As the ruling Chinese Communist Party gears up for a massive military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War II, shops in the capital are being shuttered, medical facilities are closing, and nonresidents with complaints against the government are hiding from police for fear of being sent back to their hometowns.
Meanwhile, millions of students returning to primary schools, high schools, and universities across the country have been ordered to spend their first day back in class immersed in paeans of praise to the party, according to a recent government directive.
Major parks and attractions along Beijing's central, east-west Chang'an Avenue were shut on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's parade, which will feature highly choreographed displays from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and an array of military hardware.
Tiananmen Square, the iconic heart of communist China, was also sealed off to visitors on Tuesday, while subway trains and buses are running past but not stopping and several major hospitals in the vicinity are no longer seeing patients, residents said.
Shops in five main shopping drags near Tiananmen Square—including Wangfujing, Dongdan, and Qianmen—have all been ordered to close until the parade ends, business owners said.
"The authorities have sealed off all the roads, and they will eventually be completely closed," the business owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said.
"The entire shopping street has been affected, because none of the business owners are able to carry on their business," he said.
An employee at a nearby store said they had been ordered to close on Wednesday and Thursday, but declined to comment further.
"It's not convenient for me to talk right now, sorry," he said. "If you have any questions, you will have to get in touch with my company."
'The first lesson'
China's powerful propaganda ministry issued a directive in recent weeks requiring schools and higher education institutions to arrange "the first lesson of the new school year" to teach students about the events of the war against the Japanese invasion.
The directive stressed the need to educate freshmen about China's national humiliation suffered under Japanese occupation, and about the "Chinese dream."
Students, many of whom will begin school a week later than usual to take the anniversary celebrations into account, should be taught an extensive history of the war "in the spirit of education," it said.
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement, said he has been forbidden to give interviews to overseas media until after the parade is over.
But he added: "The propaganda ministry is determined to get them when they're very young, so that our youngsters will have the correct historical perspective from primary school onwards, and so that they will know what really happened in the war of resistance against Japan," Bao said.
"They aren't supposed to pay attention to any other views, and that's why they have to get them when they're young, or it could all go wrong later."
In an apparently ironic reference to the "main theme" of Communist Party propaganda, Bao said the only propaganda "theme tune" worth singing was one of anti-fascism.
"If they aren't opposed to fascism, how can they love the party?" he said.
Meanwhile, authorities in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing, which once ran a "revolutionary songs" program in public parks, said they would hand out bonuses of 5,000 yuan per person to veterans of the war, according to the Chongqing Evening News.
Back in Beijing, anyone in town pursuing a complaint against the government is playing a cat and mouse game with police ahead of the parade, petitioner Huang Chunling told RFA.
"We daren't go anywhere near Tiananmen Square, nor to anywhere that petitioners usually congregate," Huang, who is from Inner Mongolia, said.
"There are a lot of police officers everywhere, but I try to stay out of their sight," she said. "If I get too active, they'll find me. I want to wait until after Sept. 3."
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi said the military parade is being treated as a "stability maintenance" exercise by police, in a similar manner to a major party or parliamentary congress.
"Officials across the country aren't just detaining petitioners, they're also using soft tactics, like offering people 5,000 yuan, or even more, not to lodge petitions [ahead of the parade]," Huang said.
"Some of them are even paying for the petitioners to go on vacation, while others are having 'friendly chats' with them," he said.
Beijing says its "V-Day parade" in Beijing is aimed at "shedding light on history and paving the way for peace and reconciliation in Asia," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"Apart from bringing to light China's contribution to the Allied victory, the event will also demonstrate the country's aspiration for peace and its determination to safeguard post-war international order," the agency said in an opinion article on Tuesday.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.