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Jan Cao

Six Tips For Staying Out of Trouble in “Spartan” Beijing Before the 18th Party Congress

As Beijing enters extreme lock-down prior to the 18th National Party Congress (十八大 or “shi ba da” in Chinese), social media users have invented a new coded reference–”Sparta”–to talk about this otherwise censored topic on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. A search for Sparta (斯巴达) yielded more than 3.2 million results on Sina Weibo.

To help those visiting China’s capital on the eve of this once-in-a-decade change in leadership, Tea Leaf Nation has compiled a survival guide in this alternate universe known as “Spartan” Beijing:

1. Don’t Roll Down the Windows in Your Taxi

Social media users have reported that handles used to roll down the rear seat windows in many taxis have been removed, apparently in an attempt to prevent passengers from distributing leaflets from the backseat.

Lin Chufang (@林楚方), editor-in-chief of iRead magazine, verified this: “Just took a cab home. I asked the driver, did your company really ask you to close the windows at all times? He said yes. Did they ask to remove the rear window handles? He said yes. What if the windows are  automatic? He said the driver can lock them from the front. What if the car goes near sensitive areas? He said he would lock the door. But who would know if you don’t lock it? He said there are special personnel in charge of checking this. Looks like that post on the Internet wasn’t rumor, it’s just me lacking imagination. Too naive!” {{1}}[[1]]@林楚方 :刚打车回家,我问司机,公司真要求你们窗户必须关着吗?他说是的;真要求卸掉后面窗户的摇把儿吗?他说是的;如果是自动窗户没摇把儿呢?他说从前面锁;如果路过敏感地带呢?他说锁车门;但你不锁谁知道?他说专门有人查。看来网上那个帖子不是谣言,只怪我想象力不够,太嫩啊![[1]]

2. Sign on the Dotted Line if You Take a Taxi

Some taxi companies have also asked passengers to sign an agreement that details the passenger’s point of origin, destination, name, phone number, and the route, as well as guarantee that the passenger will:

a. Fasten the seat belt;

b. Try to avoid important locations such as Tian’anmen Square. If the route is necessary,  the passenger must close the windows and lock the doors;

c. Acknowledge that the route is taken at the passenger’s direction and take full responsibility for any related consequences.

3. Don’t Buy Anything that Can Fly

A local supermarket posted a “gentle reminder” that customers who want to purchase remote-controlled toy airplanes need to register with their real names and IDs, due to a request from a local police station. Apparently, flying balloons is also forbidden.

4. Show Your ID if You Want to Bathe

A local spa or bath house also sent a warm short message to customers to let them know that anyone using the bathing facility (including children) needs to register with effective ID.

5. Out of Knives? Tough Luck

Be extra careful when using your kitchen knife in the next two weeks, because it would be hard to replace it in a “Spartan” Beijing. This photo shows a sign in a supermarket that suspended the sales of all knives during the 18th Party Congress. The same goes for scissors and screwdrivers.

6. Obey the Old Ladies

See that old lady with a red sleeve cover? Don’t mess with her. She is probably one of 110,000 “volunteers” in Beijing keeping an eye on the street.

Journalist Qi Jie (@coldair) reports, “There are many young and innocent faces in the [Beijing] subway, wearing red sleeve covers. Their job is to ride the subway non-stop and take note of bad people. I asked one, ‘Why do you do this?’ He said, ‘It pays. 40 RMB (approximately US$7) a day. We are volunteers.’” {{3}}[[3]]地铁里很多稚嫩单纯的大学生脸,手臂上带着红袖箍,写着巡逻治安,任务就是不停坐地铁,观察坏人,问一大学生,为什么做?答"有钱,一天40,我们是志愿者"[[3]]

Yao Bo (@五岳散人), a well-known social commentator, tweeted on Sina Weibo: “The people in charge of People’s Daily and CCTV [China Central Television] are afraid of leaflets. The people in charge of the military, para-military, local police and urban law enforcement are afraid of kitchen knives. The people in charge of armed vehicles are afraid of taxis driving near political centers. The people in charge of stealth fighter jets are afraid of toy planes and balloons. Bro, am I living in Alice’s Wonderland?” {{2}}[[2]]掌握着人民日报、cctv的怕撒传单;控制着军队、武警、警察、城管、小脚侦缉队的怕菜刀;有一群装甲车怕出租车走政治中心;隐形战机怕了遥控飞机与气球。大哥,我这是活在“爱丽丝漫游奇境”里?[[2]]

This article also appeared in The Atlantic, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.

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Jan Cao

Jan Cao is a senior and a comparative literature concentrator at Brown. She loves watching Japanese TV dramas and cooking.
  • Pingback: Six Tips For Staying Out of Trouble in “Spartan” Beijing Before the 18th Party Congress | World In My Eyes

  • http://www.facebook.com/wdizard Wilson P. Dizard

    An alternative English-language term for those arm covers is “brassards.” They have some creepy associations, for Europeans and Americans. Nazi party members used brassards emblazoned with the tilted swastika emblem, which they called the Hackenkreuz. (Of course, in Buddhism, the four-armed cross, positioned with the arms horizontally and vertically, stands for “eternity.” The Indian religious uses of the swastika symbol harken back to the Sanskrit word svastika, which is based on three syllables, which, when combined, denote “to be good,” or “being with the higher self.”) Brassards are also worn as elements of military uniforms. In the US Army, members of the Military Police wear arm brassards with the letters MP; the Navy’s Shore Patrol, traditionally responsible for extracting drunken sailors from barroom brawls, wear brassards with the letters SP. The US Air Force also has a Security Police squadron; their members sometimes wear brassards as well, with the letters SP. In my experience, the Air Force Security Police duties in that much more technically-oriented military service often focus on acting as police at the gates of, and inside, Air Force bases. Though, I suppose they might be called on to break up any rampant cheating that might occur during an Air Force-sponsored chess tournament or competition concerning memorization of the decimals of pi……

    • Rachel @ TLN

      That’s fascinating! Thanks for reading Wilson!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wdizard Wilson P. Dizard

    An alternative English-language term for those arm covers is “brassards.” They have some creepy associations, for Europeans and Americans. Nazi party members used brassards emblazoned with the tilted swastika emblem, which they called the Hackenkreuz. (Of course, in Buddhism, the four-armed cross, positioned with the arms horizontally and vertically, stands for “eternity.” The Indian religious uses of the swastika symbol harken back to the Sanskrit word svastika, which is based on three syllables, which, when combined, denote “to be good,” or “being with the higher self.”) Brassards are also worn as elements of military uniforms. In the US Army, members of the Military Police wear arm brassards with the letters MP; the Navy’s Shore Patrol, traditionally responsible for extracting drunken sailors from barroom brawls, wear brassards with the letters SP. The US Air Force also has a Security Police squadron; their members sometimes wear brassards as well, with the letters SP. In my experience, the Air Force Security Police duties in that much more technically-oriented military service often focus on acting as police at the gates of, and inside, Air Force bases. Though, I suppose they might be called on to break up any rampant cheating that might occur during an Air Force-sponsored chess tournament or competition concerning memorization of the decimals of pi……

    • Rachel @ TLN

      That’s fascinating! Thanks for reading Wilson!

  • http://mouseneb.livejournal.com/ wallaby78

    # 7: Don’t get sick. Tried to buy some cold medication and was told that right now things are very “strict” and they need to photocopy my 身份证 (which I don’t have because I am not Chinese). So I couldn’t buy it. Taking my passport with me to the pharmacy today to see if that works…

    • fdawei

      Hi Wallaby, yes your passport will work. I went to purchase OTC Bufferin Cold Medicine in Beijing and asked for three boxes. I was told the limit is two. You will have to write your name, passport number and phone number of a huge sheet of white, lined paper. They sometimes ask for your address and even your residency permit. But in fact, your passport should be sufficient.

  • http://mouseneb.livejournal.com/ wallaby78

    # 7: Don’t get sick. Tried to buy some cold medication and was told that right now things are very “strict” and they need to photocopy my 身份证 (which I don’t have because I am not Chinese). So I couldn’t buy it. Taking my passport with me to the pharmacy today to see if that works…

    • fdawei

      Hi Wallaby, yes your passport will work. I went to purchase OTC Bufferin Cold Medicine in Beijing and asked for three boxes. I was told the limit is two. You will have to write your name, passport number and phone number of a huge sheet of white, lined paper. They sometimes ask for your address and even your residency permit. But in fact, your passport should be sufficient.

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