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Tiananmen Square

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.


Imperial Vaults and More!

The Long Corridor. When the Emperor made a sacrifice, this hallway would be lined with lanterns.

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Yesterday, I took a quick-ish little trip back to Tiananmen Square to go visit the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. It was fairly impressive. They don’t allow you to bring any bags, cameras, etc. into the Hall, which I think is largely related to the security concerns of running thousands of people through the place everyday. The wait was about an hour, as I worked my way through a rather long and meander line that wound itself around the Square. Just outside the main entrance you could buy flowers to place at the foot of a statue of the former Chairman (I decided to take a pass on this part of the trip). Then you got to enjoy the AC for a few minutes as the line wound through to the back of the building where Mao’s body was on display. It was extremely quiet in this part of the building, especially compared to the general chaos that seems to characterize most public venues here. I personally thought it was kind of creepy to see him just lying there. But then I also realized why many people claim that the body in the casket there isn’t actually Mao (many claim it’s made of wax, etc.). The only thing you could see was his head (the rest of the body was covered in a blanket), and his face had a very orange color to it. The experience was quite fleeting though, as the friendly communist stooges quickly waved me through the line. Once outside the building, there were a few gift shops set up. They mostly sold ornate pictures of Mao and Maoist jewelry. However, I was feeling fairly nauseated by this point, so I just took a quick peek and left.

I also went to visit the Temple of Heaven, one of Beijing’s more iconic sites. However, the pollution wasn’t exactly cooperating, so the quality of some of my pictures leaves something to be desired. I actually ended up walking through the park backwards. Typically, the emperor would enter through the south gate and proceed to the Circular Mound, then to the Imperial Vault, then to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. However, I came in the east gate (which also happens to be where the Metro stop is), and so went to the Hall, then the Vault, then the Mound. It was a nice little park. There were also two Cyprus forests on the grounds. Though, I think they may have been man-made, as most of the trees seemed to situated along straight lines.

Before heading back, I took a quick stop at the Pearl Market, located across the street from the Temple of Heaven. It was one of those large market deals, where you can buy nearly anything. The Pearl Market also sells pearls and tends to target foreigners for its customer base. I didn’t buy much (mostly just some panda-themed chopsticks in a rather snazzy box), but it was quite interesting. You bargain for everything, which is kind of neat as long as you know what you’re doing. The general rule of thumb is to not pay more than half of what the original asking price is. So, for my chopsticks: the starting price was 460 yuan, which she immediately cut to 260, which I negotiated down to 80. I also had someone try to sell me a belt. She wanted something like 300 for the belt, but I had zero interest in buying a belt (which she didn’t seem to understand). But it was kind of fun, because without me even doing much, she dropped the price down to 100 before I just took off. I found the trick was to sort of play dumb with the bargaining and then pretend to have no interest in whatever it is you wanted to buy. I also found that the best way to avoid being harassed by the shopkeepers was to simply keep walking (though this strategy was less successful when they tried to grab my arms). All in all, it was an interesting experience. There are several other markets like that in the area (the most famous be the Silk Street Market), but from what I understand, those can be considerably more intense.


Of Emperors and Revolutionaries


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On Saturday I took a stroll around Tiananmen Square. It has a fairly interesting history, particularly as regards China’s political development in the 20th Century. It was the scene of the birth of the May Fourth Movement in 1919, which kind of got the whole ball rolling as far as Chinese Communism goes. Then, on October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China from the top of Tiananmen Tower (which is now adorned with his portrait). Tiananmen Square was also the site of the 1989 student demonstrations. As a result of this, the place was crawling with members of the local police force, SWAT team, and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). To visit the top of Tiananmen Tower, you had to undergo a fairly invasive pat-down that would make the TSA proud.

However, it was a fairly interesting place to wander around. I hit the Tower, walked around the Monument to the People’s Heroes (though, they didn’t let you get much closer than about 100 yards away from it), Zheng Yang Gate at the opposite end of the square, and wandered around the outside of the Great Hall of the People (where China’s “Congress” meets). They actually have Mao’s body preserved inside the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, but apparently visiting is only allowed in the morning. So, I missed that. I also wanted to wander around the inside of the Great Hall of the People, but the building was closed for some sort of official function. But I may try to make a second pass at these places.

I also walked around Zhong Shan Park, which is right next to Tiananmen Square and also contains a memorial to Sun Yat-Sen, who occupies the strange position of being the hero for both the Communists on mainland China and the Nationalists on Taiwan. It was also just a nice place to wander around.

I also made my way out to the Forbidden City on Sunday and will have those pictures up shortly.