Chinese guards are everywhere, but were very strict after 6-4
Life after the 6-4 killings was quite different. While martial law was declared some weeks before 6-4, I really did not see much change in my life. Post 6-4, security was heightened both inside my campus as well as outside on the street. For a couple of months I personally felt the burden of watchful eyes and a sense that you really had to be careful what you did, what you said (outside the campus), where you went and when, and I was not even part of the protest. It was like living under the stereotypical communist regime, in contrast to the freedom of pre 6-4.
The friendly university gate guards in their green uniforms, whom I had gotten used to and had made friends with were all gone. The joking around, the short discussions about Canada and girls, the smiles and friendly faces, all gone. These friendly souls were replaced with blue uniformed guards. They never smiled, we did not know them, were rotated out of the campus on a regular basis and they were strict. All cars were stopped. All passengers’ IDs were inspected. All bicycle riders were stopped, asked to dismount and present ID.
I recalled having to go to a store and presented my ID to exit. There was one guard at the gate on duty. Just one footstep outside the gate remembered that I forgot my wallet, so I immediately turned around and went back into the gate, and was asked, by the same guard, for ID. Ok, I grumbled under my breath. I just went out, I told the guard. Back to the dorm for my wallet, back to the gate 5 minutes later, and again I had to present my ID to the same guard. At this third instance I was so not amused. After purchase of some groceries, and not gone 5 minutes I reentered the gate and was again asked for ID by the very same guard. I presented it, and was allowed to enter. But this time I did not move. Still standing in front of the guard I looked him in the eyes for a couple of extra seconds, stone faced, and proceeded to give him a lecture about the decency of remembering that he had inspected me 4 times within the last 10 minutes. Surely he would remember that I was the foreigner, the only Canadian, that had passed through his gate. Three other guards came to assist, but I was not in the least perturbed. Continuing my tirade as best as my Chinese was at the time, and without using my newly learned swear words, I lectured him for a good 10 minutes that surely he could remember people, particularly unique people like foreigners, within a 10 minute period. The other guards checked and rechecked my ID as I lectured, then handed back my xuesheng zheng and left the original guard to deal with me. I may have raised my voice, became a little red faced, and gesticulated wildly with my hands. After I felt sufficiently cooled down I ended my lecture, got on my bike and rode away. During my lecture all other students walked through the gate unchallenged by any other guard. Apparently it was not the job of his buddies to do his duty. After this incident I did become more memorable with the guards, as every time I met them I reminded them that I was from Canada. Apparently word got around.
Security in the foreign student’s dorm was also stepped up. For a couple of months no Chinese were able to enter my dorm, whereas before they were able to sign in with proper ID. While we found ways of tricking the guards, old grandpas and grannies, it was not worth the risk to our Chinese friends. Instead we went to their dorm. Thankfully this lasted for only a month or two.
Once the shock of the killings had sunk into the student body, mass paranoia set in. While there were still some gatherings on campus, there were students specifically tasked with the job of looking for undercover police. Police were pretty easily found. You can understand that in the confines of a university, most people, naturally, are university students. It is quite easy to ask someone which university they were from, their year and what was their specialty. More likely than not, a a genuine student from the university from the same year and same specialty was also at the same meeting, and could vouch for the unknown person. Or not. You cannot get a young country bumpkin to rub shoulder to shoulder with the top 2% of gaokao test takers and not be found out.
I recall attending a not so small gathering within my campus where one such imposter was found. He was beaten to a pulp and hit all over with bottles. I don’t think he ever returned to the campus. There were many instances where undercover police never made it back to their offices unharmed.
Security outside the university was strict. Each intersection had 2 People’s Liberation Army guards, each with AK-47s with bayonets. And white gloves. Yes, I really did not like the looks of the big blade. There is no necessity to have such a large blade on the streets of urban Beijing. Your yangrou has a bit too much fat? Let me cut it off for you with my…bayonet? Surely not. Then again was there a need for the AK-47? After a couple of days standing in the scorching sun, they got large umbrellas to stand under. None of the citizenry dared to approach or talk to these soldiers. They were there for many months.
I once was in an unfamiliar area of Beijing and lost, so I approached a duo of soldiers. Thankfully they did not have the bayonets. I asked them for directions. They did not turn to address me nor did they even acknowledge my presence. Ok then, such a friendly bunch.
Incidents like the gate guard really angered me and added to the irritation of living in China. Sure I know they were doing their job, but I am not used to living in a military installation, and I chaffe. Living under strict military rule is truly uncomfortable and made me much more nervous.