China’s toytown clamp on pigeons, taxis, model planes and sharpeners
Don’t wind down taxi windows. Don’t buy a remote-controlled plane without police permission. And don’t let your pigeons out to fly.
Beijing is tightening security as its annual Communist Party congress approaches, and some of the restrictions are simply bizarre. Kitchen knives and pencil sharpeners have reportedly been removed from shops, and there’s a rumour that authorities are on the lookout for seditious messages on ping-pong balls.
The congress, which begins on Tuesday, will name the new leaders who will run the world’s most populous country and second-largest economy for the next decade.
China always tightens security for high-profile events. But many of Beijing’s rules seem extraordinary, perhaps in an effort to smooth a once-a-decade transition that has already been bumpy.
Bo Xilai, once a candidate for the all-powerful Politburo’s Standing Committee, suffered a spectacular fall from grace in which his wife was convicted of murder. One of president Hu Jintao’s closest aides was demoted, apparently after his son was killed alongside two partially dressed women in an accident in his Ferrari. Meanwhile, protests over pollution, land seizures and corruption continue.
Human rights groups report that activists and petitioners are being rounded up but the broader security measures suggest a bid to ensure no disruptions.
The government has blocked searches for the phrase “18th Party Congress” on websites including China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo. Posters manage to get around that by using characters that sound like “party congress.” One substitute being, “Sparta”.
Taxi drivers have been told to remove window handles, to avoid sensitive parts of the city and not to open their windows or doors if they pass “important venues”. An unnamed man who answered the phone at Wan Quan Si taxi company in the south of the capital said the rule applies to all taxi companies in Beijing. Beijing investment company worker Li Tianshu said she didn’t believe colleagues’ claims that door handles had been removed until she got into a taxi the other day.
“There were no handles for three of the four windows,” she said. “The driver told me their company asked them to do it to prevent passengers spreading leaflets. The driver complained that if they don’t take the handles away or the passengers throw leaflets out of the taxis, they will be fired.”
A memo circulating on Weibo warned cabbies to be on guard against passengers who may want to release balloons with slogans or throw “ping-pong balls with reactionary words”. Its authenticity could not be confirmed.
Police in Beijing are asking that Chinese show their ID cards and foreigners their passports when buying remote-controlled model aircraft over safety concerns, the official Global Times newspaper reported.
One toy shop owner said officials had told him to stop selling medium and large-sized planes.
“This kind of plane can’t fly long distances and can hardly carry anything,” said Chen Ziping, holding up a model about a foot and a half long. “They just told me to stop selling it and I have to follow the order.”
Chen Jieren had a run-in with the security rules on Sunday after the handle of his knife broke while cooking dinner. He took his ID to the supermarket, knowing people must show identification when buying knives during sensitive periods.
“Well, it didn’t work this time,” Mr Chen said. “I was told by the police that no more knives can be sold, not even pencil sharpeners.”
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