HONG KONG—Authorities in the Chinese capital are rounding up migrant workers and petitioners and putting pressure on writers and intellectuals ahead of lavish official celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party's 60th anniversary in power.
Much of the center of Beijing was closed at the weekend for rehearsals of the Oct. 1 National Day parade, which will involve at least 200,000 people and 60 floats.
"In the past few days, police from all districts have been coordinating to scare off people from outside Beijing and make them leave," Beijing-based economist Peng Dingding said.
"It's the same old set-up. 'Cleaning up' the out-of-town population," Peng said.
"From the police point of view, they are afraid that it will pose a security threat and cause instability, so they make them all leave."
Among those being rounded up, detained, and sent home are China's army of ordinary citizens who try to make complaints through official channels about official wrongdoing in their hometowns.
While they remain subject to surveillance and detention year-round, petitioners with grievances against the government are targeted in particular around high-profile events such as the 2008 Olympics and sensitive political anniversaries such as June 4.
Held and sent home
A group of petitioners from Shandong province was forcibly sent home after being detained recently on Tiananmen Square to prevent them from "causing trouble" ahead of the National Day parade, according to a petitioner surnamed Wang from Yantai city in eastern Shandong.
"I am certain that there were five people from our hometown who went to the National Complaints Office to lodge a petition," Wang said.
"When they got back, they were detained. It's all because of the National Day celebrations. They are afraid that we will start complaining about the way things are."
Wang said the group of five was brought back last week from Beijing by Yantai officials.
"Four people have just been detained. One was sent to an illegal detention center for 20 days," she added.
Peng said migrant workers, a low-income, low-status group in the affluent capital, are also being targeted in the crackdown.
"Some migrant workers from Guangdong have been taken to police-controlled areas, intimidated, beaten, and made to sign guarantees of good behavior," Peng said.
China has deployed thousands of extra police in Beijing in recent weeks to monitor people and vehicles entering and leaving the capital.
They are guarding key infrastructure points such as bridges, railways, and the subway system to prevent any disruption on the sensitive anniversary, according to official media.
Beijing police have also recruited hundreds of thousands of volunteers to keep an eye on suspicious activity in the run-up to Oct. 1.
Recent riots in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region capital, Urumqi, have prompted tighter security than might usually have been expected, state media said.
"The enormous concentration of energy on this rehearsal of a public ceremony is a form of thought control, with a large proportion of fakery," Peng added.
Writers and intellectuals who are too outspoken for government tastes are also feeling the pressure to keep quiet ahead of the National Day parade.
Beijing-based scholar Ling Cangzhou said he was visited at his home by state security police last week after he wrote an article on the National Day celebrations.
"Of course it was to do with my article," Ling said. "And it has to do with the atmosphere recently [around the 60th anniversary]. That's obvious."
"But I have always been moderate, rational, and scholarly, and I try to write articles in a constructive manner. What need is there to send the police round to talk to a writer?"
Nervous and anxious
Beijing-based writer Zhang Yihe said many Beijing intellectuals feel scared and uneasy by the recent change in political atmosphere around the National Day celebrations.
"The government has done a lot of things this year which are very hard to understand," Zhang said.
"Everyone's very nervous and on edge. First the ruling party gets nervous, and then we all follow suit ... They stop everything, cordon everything off, block everything. What about our rights? What about our duties? We seem to have lost sight of them."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.