Friday, October 29, 2010

Signs you live in a totalitarian country

I found myself visiting the studios of Beijing Radio a few weeks ago.

There's an armed PLA guard on every floor of the building.  Oh, sure, the BBC has plenty of guards too - but they're from a private security company, not the army.

The ostensible rationale here is no doubt a desire to prevent possible incursions by subversive groups like the Falun Gong; but you can't help but feel that the more important purpose is in fact to maintain an atmosphere of subtle intimidation over the presenters - if anyone steps out of line with a Howard Beale-type outburst, they can be marched away to the gulags within seconds.

It's much the same at most of the other state-run media offices I've seen here.  At the Xinhua headquarters, there's actually a watchtower with a machine-gun nest in the middle of the complex.  Ever since '89 - if not before - the CCP has been on a state of high alert for a possible revolution.  This is a degree of anxiety which seems to have very little justification (alas!): the bulk of the population remains remarkably placid and compliant.

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