By William Wan
The Washington Post
BEIJING — In time for the 25th anniversary of China’s bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square, the government has unveiled shiny, new golden railings along the square.
Authorities say the new yellow barriers were installed to enhance car safety as well as aesthetics, but many bloggers and critics believe it is more likely a reaction to an apparent protest attack last year in which a group of three crashed a jeep into Tiananmen Square, killing themselves and two pedestrians and injuring at least 38.
Authorities said the crash was the work of Muslim separatists from the restive province of Xinjiang.
The gold barriers are replacing older white ones that run along Chang’an Avenue, the major thoroughfare in Beijing along which the square is located. They are just one of many signs in recent weeks of how much preparation is underway — and how seriously the government is taking it — ahead of the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, which occurred June 4, 1989.
In recent days, lawyers have been detained, rebellious scholars arrested and activists have disappeared.
This week, one of China’s most venerable independent journalists, Gao Yu, 70, was arrested and forced to confess leaking state secrets on national television.
Compared to such heavy-handed tactics, the new railings are a lighter touch. Authorities touted them as being sturdy and corrosion-resistant and adding an aesthetic flourish, with their decorative lotus patterns.
Most importantly, they have been tested for vehicle impact, according to the state-controlled Beijing Youth Daily on Friday. If a car were to smash into the railings, the railings would bounce back to their original position.
“One piece of the railing weighs over 100 kg, and the base weighs over 70 kg. It’s much more impact-resistant,” said an unnamed official from the manufacturer in the Beijing Youth Daily report.
Many Web users on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter referred to the color of the railing as “tuhao jin” or “new rich gold.” The word tuhao, or new rich, refers to someone who is rich but lacking in taste. (“New rich gold” is also how Chinese describe the champagne gold-colored version of the new iPhone 5s.)
Some bloggers also criticized the government for wasting money on such security projects instead of trying to combat air pollution. Other imaginative users also mocked the supposed spring-action power of the new barriers, asking: If errant cars really do bounce off it so hard, won’t they hit others cars around it?