“Have you heard about the coup?”
“Only that there may have been one.”
The Professor and I were making our way through Beijing’s Police Museum, a few blocks from where a coup would have happened. We’d already broken the door of a fake interrogation cell, and almost knocked over a motorcycle. We shouldn’t have been talking about such sensitive matters as well. But we seemed to be the only visitors, and the few guards weren’t paying attention.
“I have a friend who works for a Chinese newspaper,” he continued. “I rang to ask her about it. See if she knows what happened.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, when I said the word ‘coup,’ music started playing. We’d been cut off.”
In China, you hear these things all the time. Phone calls go dead with the spoken word “jasmine.” Internet connections terminate with a search for “1989.” My blog will be blocked again in China. Certain topics don’t exist.
Sometimes the cultural revolution doesn’t exist. But at this museum, it was a cause to be championed. Over 100 Beijing police officers were wrongly executed for “counter-revolutionary” crimes. Thousands more were tortured, or sent down. The chief of police died without ever being cleared of his weak accusations.
Alongside the uniforms and badges of the executed officers, there were also horrific photos of mass executions. The photos showed men tied to stakes at the Worker’s Stadium, prepped for bullets to the head.
I felt sick. The Worker’s Stadium is a few blocks from my home. Beijing GuoAn have weekly soccer matches there. I’d seen Cui Jian, China’s revolutionary rocker, play a massive show there.
“40,000 people witnessed the executions,” a sign read. The stands were packed. For Cui Jian, the stadium had been comparatively empty.
Other pictures scattered through the museum were just as difficult. One showed a flayed woman, held upright by two Qing Dynasty men. They wore queues and skull caps, while her breasts and thighs had been carved off. Another photo showed eight women’s corpses, discarded through a house. A body found in the luggage rack of a train. Temple blasts, serial killers in training, amputations and decapitations and more.
“Look at that,” said a woman, pointing to a murder implement in a glass case. Her four-year-old son wasn’t looking. He was fixated on the Professor and me.
Not surprisingly, for all the gore and crime, there wasn’t a mention of 1989. There never is.
In China, we rarely know what’s actually going on. Take the last few weeks for example. Key politicians have disappeared, others have gone into hiding or comas. Tanks may or may not have driven along major thoroughfares. Guns may or may not have fired in the city center. We live in the capital city, and have no idea if the government is fighting a coup.
Outside on the sidewalk, undercover cops stretched into the distance. They stood innocently spaced out every 20 feet. One held a walkie talkie behind his back. Another held a fire extinguisher. When they walked, they marched. Some couldn’t help but stand at attention.
“So how do you say coup,” I asked the Professor.
“政变. 政 as in government, and 变 as in change.”
One of the undercover cops crossed the street. He signaled to another, who signaled back.
I wonder what’s happening in the city where I live.
Beijing Police Museum 北京警察博物馆
36 Dongjiaominxiang, Beijing