HONG KONG—Unmarried sex, racing pigeons, and street barbecues are off limits in Guangzhou ahead of the opening of the Asian Games, as the authorities throw a tight security cordon around the southern city and step up controls over every aspect of life, residents said.
"There are tight security controls all around the site of the opening ceremony and at all the facilities being used by the Games," a Guangzhou resident surnamed Fang said.
"There are a lot [of police]," she said. "They are checking people's identification, and checking the bags and items they are carrying with them."
She said police were also carrying out regular sweeps of ordinary citizens' apartments as part of security measures ahead of the Games, officially known as Asiad.
"The place where we live is being checked once a month," Fang said. "Anyone whose apartment has a view of the opening ceremony will not be allowed to remain at home that day."
Officials announced on Tuesday that top-level police officers who masterminded security measures in Shanghai for the recently ended World Expo 2010 were already in Guangzhou to boost security ahead of the Nov. 12 Asiad opening ceremony extravaganza.
Residents said new regulations were being announced rapidly as officials raced to get security measures in place for the Games, causing a stir among local people.
"They have been checking all the hotel rooms lately, and you have to carry a marriage certificate," said a Guangzhou resident surnamed Yang.
"I don't think it's the same for foreigners," she said.
Other rules issued in recent weeks include a "real-name" registration system for the sale of kitchen knives and meat cleavers, a ban on street barbecue stalls, and a ban on flying racing pigeons.
An employee who answered the phone at the Guangzhou branch of a well-known hotel chain said couples would be better off if they brought their marriage certificate when booking a room together.
"It's best to bring it along," she said. "We don't have the right to check it, but sometimes the police carry out spot checks at certain times, and they will search the rooms."
"Otherwise, you'll have to explain it to them."
Violation of privacy
While marriage certificate checks were once a common feature of the anti-bourgeois liberalism campaigns of the 1980s in China, Guangzhou-based lawyer Liu Shihui said the offense of "illegal cohabitation" had long since been dropped by China's Supreme Court.
"The law does not interfere too much in people's private lives," Liu said. "As long as there is no prostitution taking place, then the authorities have no right to get involved."
"This is a potential violation ... of the citizen's right to privacy."
The regulation sparked scorn and derision among netizens, who commented that the government was in violation of its own laws, and that the concept of "illegal cohabitation" would never stand up in court.
Last week, the municipal government was forced to withdraw a pledge of free public transportation for all after traffic was brought to a standstill as buses and subway trains were overloaded.
Guangzhou-based writer Ye Du said the government was out of touch with reality.
"After a week of total chaos, they've been forced to make this change in the face of strong public opposition," Ye said.
"This in itself is unsurprising. The government has always behaved like this," he added.
Return on investment?
Guangzhou officials said recently that the municipal government has spent around 120 billion yuan (U.S. $18 billion) on hosting the Games, not including the investment required to build the facilities.
A third Guangzhou resident said people were wondering what benefits such a huge outlay would bring them.
"It's best not to ask such things," he said. "It only gets me angry. I don't have the energy to think about it."
Other residents said Guangzhou was looking smarter, but that the city's face lift had come at a high price for its residents.
"Guangzhou looks beautiful right now," a fourth resident said. "But we have been put through unspeakable misery in the past two years."
Residents near the main roads leading to key venues have complained of being forced to pay for "improvements" to their buildings which later turned out to be constructed of wood and cloth, like movie scenery.
And another resident said that the authorities had painted an unfinished road black, to disguise the fact that construction teams had run out of time to lay the asphalt surface.
Cultivating a society
Chinese official media has concentrated on high-tech efforts to ensure clear and sunny weather for the Games, reporting on the use of weather control aircraft and rockets to keep the skies blue.
Five planes loaded with cloud-busting chemicals are being deployed in the run-up to the ceremony, with rain-dispersal rockets standing by.
Guangzhou will play host to nearly 12,000 athletes from 45 nations and territories, and officials have been at pains to educate local residents on behaving in a "civilized" manner to guests, local media reported.
"We have been cultivating a civic, new, and harmonious society to prepare for the Asian Games," said Zhang Youquan, the deputy director-general of Guangzhou's municipal office of civility.
He said the education programs had run over the past six years, and taught local people to smile at spectators and competitors, and learn some words in English and sign language.
"I am confident that our citizens will display good etiquette," Zhou was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
The 16th Asian Games will run until Nov. 27.
Reported by Qiao Long and Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.