Beijing lockdown: The 10 craziest new rules for taxis, toys and, yes, pigeons

November 1, 2012
A window handle on the door at the back seat has been removed in a taxi in Beijing. (Andy Wong/AP)

Chinese security officials to do not play around. Preventing public dissent in the capital city has long been a high priority, particularly since the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, but somehow they still find ways to tighten already-severe restrictions during big events.

The Communist Party Congress, in which the country's next top leaders will begin their decade-long terms, starts next week. New rules are already in effect in Beijing, and some of them are a bit silly, reflecting both Chinese officials' cover-all-bases thoroughness on security, as well as a degree of high-level paranoia. Could leaflet-carrying pigeons really threaten the stability of the world's most populous nation? Or, with Tibetans self-immolating and the economy sinking, is some official insecurity justified?

1) Pigeon owners must keep their birds in their coops during the Party Congress.

2) Taxi drivers are ordered to remove rear window cranks so that passengers can't roll down their windows,  to toss fliers on the ground, for example. Chinese social media is filled with photos of the handles crudely yanked out of car doors.

3) "Taxicab drivers are to be on guard for passengers carrying any type of ball. Look for passengers who intend to spread messages by carrying balloons that bear slogans or ping-pong balls bearing reactionary messages."

4) Cabs can't visit or even drive through "areas of political importance," which presumably includes the Party Congress sites. Good luck, Western journalists covering the congress!

5) "Some taxi drivers, but not all, have been told to ask passengers to sign a 'traveling agreement' if they want to go near Tiananmen Square."

6) "Songs broadcast by big television [stations] mustn’t contain ‘die,’ ‘down’ or other inauspicious words. I just witnessed that a singer who sang ‘Die for love’ had his performance killed."

7) Kitchen knives often require a picture ID to purchase during sensitive moments, but now appear to be totally off-limits. "The kitchen knife was broken yesterday. I went to two stores to look for a knife and the salespeople told me that even pencil sharpeners were not allowed to be sold, let alone kitchen knives." 

8) "Police in the capital are asking that Chinese show their ID cards and foreigners their passports when buying remote-controlled model aircraft," with some toy store owners told they can no longer sell toy planes longer than about 18 inches unless the buyer gets a special police-issued permit.

9) "Balloons also are on the blacklist, the [state-affiliated Global Times] newspaper said."

10) Some big-city marathons have even been postponed. "I guess I will give up running competitions in China and try to attend more abroad," a disgruntled runner told the Associated Press.

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Olga Khazan | November 1, 2012