Mister Li, a bicycle repairman who works in one of Beijing’s traditional alleyways, is doing a roaring trade this week.
Why? Because Li’s stall is one of the few of its kind to remain open in his neighbourhood. The others have all been closed to ‘beautify’ the city for the 18th Party Congress which began on Thursday.
The same goes for stallholder Liu, a purveyor of ham and egg pancakes. Though it’s not all good news for Liu. He’s been told to make sure the seating outside his stall is tidied away by 9am – the time at which he does his best trade.
Beijing has gone into lockdown as it completes the first stage of its once-in-a-decade leadership transition over the coming days.
As WiC pointed out last week the city’s taxis have had to disable their rear windows – after someone apparently threw ping-pong balls containing political messages out of a moving car. Taxi drivers have also been instructed to avoid the area around Tiananmen Square during the Congress. If a passenger insists on passing through the vicinity, a pledge must be signed agreeing to keep all doors and windows tightly closed, according to a document circulating widely online.
Similarly, buying a new kitchen knife will require registering the purchase at a police station.
Other new “rules” seem to include a ban on sending electrical items in the post, and even the purchase of bricks.
Items that can get airborne are a particular concern. Pigeon fanciers have been told to keep their birds in their coops and toyshops were instructed to remove the remote-control helicopters from their shelves.
Helium balloons can still be bought – but not in large numbers, it seems
Further afield government officials have shut some of the more hazardous mines in the central provinces of Shanxi and Shaanxi in order to reduce the risk of bad news during the Congress.
Likewise, domestic internet censorship has kicked up a gear, with access to websites outside China more prone to disruption. Providers of virtual private networks (VPNs) – which allow subscribers to access websites blocked by the country’s Great Firewall – also said that their own services came under increased attack this week.
But perhaps the oddest example of the nervousness in the capital city is Beijing’s ban on the use of pedalos during the Congress.
Plying their trade on the lakes behind the Forbidden City and across several other parks in Beijing, the pedalos are often used by young couples for a bit of privacy.
Now they are in dry dock, a move taken “to create a safe, stable, ordered and harmonious water environment during the 18th Congress.”
A potential overreaction, perhaps? But as the notice from the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport goes on to say, “nothing is a small matter in the capital”.
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