A couple more things from near the start of the year. There is religion here, many Buddhists (I know that’s not technically a religion), some devout Christians and large Muslim populations concentrated in certain areas. But religion does not enter government or society thinking as a whole, the way it still does a little in the UK, or a lot in Iran. You go about you life, and it can feel the most modern, rational, light-hearted, open and tolerant of places (apart from the daily reminders of the Facebook / Youtube / Google redirection thing – but they are kind of abstract). There is a perception of complete freedom on one level, and very admirable levels of equality for men and women. The religious restrictions of places like Saudi Arabia, and even the idea of religion in general, baffle my wife, and a lot of people here.
What you do have here are officials; party members and police chiefs. Just like countries with high levels of religious interference and governance, these guys sometimes have their own whims, likes and dislikes. Sometimes they like to flex their likes and dislikes, and you can be suddenly jolted back into reality.
I was told (I wasn’t there) that a (Western calendar) New Year’s Eve outdoor rock gig in Sanlitun, Beijing, had the plug pulled half way through, after some local bigwig took exception to a female punk singer who dared to lift her skirt up on stage (no precise details I’m afraid). He flexed his municipal muscle, and closed the show on the spot, telling everyone to go home. It was just before midnight. Many people had gone there for a party. Quietly go home everyone did. Can you imagine – Glasgow, London, anywhere – the riots that would have ensued.
On a similar vein, the much anticipated Mr Gay China event had the plug pulled one hour before by the police, with vague reasons of taste and decency being put forward. The show was the first event of its kind here, and it had gained national and international attention in the run up. It was virtually underway, with people arriving.
It wouldn’t surprise me if these things are actually done so close to time for effect. Maybe even heightened by bravado stirring inside Mr Municipal Muscle, brought on by the buzz of crowds, and possibly some alcohol intake. Just to show off the power he can actually wield. Why cancel an event weeks before, when you can make a bigger splash doing it on the night?