Toys, Birds Harmonized Amid Beijing Security Crackdown

In addition to taxi cabs, Reuters reports that even the pigeons of Beijing must adhere to heightened restrictions as officials in the Chinese capital take no chances ahead of next week’s 18th Party Congress:

Li Zhonghe, 65, a retired construction worker, told Reuters he would have to keep his 40 to 50 pigeons in their coops when the congress starts.

“There are currently some extra restrictions, so we are not supposed to let the pigeons out to fly,” Li said, adding he did not know the reason why. “It’s this way every time there is a congress. I’m accustomed to it by now.”

Unlikely as it seems, pigeons, often raised as a hobby in China, have been used as a tool of subversion before. In the late 1990s, dissidents released pigeons carrying slogans written on ribbons tied to the birds’ feet in southern China.

The Beijing Carrier Pigeon Association said in an online notice two annual autumn races, originally scheduled during the congress, would be postponed until December. It did not say why.

The Wall Street Journal has published a series of photos showing the heightened security in Beijing, and The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs has more on the government’s full-court press:

As this sprawling city of 20 million people steels itself for the 18th Party Congress, all sorts of potentially buoyant objects — balloons, homing pigeons, Ping-Pong balls and remote-control toy airplanes — are finding their way onto lists of suspicious items that could potentially carry protest messages and mar the meticulously choreographed political spectacle.

And this is just a tiny portion of the government’s rules and restrictions, circulated on the Internet but never officially acknowledged, that seem likely to make daily life especially challenging during the weeklong congress, which one provincial police department likened to a “state of war.”

In recent days, kitchen knives have been removed from store shelves, Internet access has mysteriously slowed to the speed of molasses, and international news channels like CNN and the BBC have disappeared from television sets in upscale health clubs.

As Jacobs reports, “hundreds, if not thousands” of dissidents have either been placed under house arrest or asked to leave Beijing. The Guardian’s Jonathan Kaiman caught up with prominent activist Hu Jia, who said he has been under tight surveillance for the past six weeks:

On 20 October, state security officers escorted Hu to a train station in Beijing and bundled him off to his hometown in Anhui province. Hu said the police threatened his parents with violence if he returned to Beijing before the end of the meeting.

“This has been way worse than the 17th party congress,” Hu said, referring to a similar event in 2007, while he was formally under house arrest. “At that time I was allowed to go out and buy things to eat. This time there’s just no way.”

Meanwhile, although state media published several cherry-picked comments from Sina Weibo users on Friday, David Bandurski of The China Media Project details the difficulty of finding microblog posts mentioning the congress:

Searches for “18th Congress” using both numerals and Chinese characters are blocked on Chinese social media sites. Apparently, it is possible to make posts using the terms, but it is not possible to see what others have posted unless you are following them. The goal, it seems, is to restrict conversation about the meeting while not outright banning the terms.

Searches for the terms yield a message that reads: “We’re sorry, results related to ’18th Congress’ cannot be found.”

See additional coverage of China’s upcoming 18th Party Congress, via CDT.


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