Posted by: Dexter Roberts on September 30, 2009
It’s the eve of the big day: the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of China’s founding on October 1st, 1949, and Beijing has the odd feeling of being under some kind of ill-defined siege. In recent days, helicopters and fighter jets have occasionally buzzed overhead (unheard of in Beijing) while many more police than usual stand watchful at intersections in the heart of the city and others stroll through the city’s parks including Ritan, home to the historic temple of the sun. Traffic is already unusually light and rumors are rampant about just how much the city’s usually grid-locked streets will be declared off limits to all vehicles and perhaps even foot traffic. With China’s leadership planning to parade its latest military hardware including tanks, artillery, and missiles, down Beijing’s major east-west artery of Chang An Avenue, and with jets and helicopters above, it’s clear however, that there will be major disruptions.
Expats in the Jianwai branch of Starbucks—it will be shut tomorrow the staff tell me as it lies just a stone’s throw from Chang An—are talking about how they have stocked up on food and beer (will most shops and restaurants close their doors, many are wondering?) and are planning mini parties at home where friends will gather to watch the parade on television. Other friends are planning to watch the show from Hooter’s, the American restaurant chain of questionable taste, enjoying the irony of choosing that venue to observe what is sure to be a massive display of Chinese national and Party pride. And last night I heard the American owner of a popular Japanese restaurant say he has rented a hotel room for the next couple of nights—even though his apartment isn’t on Chang An or anywhere near Tiananmen Square where the parade’s action will focus, he’s decided it is close enough to potentially put a serious crimp on his activities over the next couple days.
Meanwhile, the office I work from has been declared off limits starting from today (I am writing this from the hip bar/coffee shop of a nearby five star hotel)—it sits too close to Chang An Avenue. Another friend tells me they were ordered to take a broken printer out of their office—police will be visiting today to inspect all the office equipment and who’s to say a broken printer might not be a bomb in disguise? And for those of us who live in the Jianwai and Qijiayuan Diplomatic Compounds, both abutting the length of Chang An called Jian Guo Men Wai—we have been living under a raft of new rules and restrictions for the second half of September. Indeed, all of us resident there had to apply for special individual passes as well as car permits as security precautions in the run-up to tomorrow’s celebration.
Here in part are the rules, as posted in a notice entitled “A Letter to Residents”:
1. During the period between 4 p.m. September 30th and 12 p.m. October 1st, please do not invite your friends or other persons into the Diplomatic Residence Compound.
2. During the period between 7 a.m. and 12 p.m. October 1st, please do not open any window or balcony door facing Jian Guo Men Wai Street (the Chang An Avenue); please also do not stand on the balcony to watch the ceremony.
3. As of 7 a.m. September 20th, the Diplomatic Residence Compound shall, in accordance with relevant regulations of the Beijing Municipal Government, prohibit any person or vehicle which does not have a new temporary pass from entering the Compound.
Of course, these rules are but minor annoyances for those of us—mainly foreign—who live in the diplomatic compounds near Chang An. But regrettably there are much more serious restrictions being implemented. Some Japanese journalists were recently attacked in their hotel room by several men, presumably for their attempts to cover an earlier rehearsal of the parade. And renewed efforts to censor the Internet in recent days affect all Chinese, of course. Over the past few months too, Beijing has targeted and shut down sites maintained for China’s minority groups including Mongolians and Uighurs. That’s happening despite the fact officials have decided to honor China’s ethnic diversity by featuring 56 regiments in tomorrow’s parade—56 because that’s the official number of ethnic groups in China.