Date of this Version
June 4, 2009 in The China Beat http://www.thechinabeat.org/
I woke up this morning and took a short walk to a big square. As expected, it was pretty calm in the kind of jittery, strained, composed way one usually associates with a dinner party where one of the hosts is having an extramarital affair with one of the guests. The square looked relatively normal but with a beefed-up security detail that included a ring of young slack-jawed crew cut types in tracksuits and matching gray badges worn on unmatching t-shirts. Reports of visitors being asked to produce passports, to weed out foreign journalists, appear to be overstated. I walked into the square from two different directions today and wasn’t once asked for my passport. To read some of the other dispatches from this morning (Reuters/AP) you’d think the square was under martial law, and that’s not really the case. That said, don’t pull out a camera or try to film a dispatch unless you want an umbrella stuck in your face. (Yes, the latest in Chinese counter-surveillance equipment can be purchased at any subway kiosk for 5 RMB, or maybe 10 if it’s raining.)
There are many reasons for the non-events of today’s anniversary. While the square is open, the extra security is clearly ready to pounce on anybody who looks like trouble. Launching a spontaneous protest today would be like robbing a casino in Vegas; sure you might get your hands on the money but you’re going to get your teeth knocked in before you set a single foot outside to spend it. Whatever you do better be worth it. And frankly, people in Beijing don’t really seem to care very much, or maybe just aren’t that interested in big public displays of dissent. The majority of urbanites in China’s capital long ago traded away their political pottage for the right to buy knock-off handbags and a decent compact car, and they are reasonably happy with the deal they’ve made.
There are a few cracks in the facade. There will be a memorial service at Victoria Park in Hong Kong tonight. The new English-language edition of the Global Timeshas run two pieces this week, including a long article in today’s (June 4) edition looking at the Tiananmen crackdown in historical perspective. To be sure, the piece does so from the perspective of the CCP, but that the subject is broached at all, even in a relatively new English-language paper, is still noteworthy.