bald truth. Fushi, 59, may be the founder of The Stradivari Society, in which capacity he has played godfather since 1985 to many a young musician by blessing them with the arranged loan, through a donor, of an instrument of divine tone and stratospheric value, with only a few strings (in the other sense) attached. But he is also the co-founder, with Robert Bein in 1976, of Bein & Fushi, 'one of the world's premier violin dealers and restorers', as its catalogue says, and the two entities are now as inseparable as the coats of varnish on an 18th-century school of Cremona violin. Indeed, the curlicued front cover of the brochure for The Stradivari Society (a registered trademark - tiny encircled Rs stud each and every page) bears the microscopic golden words: 'A Division of Bein & Fushi' at the bottom. Fushi Senior, an amiable conversationalist with shrewd eyes, makes no bones about both his passion for music and this commercial state of affairs. While Li Ling, formerly of the Gloria Plaza Hotel in Beijing and the Hainan Asia-Pacific Brewery, latterly of China Star Media Corporation in Chicago, and now a director of The Stradivari Society, trips daintily around the room taking photos of this interview and occasionally fetching Fushi's papers, Fushi addresses vulgar questions with perfect, and apparently imperturbable, aplomb. Asked, for instance, why he's visiting China and Hong Kong, he says, 'We're coming to show instruments, more the lower-priced ones than the top ones.' Lower prices, in this context, mean US$100,000. The top price - well, if you quiz Fushi about how much the seven Stradivari Society violins he's currently travelling with are worth, he replies, after some muttering and finger-tallying, 'In the vicinity of US$20 million.' The lower-priced instruments are being shown to music students 'with wealthy parents who are interested in acquiring one'. (This, one assumes, is what's going on in another room of the Hyatt Regency's Club floor, supervised by Alec.) The top instruments have been gathered so that they can be played by Lu Siqing, who performed at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall the day after this interview took place. Lu, who was born in Qingdao in 1969, and educated at the Juilliard school in New York, usually plays a 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin called the Wieniawski, which he has been loaned by The Stradivari Society since last year. As such, he is expected to abide by The Stradivari Society's rules: that he insures the instrument himself, that he performs three private concerts for the society's sponsors, that he brings in the violin for maintenance checks to Bein & Fushi, and that he phones his donor regularly to engage in uplifting conversation. (The Stradivari Society's Artists' Guide advises that these little chats 'should consist of only 'smooth seas and good sailing'.') When Lu appears, to have his photo taken, it is clear that all will, indeed, be smooth sailing. Lu's photograph appears frequently in issue number 16, the special China edition, of The Stradivari Society magazine. (Asked if the magazine has a specific name, Alec, who according to his father is the world's top collector of aircraft insignia, owns 8,000 aircraft patches and is writing four books on this somewhat arcane field, pauses, then replies, 'The Bein & Fushi Brochure.') In fact, the opening spread of the magazine contains a photo of Lu above a quote from that well-known social commentator, and founder of the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard: 'A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists'. Accompanying the photo is an article, penned by Lu, entitled 'China Should Be The Leader Of The Classical Music World' with the sub-heading 'Acquiring Great Instruments For Our Orchestra And Soloists Is Critical'. It seems that Lu's dream is for China to buy some world-class instruments. 'Put simply: great Italian instruments make the most gorgeous sound,' he writes, winningly. It doesn't take a genius to see that a certain synergy is at work here between Lu, his 'great friend and tireless supporter, Geoffrey Fushi . . . co-principal of Bein & Fushi, the world's foremost violin dealer' and China's orchestras. Sweet music - certainly commercial music - has been made. Fushi, indeed, was named Official Adviser to the China National Symphony last spring, when the orchestra purchased 18 instruments from Bein & Fushi, the largest-ever simultaneous acquisition by a Chinese orchestra. Now, the stakes, and potential expenditure, are getting higher. 'We'd like to develop an interest in the top instruments in China,' explains Fushi, by which he means the multi-million-US-dollar school of Cremona instruments, as brokered by Bein & Fushi and The Stradivari Society. 'They haven't got one. North Korea has a Stradivari. You find a country like Georgia, in Russia - they have a Guarneri.' Or, as Lu plaintively puts it, in capital letters, in case the urgent message gets lost in his three-page essay: WHO WILL BE THE FIRST TO ACQUIRE TOP INSTRUMENTS FOR OUR ARTISTS? It should only be a matter of time before some magic is wrought, and Lu's dream comes true. After all, the Bein & Fushi repair shop in Chicago is located in the very room where L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard Of Oz, and Fushi is making some excellent inroads along the Yellow Brick Road. He describes a Lu concert at Zhongnanhai - 'China's White House' - last September, at which former president Jiang Zemin crooned Longing For Home by Ma Sicong to Lu's accompaniment: 'He belted it out with real drama, and everyone clapped like it was Pavarotti.' (Lu performed the identical programme to the Tianjing Motorola Manufacturing Plant on the following day; the co-founder of The Stradivari Society, Mary Galvin, is the wife of the former Motorola chairman, Robert Galvin.) 'I'm a Chinaphile,' Fushi says. 'I like the dining, the clothes, the fabric, the furniture, the arts, the religion - you know, Buddhism - I really like the Chinese aesthetic. And the people.' And the sales? 'I've gone over mostly to working on The Stradivari Society,' says Fushi, evenly. 'Early on, I was a seller. Now I arrange concerts and master classes. I'm hoping to sell a few of these instruments to keep the rest going. We're the only ones in the field who've done something like this.' 'I'd like to add something he's not telling you,' says Alec. 'From a business point of view, it costs us - what? A hundred thousand dollars a year?' 'You can multiply that,' says his father, quietly. Alec goes on, 'His partner [meaning Robert Bein] isn't happy about that.' Fushi interrupts his son: 'You needn't say that . . . it's good to convince wealthy people to be patrons for these young musicians.' Alec disappears, briefly, again. His father, who is clearly not in good health, and walks with a stick, leans back on the sofa, breathless. Later in the week, he plans to meet potential clients in Shenzhen, including the conductor of the Shenzhen Symphony. Has he thought of living in China and saving himself the burden of long-distance travel from Chicago? 'I'm seriously considering it. I want to work with Lu Siqing. I have an educational method to train violin and bow-makers and it can be used to teach music. I want to discourage the nasty pharmaceutical things they're introducing in China.' Like what? 'Like Ritalin. Kind of reminds me of the Opium Wars.' Alec re-emerges, and summons his father. Fushi groans as he rises, painfully, to his cowboy-shod feet, and murmurs, 'Oh Lord, it's that sales cycle again.'