I have never been as scared in my life as I was about an hour ago.
Relatedly, I’m an idiot.

Quick back story: anybody who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past two months knows about the revolutions going on in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc. But what everyone might not know is that they’re spreading to China, too. That is, they’re trying to spread, anyway. The CCP isn’t really having any of it, though.

Here, they call it the “Jasmine Revolution,” a term selected in part because “Jasmine” is the name of an extremely popular pop song, which makes it difficult to censor. Not that it isn’t being censored — if you try to post anything on Chinese social networks that contains the term, well

Status updates with the word on popular Chinese social networking site Renren.com were met with an error message and a warning to refrain from postings with “political, sensitive … or other inappropriate content.”

It aims to create rallies and demonstrations in support of better living conditions, cheaper housing, some amount of democratic reform, and a decrease in government corruption. Protesters were specifically urged to chant “We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness.” Source/another really good article, with pictures
What makes it personal to me is that in Beijing, the focal point of the ‘revolution’ is the intersection next to the Wangfujing McDonalds. Readers paying attention may recall that said McDonalds is about three minutes from my house.

Here’s an article written yesterday about the protest planned for today.
The highlight:

Five Chinese human rights activists have been charged with “endangering state security” by “inciting subversion of state power,” a crime for which they could be sentenced to years in prison. These arrests take place on the heels of the disappearance of 3 human rights lawyers.

International director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders Renee Xia released a statement saying, “The numbers point to a bad situation that is only getting worse. In the matter of a few days, we have seen more cases of prominent lawyers subjected to prolonged disappearances, more criminal charges that may carry lengthy prison sentences for activists, more home raids, and a heavier reliance on extralegal measures.”

They specifically are cracking down on foreign journalists without licenses. Maybe you see where I’m going with this. While I certainly would not be pretentious enough to label myself a real “journalist” by any stretch of the imagination, your average Chinese cop is not going to know that.

The site calling people to action, Boxun, requested:

“We invite every participant to stroll, watch, or even just pretend to pass by. As long as you are present, the authoritarian government will be shaking with fear.”

But Nicholas Bequelin, Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned: “If you are calling for people to demonstrate on the streets in China, you are exposing them to great danger.” Source

So today, my roommate gets home from lunch at around 2:30. “They’re doing that Jasmine thing again in Wangfujing. The one you told me about a few days ago, you know?”
“Wait, now?” (The demonstrations, it turned out, were supposed to start at 2)
“Yeah,” he says, “I mean, it’s mainly cops, but you can try to go down there…”
But by this point I’m already halfway out the door, camera in hand. Five minutes later I’m trying to figure out how to get past this:

I can see the Mcdonalds from here. What if I just wanted a cheeseburger, man?

The crowd trying to get into Wangfujing

Can’t go through the mall or even through a firedoor in the lingerie shop at the bottom of the mall, though I damn well tried. I was determined, though, and one of the reasons that the Wangfujing McDonalds was probably chosen is its accessibility; the area is wide open — surely they couldn’t block everything. Plus, from the street I had seen people by the McDonalds. They all got there somehow, so I could too. Finally I found this cross street behind a hotel that wasn’t guarded for whatever reason.

And then the pictures stop.
But not because I stopped taking them. No, I wandered around the McDonalds area for damn near half an hour, talking to people, taking pictures, asking questions. Seven of seven policemen don’t know why there are so many policemen around, incidentally. One of the policemen near the front of the street would only say “有事儿” and elaborate no further. “There’s something.”
The people there didn’t really respond to me asking things either. “It’s not clear,” “I don’t know,” even “维修 — maintenance.”
Yes, you certainly do need seventy-five uniformed policemen and thirty other undercover cops wearing wires for maintenance duties. That makes perfect sense, guys.
The McDonalds itself was closed — I wanted to go buy a revolutionary milkshake — and the police made up about a 1-to-3 ratio against civilians in the immediate area. I kept taking pictures pretty discretely. Lots of people were milling about but there weren’t any signs of a formal protest. Nobody was chanting or even seemed organized in the slightest. Finally I got bored and wasn’t really getting any new information, so I decided to head back. Before I left though I overtly took one last shot of the fast food joint’s facade, swarming with police.

Three plainclothes cops saw it. They immediately crossed the street, walking fast. Very fast. Not looking pleased.
oh, shit.
Tried to walk away. They caught up to me. Two of them grabbed my arms, one started yelling at me. They spoke too quickly to understand, but they began to drag me towards a nearby building — some unmarked office next to the bookstore, with a cop at the door. Their speech may have been incomprehensible, but I knew what that door meant.
fuck fuck fuck i’m going to get disappeared
I began screaming. I alternated between “I DON’T UNDERSTAND” and “PLEASE I JUST WANT TO GO HOME, LET ME GO HOME”
Really I was just aiming to make as big of a scene as I could, so hopefully some foreign journalist or somebody might see a kid getting dragged off into an unmarked room by three undercover cops. Nothing doing. All passerby looked pointedly away. The yelling made them nervous; the cops dragged me faster. Seeing no weapons immediately visible on them, I started struggling in kind. They had nothing to threaten me with, and I guess they didn’t want to punch me for whatever reason. This was somewhat emboldening.
I wouldn’t let them take me inside, continued yelling. Loudly. Very, very loudly. In poor, panicked Mandarin.
The third one was looking increasingly scared — I guess people usually go quietly. They did want this noisy whitey as far from the McDonalds as they could, though. That was clear. The two guys weren’t letting up, but they also weren’t very strong. Screaming and twisting in front of this fucking doorway into dissappearsville, I manged to eek out “My camera! Can I just give you my pictures?”
“Go inside”
“Fine, give us the camera”
“It’s my FUCKING*english CAMERA you can have the PICTURES”
At this point, I took it out and hit the ‘display’ button. That last picture of the McDonalds flashed up. The third one had the first two let go of me; they had me backed up against a wall and both stood about six inches away. I tried to delete it, to show him what I meant, but I fumbled and hit the menu button or something. Frustrated, the third one tried to take the camera out of my hands, but I wouldn’t let him. “让我让我” — “just let me do it”
Finally I found the little trash can button on the camera, pointed it out to him, and he nodded. We then went through the entire camera, and he had me delete each and every picture taken after that one in the alley. I was shaking pretty badly, had a hard time hitting the buttons. After we’d been through the full cycle twice, he told me to be quiet, and looked at the other two who shrugged. “Go home” he said.

Fucking hell.
Note: in somewhat of a vain attempt to protect myself and this blog, I’ve set this entry to not be discoverable via search engines, so don’t worry about that. Yay…

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