Wednesday 20 November 2019

Beijing police axe large events

A man poses in front of a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, who is widely regarded as the founding father of modern China, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing (AP)
A man poses in front of a portrait of Sun Yat-sen, who is widely regarded as the founding father of modern China, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing (AP)

Police in the Chinese capital have cancelled a series of major events, stoking fears that the authorities are cracking down on any large gathering deemed politically risky.

Everything from an Earth Day event to the annual summer Strawberry Music Festival have been axed, and police also shut down the Gaymazing Poker Race last week, a mix of pub crawl and poker tournament that was set to raise funds for the Beijing LGBT Centre. The race's co-sponsor, the Great Leap Brewing pub, responded by pre-emptively cancelling its own massive June craft beer festival for fear of a last-minute police shut-down.

Lucia Wang, of Great Leap, said city authorities cited concerns about excessive crowds, while John Shen, a programme manager at the LGBT centre, said he was given no explanation at all. Beijing police did not respond to a faxed request for an interview today.

"This year it seems impossible to do large events like this," Ms Wang said. "We have a high chance of being cancelled in the last minute."

As for the reasons behind the cancellations, Ms Wang said: "That's the question for all big event organisers now."

The cancellations in Beijing hit as the government tightens its grip nationwide on independent civic groups and activity, with non-governmental organisations and university professors saying they have been working under tighter scrutiny. Chinese officials have been promising tighter crowd controls after a New Year's Eve stampede killed 36 people along Shanghai's famed Bund riverfront due to inadequate policing.

Archie Hamilton, who promotes music festivals and other events in China, said he believes the clampdown in Beijing reflects the overall political atmosphere, with Communist Party authorities trying to rein in what they see as a society too accepting of liberal and Western influences.

He said a March 14 show by the Japanese rock band Boris was cancelled with two days' warning, after the musicians had already arrived in Beijing.

Several events have also been scrapped in central Beijing and in Chaoyang Park, and a music-filled show organised for this weekend by the US Embassy and China's Ministry Culture was first cancelled and then moved to a district in the city's east.

"My pocket view is that as far as the powers that be are concerned, society is a little out of control, with too much expression and frivolity and general chaos," Mr Hamilton said. "And I feel that (President) Xi Jinping and the new administration have come in and gone, 'We need to focus on this a lot. We need to get this right and make sure this doesn't get too out of control.'"

PA Media

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