Firsthand account by Westerner says Tianenmen Square on anniversary is crowded (with officials)





I went to the square at noontime, expecting to see pretty much what we saw last night: the square off limits, people walking along the roadside or staring at the flag and Mao's giant portrait.

I was really shocked to see the square itself open to the public during the day. Or, as I realized later, open to the "public." There were thousands of people on the square, but there was something odd about the scene. I realized by the end of the afternoon that this crowd was deliberate, and the casual afternoon at Tian'anmen was as orchestrated as the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic games.

Everyone going into the square was funneled through a security tent, just like for the Olympics. A young woman scrounged through my purse, looking closely (in contrast to the subway screeners' half-asleep attitude) at my wallet, my phone, my brush... She asked for my passport, and I showed her the photocopies of the name page and the current visa page.

I moved to the metal-wanding line. But then a very stern, no-nonsense, non-English-speaking guard again demanded my passport (I feigned ignorance and said in English that I already showed my passport). A little scuffle later, he looked at my papers, called his superior over, scoured my purse again, and finally begrudgingly let me through.

Once "inside", it looked really weird. There were collections of people in yellow shirts, pink shirts, purple shirts, turquoise shirts. There were more groups holding like-patterned umbrellas. It seemed like everyone had umbrellas, men and women alike. But the Chinese do like umbrellas on sunny days! There were formations of green uniforms marching around; police trucks driving slowly around the edges, an occasional car blustering through (as usual) the crowd. There were lots of solitary undercover police, just like last night. Many wore black, others in their own street clothes.

Lots of groups were obviously deputized young men who stood around watching, staring, following people like me at least 3 on 1 at any given moment. There were no women in this capacity. There was a clear absence of the usual "oblivious" quality of Chinese crowd movement, where people bump into you, brush against you, or cut in front of you if you happen to be in the path of where they're going. Everyone milling about was acutely aware of everyone else in his space. They seemed to have assigned space. Some deputies also wore group-colored shirts, all wore "badges" with the Chinese flag surrounded in gold, Many looked like the kids who volunteered at the Olympics. Clearly nationalistic. All young. I wondered if they were paid for the day.

I would guess about 85% of people on the square were there officially. You could tell that because the security lines were basically unpopulated, while all the "deputies" just walked around the screeners without being checked. There were very few tourists, foreign or otherwise. There were mostly uniformed and non-uniformed police. Some foreigners were taking pictures, seemingly unmolested. Any footage and photos will be dull-looking; the shots would look "normal". It was just the feeling of intense orchestration and deliberate crowd-building that gave it away. And also a distinct sense of high-tension, which carried around the front of the Forbidden City, but evaporated just around the corners.

The rest of the city was oblivious. Crowds, shopping, shoving, everything perfectly normal, as far as I could see.


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