“The Communist Party is great, and the common people are happy”, reads a dust-swept poster in a derelict Beijing alley. “Patriotism, Innovation, Inclusiveness, Virtue” displays another, in striking red letters on Main Street Bridge.
Everywhere, walls pasted with state-commissioned posters advertise “the Chinese Dream”. They couldn’t be more propagandist if they featured impossibly muscular peasants, sporting AK-47s and punching the sky.
The soon-to-be biggest economy in the world is trying a little re-marketing scheme. But it comes at an ominous time.
Several weeks ago, at the infamous Tiananmen Square, a car smashed through police barriers before detonating a homemade bomb. In swiftly and carefully censored photos, flames from the wreckage appeared to lick the shoulders of Mao in his famous portrait.
Not all the “common people” have smiles quite as wide as the propaganda department’s pictures might have them. Whatever ‘the Chinese Dream’ may be, it’s being shattered.
As a toe-numbing wind from the north descends over Beijing, so has a frosty unease. This week will see China’s most influential politicians assemble to announce crucial potential reforms at the so-called ‘Third Plenum’.
However, to a country largely alien to terrorist attacks, and one desperate to preserve an image of civil harmony, the last two week’s events have left policy-makers shaken and a police force on tight patrol. Immediately after the events at Tiananmen, police and public security furiously set to work, removing the smoldering SUV wreckage, isolating witnesses from media, and scrubbing the tiles of the square clean of blood spilt only an hour before. Within two hours, tourists were back in the square, snapping photos and blissfully unaware of the five deaths and forty-odd injuries that took place where they stood. Tiananmen literally means ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’; certainly the illusion of peace is sacrosanct. But while the blood was quickly wiped away, the symbolic value of the attacks is a stain much harder to remove.
China’s efforts to model itself as an alternative to Western society, one where ethnic minorities and all sections of society can thrive together, were blown away as swiftly as the fireball at Tiananmen. I usually like to keep this international piece relatively light-hearted to bring my experiences here to life. But right now, in Beijing, there’s little to joke about.