Chinese Officials Give Club District A Brusque Cleanup

By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BEIJING -- Ryan Horne loves living in China. He arrived in March from Los Angeles to manage the opening of a club in the heart of the city's night-life district. Drawn by the promise of wealthy investors and an ultra-creative founder, Horne set about trying to shape the "it" factor in Beijing, that quality of sophisticated culture that defines such places as Paris, Tokyo and Manhattan.

"Every aspect is history in the making," said Horne, 25, sinking back onto one of his club's black leather couches, dotted with delicate silk pillows. A chandelier lamp and modern sculpture sat to his left. "Some people here always had money, but money without curiosity means nothing. Now there's more willingness to explore."

But not everyone savors the adventure.

With the Olympic Games just nine days away, Beijing is winding tighter each day, and visitors need wander no farther than the city's bar district to experience the preparatory fervor. Police are out in force, carrying out orders to increase security and clean up the district, called Sanlitun, with zeal.

Horne has been summoned to the local police station three times in as many months for somewhat bewildering and intimidating interrogations that last for hours and probe his views on topics from Tibetan separatism to whether Jackie Chan or Jet Li has the best kung fu moves.

The last time the police wanted to see him, an officer came to the club and told an employee to send "the black guy" over.

"I call them my 'special' experiences," Horne said, smiling tightly as he uses his mother's term to avoid saying something negative.

The crackdown has renewed allegations of xenophobia and even racism in Beijing, as well as cries that the police are draining the vitality from a place where foreigners and Chinese have traditionally mixed.

Bar owners report being swamped by new police demands, with rules changing daily and the threat of closure if they are not enforced. It's not just no drugs, no gambling, no prostitution. It's also: no tables on the sidewalk, no excess partying, no displays of affection. No service for foreigners with prostitutes.

"How am I supposed to know if someone is a prostitute?" lamented Phoebe Storm Gluyas, an Australian who manages the Saddle, a Mexican bar and restaurant that just opened at a new mall on the main bar strip. "Am I supposed to ask?"

Dozens of police patrol the area on foot and in cars, frequently raiding bars to check patrons' visas. Dozens more in plain clothes mingle with guests in the clubs, owners say. Their numbers are augmented by private security guards hired by local businesses. There's even a neighborhood watch group, whose members don ill-fitting uniforms and plastic helmets to wander the streets looking for anything dubious.

A deep suspicion of foreigners now pervades the neighborhood.

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