Xi Jinping
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Jinan University students in Guangzhou were told to take Tuesday and Wednesday off in anticipation of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the campus. Photo: He Huifeng

Two Chinese cities and legions of police disguised as ‘dancing aunties’ and students on alert for presidential visit

  • All is not what is seems in Shenzhen and Guangzhou on the third day of Xi Jinping’s trip to Guangdong province
Xi Jinping

It was not even 8am but the southern Chinese boom town of Shenzhen was already on alert for President Xi Jinping’s expected visit to the city on the third day of his trip to Guangdong province.

Amid the morning quiet, there were clear signs that someone important was about to arrive. In Futian, the city’s central business district, roads around the Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition were blocked and residents wondered aloud about why they had to suddenly shut their windows.

All businesses within two blocks of the museum – hosting an exhibition of the province’s role in country’s reform and opening up 40 years ago – were closed and the museum itself had been shut for a month in preparation for Xi’s visit.

Pedestrians trying to go in for a closer look were shooed away by people who at first glance looked like students, grandpas and square dancing aunties but were all carrying the same kind of water bottles and mumbling, hooked up to earpieces.

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The presence of these undercover personnel appeared to double two hours later when Xi’s motorcade approached the museum. Security was just as tight across town in Qianhai where the streets were largely deserted.

A traffic police officer stationed on the area’s main road said he had been on duty since 5am while another appeared relieved after Xi’s motorcade left at around 11.30am.

“We have all worked hard on this one,” the second officer said.

A cyclist in Qianhai said there were fewer roadblocks this time compared with those put up for previous visits by state leaders.

A number of Jinan University students met President Xi Jinping during his visit to the Guangzhou campus on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: He Huifeng

State broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi had also visited Liwan district in the provincial capital of Guangzhou and asked about work on protecting cultural heritage.

The president’s motorcade was later spotted in Guangzhou’s Tianhe district outside Jinan University, the first of its kind to take in overseas students of Chinese descent after the country opened up to the West four decades ago.

Access to the campus had been limited in the lead-up to the trip, with students told to take Tuesday and Wednesday off class.

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But there were still people around the grounds.

An older woman apparently doing her morning exercises gave herself away when she suddenly pulled out a walkie-talkie from a pocket.

Plain-clothes officers posing as students were also stationed every five metres and security checks were ramped up after 2pm ahead of Xi’s arrival. At one point an officer pounced on a water bottle discarded by a reporter.

At around 5.30pm, Xi finally ended his trip to the university and the security around the campus dissolved.

One professor later said how excited he was to get to shake hands with the president, while student representatives who also shook hands with Xi vowed to “never wash their hands again”.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: that is no ordinary square-dancing auntie