China’s 18th National Party Congress is happening in less than a week. Both people inside and outside of the country have expectations for the once-a-decade power handover to bring change or, even better, reform to a rising global power that has been in many political, economic and social troubles recently. Will it? Speculations are all over the place but only God knows. The people in China, however, do know one thing, that is, the 18th Party Congress is the “most welcomed” and yet the most vulnerable congress they’ve seen.
Happily welcome the Sparta!
To work around China’s widely-existent censorship, Chinese netizens have the habit of using codes to reference political matters. The 18th National Party Congress is no exception – it’s the Sparta. The 18th Congress, if pronounced in Chinese (十八大), sounds very similar to the word Sparta (This is probably the best code this year)
As the big day of Nov 8 approaches, media in China, both state and local, are filled with news started with “People happily welcome the 18th Party Congress.” Given Chinese netizens’ track record, it’s not a surprise that “happily welcome the Sparta” is already a new Internet meme. For example, netizen 肉肉他娘 described her dinner plan: “To happily welcome the Sparta, I decide to eat another hotpot dinner.” Netizen 汰脚水没烧 commented on gold prices: “To happily welcome the Sparta, gold prices rise.” Netizen 翔小团UN1QUE had something else on his mind: “To happily welcome the Sparta, I will go to bed earlier tonight.”
To welcome the 18th Party Congress, school kids in Jiangxi dressed in Red Army uniforms and sang red songs.
Farmers in Hebei used red peppers and sweet corns to make “18th Congress” pattern.
Residents in Tianjin made “18th Comgress” cake
People in Tibet put on “welcome 18th Congress” performances
Beware! Spartans are out!
But this most-welcomed Party Congress is also, as many netizens pointed out, the most vulnerable. While the Greek Sparta was best at battling enemies, the Chinese Sparta is best at battling any ricks that may have the slightest possibility to endanger a smooth and harmonious Party Congress.
Any big events such as concerts or street parties were ordered to postpone until after the Congress (You know, no party of more than 2 should been seen hanging out together.) All knives were ordered to be taken off store shelves because, apparently to the Spartans, knives are weapons of mass destruction. If one has to buy a knife in Beijing these days, he needs to have his ID ready. Beijing won’t card any teen for alcohol purchases, but will card anyone who tries to buy a knife during Spartan times.
The above two policies are at least understandable, to some extent. Some others are totally wacky. For example, remote-controlled toy airplanes can only be sold if the buyer shows his ID to the store. Besides, no balloon is allowed in the sky of Beijing during this time. The Spartans seem to have a sincere fear of small flying objects in the air.
Sign at a Beijing supermarket saying all knives are off the shelf during the 18th Party Congress
Police notice at a Beijing store saying that IDs are required for remote-controlled toy planes
The most criticized Sparta-special policy comes from transportation. More specifically, taxi. Taxi drivers in Bejing were told to “seal the rear doors and windows” to prevent any flyers with adverse information from flying out. Electronic locks must be shut at all times and manual window handles must be dissembled. Passengers who want to drive through or to sensitive destinations such as the Tian’anmen Spare or Chang’an Road (a road that passes through Tian’anmen Square and the Great Hall of People where the Party Congress will be held) must fill out a form with detailed information on car plate number, the origin, the destination, the route, the number of passengers, their names and phone numbers.
Beijing Taxi with dissembled window handle
“Taxi agreement” for passengers
In addition to taxi, all public transportation operated on 17 main routes in Beijing were told to “seal windows.” As many as 110k transportation volunteers are mobilized to make sure that “every bus stop is under watch and every bus is staffed.” Cargoes with non-Bejing plates are prohibited to get inside the Fifth Ring of Beijing. Vans with visitors/travelers without a Beijing plate need special 3-day permits to get inside the Fifth Ring.
In total, Beijing recruited 1.4 million volunteers to help preserve stability before and during the Party Congress (nice job-creating strategy). Each volunteer gets 50 yuan subsidize each day for their contribution, which adds up to 70 million yuan per day just for volunteer fees. It’s one expensive Party Congress. Most of the volunteers are middle-aged ladies with red sleeve badges. Anyone with experiences living in Bejing knows that when in Beijing, never mess with the old ladies, with or without red sleeve badges.
Is Beijing a little too paranoid? The netizens think so. Many of them are asking: “Why are the fears?” Like netizen 邹祥波 commented: “Aren’t we living in a harmonious society? Aren’t people from across the country happily welcoming the Sparta? If so, why so many stability preservation policies?”
Don’t mess with them!