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Policing and the Night Life

A police officer's uniform (1960's-1970's)

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Yesterday, I took a tour of the Beijing Police Museum, which recounts the history of Beijing’s Municipal Police Department (which operates under the eerily-named Public Security Bureau). Entering the museum was an interesting experience. As a student, I got in free (even using my UNC credentials). In the course of explaining my student ID to the front guard, I discovered that he was a fan of UNC’s basketball team. So, we got along quite swimmingly.

The museum was pretty interesting. It was small compared to some of Beijing’s other museums, but considering it focused exclusively on the Beijing Police Department, it was fairly comprehensive. The first floor contained a broad history of the department: its establishment in the late Qing; its different forms under imperial, Nationalist, and Communist rule (including its total destruction during the Cultural Revolution); and its more recent history through the 2008 Olympics. Some of the more interesting exhibits focused on the Communists’ efforts to root out remaining Nationalist elements in the capital after 1949. Apparently, they were still capturing Nationalist spies and radio sets well into the 1950’s. It’s been a fairly popular technique for the police to require “confessions” out of dissidents shortly before they’re executed. So, they had several of these confessions from prominent Nationalist rabble-rousers on display. Some of them were quite lengthy, running for two or three pages. The history of the department during the Cultural Revolution was also interesting. Several thousand of the department’s officers and commanders ended up getting purged in the course of the Revolution (with about 100 or so being executed), effectively eliminating the police force as a functioning entity.

The second floor covered some of the more ancient history of Chinese law enforcement. However, they also displayed some modern tools and methods. There were several different exhibits on various (grisly) crimes committed in Beijing in the last twenty years or so. The exhibits mainly covered murders and kidnappings, but there was a drug case thrown in too. They had the criminals’ weapons, bags, drugs, etc. all on display, along with pictures of the victorious team of detectives who brought the criminal to justice. Apparently, the Chinese can be quite nasty to each other. There was also a display on the Chinese prison system, which emphasized the Communists’ departure from simple imprisonment (used during the imperial era) in favor of “re-education through labor.” The Communists have something of a unique approach to criminal justice. In addition to the whole labor re-education thing, I’ve also read accounts where, upon release, the ex-con gets the bill for the cost of his imprisonment. Maybe California should consider something similar.

The third floor covered traffic enforcement and fire-fighting (which also falls under the responsibilities of the police department). There was also a memorial to Beijing’s officers killed in the line of duty. Judging from the plagues on some of the displays, it appears as if officers killed in the line of duty are designated as “martyrs.” I don’t know if that’s something just lost in translation, but it’s interesting to think about. If you hold up the state as the end all and the be all (as communism does), then logically it makes sense to christen those killed in its defense as martyrs.

That night, I took a tour of Tiananmen Square and the Bird’s Nest. It was a little foggy (or smoggy), but the lights were still pretty impressive. The pictures are included above.

 

Of Lamas and Birds

Lama Temple's Front Courtyard

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On Sunday, I went to go visit Yonghegong (or the Lama Temple). It is an active Buddhist temple (of the Tibetan variety), so mixed in with all the tourists was a fairly sizable group of people praying at and in each of the “shrines”, which made for an interesting experience. I felt a little awkward running around taking pictures while they were all burning their incense, but there were a bunch of other dopey foreigners there doing the same thing. So, I didn’t feel too guilty. The temple itself was quite impressive. There were several small buildings within the compound that contained little shrines, with statues and altars and whatnot set up. There were also a couple larger buildings that housed enormous statues. The largest statue was about 3 stories tall. I don’t really know enough about Buddhism to be able to say what the significance of all the different statues is, but it was fairly impressive none the less. There were also a couple small exhibit halls, which contained all kinds of miniature Buddhas and sutras, etc.

I had some time to kill after visiting the Lama Temple, so I next went up to the Olympic Park to visit the Bird’s Nest stadium. It’s a very large stadium (currently seating about 80,000  or so). There’s no cost to wander around the outside of it, but I figured it would be more fun to wander around inside. So, I bought a (fairly expensive) ticket and wandered around the inside of the stadium for a bit. You can go just about anywhere within the stadium. They’ll even let you ride a Segway around outside of the main field for the right price. However, the views from the 5th and 6th levels were quite impressive (especially since the weather was cooperating). You can get a nice view of the city from some of the look-out points they’ve made available. They also have an exhibit on the 5th floor that displays some of the instruments and whatnot they used during the opening and closing ceremonies (which I have actually yet to see- though I understand they were quite impressive). And of course, they have the torch. One advantage of the rather steep admission cost was a significant lack of other people in the stadium, so you could get up nice and close with the exhibits (which I did). I didn’t make into the Water Cube (though I did see it). There’s also supposed to be some sort of Olympic Forest that supposed to be pretty interesting. But I was feeling pretty wiped out at that point, so I may return later if I have some free time.