Beijing Freedom and Security

Reflecting back on my recent trip to Beijing (more on that still to come as I get time to write up my thoughts) one of the most striking things was the contrast between personal, day-to-day freedom in Beijing and the United States (especially NYC/Los Angeles/Orange County). I’m not talking about political representation or freedom to read whatever I felt like, but just the simple ability to go whereever I felt like going without being hassled. To my surprise, by that measure Beijing came off way better than the United States does these days, and that doesn’t speak well for the U.S.

Entering China, I was prepared to be polite to cops, show my passport as necessary, and explain as best I could just why I was walking around sewage treatment plants with camera and binoculars. To my surprise I never had to. The simple fact is that I could walk absolutely anywhere I felt like in Beijing without being hassled by anyone. I was technically supposed to carry my passport with me, but only the hotel and the airport asked to see it. I didn’t have to present I.D. anywhere else the entire trip. Outside the usual security checkpoints at the airport, I was never once stopped by a cop or security guard for anything, even though I stuck out like a sore thumb almost everywhere I went, and was usually snapping photos of anything and everything. There were surveillance cameras, but fewer than in the U.S. or London. Getting on the subway, no one wanted to look inside my bags. All transactions were cash.

I initially thought there were soldiers everywhere, but I eventually realized that most of them were just security guards who wear somewhat more military uniforms in Beijing than those in the U.S. do. They also tend to stand at attention at their posts which makes them look more military (unless it’s raining, in which case they go inside a little booth and read the newspaper or talk on their cell phone, like any private security guard elsewhere on the planet). Everybody just walked right past them wherever they were going without showing any form of ID, usually without even saying Nihao.

There were quite a few real soldiers near my hotel, but that’s because we were effectively on top of a military base. The hotel we were staying at was actually the “Number 3 Hotel of the General Armaments Division”, was down the block from another military hotel, and was next door to some sort of barracks. Otherwise I think the only actual soldiers I saw around town were at Tian’anmen Square.

Internet-wise, I was blocked occasionally by the Great Firewall of China, especially on any subject related to Tibet. However I surfed the entire time through an unsecured wireless connection at the hotel. I never had to provide ID to use the Internet as I thought I would.

It wasn’t just me either. I saw fewer traffic stops, arrests, and police actions against other citizens than I do in a typical week in the states. In fact, I think I saw a grand total of two, both related to car accidents; and neither looked very serious.

Somehow I thought a one-party, authoritarian state would be more oppressive than this. At least in the capital, Beijing compares favorably to major U.S. cities. To be honest, that doesn’t speak well for the U.S. If we can’t be less of a police state than a one-party, nominally Communist nation like China, then something has gone seriously wrong.

One Response to “Beijing Freedom and Security”

  1. bugfox blog » Blog Archive » Freedom in China vs the US Says:

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