Chinese Communist Party centenary: Rules, tests, and more rules

BEIJING – No hats, no umbrellas and no going to the bathroom.

The closer we get to China’s big party of the century on Thursday (July 1), the longer the list of seemingly innocuous dos and don’ts.

Covid-19 related safety measures were to be expected. After all, celebrations to mark the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are taking place in a time of pandemic.

But the other restrictions have been a step up from Beijing’s last major celebration – the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2019.

Up till Tuesday morning, most of what was going to happen had been shrouded in secrecy.

That there would be a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday during a medal ceremony, a gala performance the same day (more on that later), and a mass gathering of sorts on Tiananmen Square on Thursday were pieces of information gleaned through whispered conversations with sources and contacts.

Media credentials, applied for weeks in advance, were only approved late Friday night, with journalists told we only had Saturday and Sunday to collect our passes from the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing.

A media centre, whose opening had been covered with great fanfare by local news outlets, provided few details.

Then on Sunday, a gala performance at the “bird’s nest” national stadium, set for Tuesday was abruptly shifted forward by a day, forcing some officials to change travel plans. It also meant those covering the event had to quarantine from Sunday, giving journalists barely hours to prepare.

After entering the quarantine bubble, the media were told laptops and mobile devices were not allowed at the performance.

A press conference on Monday morning was also brought forward by an hour, which led to more questions for which there were no answers.

Then at lunch time on Tuesday, journalists attending the ceremony on July 1 were told we need to take a nucleic acid test by Wednesday morning, just to enter the Covid-free bubble, where we would be subject to a second nucleic acid test.

We were also told to be at the Great Wall Hotel between 9am and 11am.

Which sounded just like any other major government event during a pandemic.

Media queuing to check in at the Great Wall Hotel in Beijing where journalists are quarantining before Thursday’s CCP centenary event, on June 30, 2021. ST PHOTO: ELIZABETH LAW

But shortly after 10am on Wednesday – after some had already checked into the hotel – more instructions started streaming in.

“Dear Journalists,” the text on WeChat began, “the arrangements for the July 1 celebratory events are as follows”.

At 2.45am, the press corps will be bussed from the Great Wall Hotel in the east to west Beijing for security checks, before being bussed back to Tiananmen, right in the heart of the city.

A dress code would be strictly enforced and no food, drink, hats, umbrellas or wireless communication devices are allowed. Each journalist would only be allowed one mobile phone, a challenge for most of us who have two for local and foreign apps.

The gift bag for journalists attending the CCP’s centenary celebrations includes a fan, some writing material and an umbrella, which has been banned from the actual event. ST PHOTO: ELIZABETH LAW

And the kicker: no one would be allowed to use the bathroom after 7.30am.

Journalists in the WeChat group kicked up a stink but to no avail. Many were also emotionally exhausted after trying to push back against leaving their devices unattended in the hotel room – a security no no – when covering Monday’s gala performance.

While there had been indications of this from months ago when China ramped up its vaccination campaign, the additional controls seem onerous and over the top, not to mention a surefire way to get heatstroke.

As the day wore on, more piecemeal restrictions began to stream in.

Binoculars are not allowed. Laptops are fine. Mobile phones can be brought in for filing stories but not for taking photos.

No news yet though, on whether sunglasses will make the cut.


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