The eyes are out hard in 'the heart'
Today marks an auspicious and disturbing anniversary for my neighborhood here in Beijing. I live a ten minute walk away from Tian'anmen Square, the political heart of the PRC and the favored focal point for those who oppose CPC policies. 7 years ago today, seven people walked onto the square in the mid-afternoon, doused themselves with gasoline and attempted to set themselves on fire. Five of them succeeded, two of them died and the remaining survivors, including a then-19 year old college student, will live the rest of their lives severely disfigured. This extreme act was allegedly committed by FLG members protesting against the CPC's ban of the movement. Though questions have been raised about some of the events and motives in the case, known today as the Tian'anmen Square self-immolation incident, there can be no doubt that this was a protest of one form or another. No one voluntarily lights themselves on fire unless they've got a pretty good statement to make. But the point of this post is not to discuss that particular incident itself, but to heed a reminder to those who would use this summer's Games as a launching pad for protest: Big brother is keeping a very close eye on you!
As I mentioned, I live a very short distance from Tian'anmen. I actually catch the Tian'anmen East subway station every working day, and as such, catch a constant glimpse of what's happening in the neighborhood. And I can tell you that in the last couple of months, security in and around the area has been noticeably increased. The police are now consistently doing random searches of people who appear to be either hocking crappy merchandise or are out there to try to scam unsuspecting tourists. I will admit that personally I have never been stopped or even questioned by the PSB, but then I normally don't make it a habit to hang around Tian'anmen very much. That said, when a guest was in Beijing last fall visiting from Canada, I did get a first-hand demonstration of how quickly the security forces in and around Tian'anmen will react if they see something they don't like.
I was touring my friend around the various locations in the heart of the capital, including the Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square and so on. As boring as it was for me personally, a short blast of excitement did take place while we were in front of the main Zhongnanhai gate to the west of Tian'anmen. As I was taking a picture of my friend standing in front of the gate, a middle-aged Chinese man and woman walked up to the yellow line in front of Zhongnanhai and pulled out a sign on a piece of cardboard and started holding it up. In the span of less than 3 seconds, 4 plain-clothes security personnel were on them, stripped them of their sign and began grilling them about what exactly they were doing. And though I had a camera in my hand, I've lived in the neighborhood long enough to realize that if you don't want it confiscated, you'd better not have a camera in plain site when trouble starts brewing. Though I wanted to stick around and find out what the outcome would be, I felt it best to get my friend out of the situation and out of any potential harms-way, given that neither of us were carrying our passports (a PSB requirement for all foreigners). And as we were making our way out of the area, more and more security personnel were descending on the area. It was a real eye opener as to just how prepared they are for protest in and around the Tian'anmen area. And this was a time when nothing politically sensitive or interesting was taking place!
Now I'm not going to try to tell anyone what to do. If you have plans to come over here this summer and use the Olympics as a springboard for political points against the CPC, I personally don't care (though I think it will be a wasted effort). But I can tell you what's likely to happen if you do: If you're a foreigner, you will be detained, your visa will be revoked and you will be kicked out of the country permanently. And you'll want to hope it's as simple as that. And consider yourself lucky that you're a foreigner! I don't even want to know what happens to the Chinese nationals who want to make a public protest against the government these days. But if the protesters 7 years ago today are any sort of indication, the long road to recover from their nasty burns is still being - and will continue for the rest of their lives - in a Chinese prison cell.
So make your stand this summer if you want, but be prepared for the inevitable outcome!
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