Beijing’s paranoia before Communist Party congress, aka ‘Sparta,’ drives netizens crazy

November 2, 2012Jing GaoNo Comments, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The political struggles at the top echelon of the Chinese leadership are getting increasingly intense as the 18th Party Congress, where the next generation of the country’s leaders will be announced, approaches. Anything that goes wrong before the political dust settle may bode ill for the regime, which sees stability as the top priority, even though a majority of ordinary Chinese could not care less about it.

For one thing, some of the names have already surfaced as apparent replacements for the current No.1 (President Hu Jintao)and No.2 (Primier Wen Jiabao), and the Party Congress is all about going through the motions. For another, it is just a ‘party’ which they have no ticket to and thus have no reason to celebrate for. In the words of one Chinese commentator, “It never concerns Chinese people who will climb up and who will step down. Not that Chinese people have no political common sense. Rather, the tradition has made it so. According to the tradition, politics is the business of meat-eaters. How the imperial court is caught up in infightings is, to ordinary people, just fun, a kill-time, a gossip and a topic to chat about. No one will ever think that the grapple between the crane and the clam will benefit them.”

But Beijing does not want to run the risk of having trouble makers ruin the festivity and the façade of peace and harmony. So they have given strange orders and made absurd arrangements, and complaints are running high on Chinese social media. Netizens even use the code name ‘Sparta’ in their complaints, which in Chinese sounds similar to ‘18th Congress’ (si ba da v. shi ba da), to both get around the online censorship apparatus and poke fun at their regimented life in the lead-up to the meeting.

A number of new regulations are targeted at the city’s taxi cabs. Since October 25, there have been rumors that all Beijing taxi drivers are directed to remove window handles on the doors at passengers’ seats to keep the windows shut so that no passenger can scatter subversive flyers. Such rumors were later confirmed by other netizens as they spread on Sina Weibo, the nation’s immensely popular social media site.

@李天健Jim: The taxi buddy said the public security bureau orders that window handles be removed. Why does a Sparta (slang for 18th Congress) looks like a defense mechanism against thieves?

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As if this is not safe enough, the authorities have issued a printed ‘guidance’ to all taxi drivers in Beijing (shown below), demanding that taxi drivers: 1, lock all doors and windows; 2, stay on guard against passengers who bring with them ball-like objects “in case they attach slogans to balloons or throw around ping pong balls with reactionary wording;” 3, make detour from political centers, that is, Tiananmen Square and the surrounding structures; 4, inspect their vehicles inside out often in case ‘outlaws place or paste reactionary materials or slogans.’

There are even travel agreements for the passenger to sign if he insists on traveling along Changan Avenue, a thoroughfare running through the political and spiritual heart of China, in which the passenger must promise to keep windows and doors shut and take full responsibility if anything happens.

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‘Guidance of Taxi Operation’

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‘Travel agreement’

Heavy security sighted on Changan Avenue in front of Tiananmen Square

@假装在纽约, a Sina Weibo user with a very large following, wrote,

“Riding a taxi to Chang’an Avenue requires signing a travel agreement. Window handles on taxi cabs must be disassembled. It is exactly these details, which are as absurd as 1984 but are really there, and our helplessness in the face of such absurdities, that remind us of this surreal and exceedingly ridiculous era that no one can dismiss with a laugh.”

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@李承鹏: (Li Chengpeng, a sports journalist and high-profile dissident) In short, The Beijing Changan Avenue Entry and Exit Management Bureau has been established.

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Some department stores in Beijing put up signs notifying that anyone that purchases remote-controlled toy helicopter must be ID’ed as per the directive from the local public security bureau.

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The tight control has also been enforced in the cultural sphere, where censors have gotten hypersensitive. Below is a tweet by well-known Chinese songwriter Gao Xiaosong:

@高晓松: Recently, censorship imposed on songs has become unprecedentedly strict. Songs carried by big television stations cannot contain inauspicious words like “death” or “down” (as in step down). Just now I saw with my own eyes a singer covering “Love Until Death” (a hit song in China) get thumbed down. A reminder for people in this profession.

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The tweet has garnered over 52,000 shares and 10,702 comments, many of which are suggestions on renaming the song, “Love Until Ascending to Heaven,” “Love Until Kicking the Bucket,” “Love Until Biting the Dust,” “Love Until Conking Out”…(Shown below)

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In response, a censor at Chinese Ministry of Culture told a newspaper, “We won’t go that far as to ban the mention of death; but we will take more stringent measures on content and wording of some songs as a responsible attitude to the songs themselves,” to clear up the rumor, or did he?

Ban on sales of kitchen knives in the lead-up to and during major communist party meetings is almost a norm, but grumbles, both from sellers whose businesses are effected and from ordinary people, who may or may not need to buy a new knife, are markedly louder than before.

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“Apology! During ‘18th Congress’, sales of all knives are suspended. Please be understanding!”

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A mock newspaper front page ‘Shit-izen News’ designed by an anonymous net user, in which a hand chops up steak with a stone, and the ‘knife’ part is missing from the Chinese character “Zhao,” which means ‘to convene’.

Before and After Security Check: the sickle and the hammer are gone!

An estimated number of 1.4 million people are hired as ‘volunteers’ to maintain order until the meeting ends. Net users nicknamed such volunteers ‘aunties,’ as a considerable percentage of them are women over 50 wearing red armbands and red vests who have been unemployed or retired (although male foreigners were also hired for the same job before). Yu Jianrong, a sociology professor at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, tweeted on Sina Weibo that a volunteer on patrol told him that she will be paid 50 yuan (US$8) per day for just sitting there and acting as a scarecrow.

@夏佑至:In front of the Capital Museum. The capital belongs to the people of Beijing as well as the people of the entire country, but at the end of the day, it belongs to aunties.

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@于建嵘 (Yu Jianrong): When I was taking pictures of this villager on patrol, I asked her how she checked bad people up. She gave a hearty laugh, “Check my ass! Who cares? Can’t even scare a person away. I just heard sitting there for one day pays 50 yuan.”

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Just as some net user put it, “They fear the people to such a sickening degree. How pathetic is that!”

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