There’s a beautiful post over at one of my favorite blogs by Xujun Eberlein on the phenomenon of gatherings of mainly retired men in Chongqing. They meet on a major pedestrian thoroughfare and they talk, loudly, of the need for change in China.
Eventually, in front of the New Century apartment store, I found several circles of men. In each circle, one man stood in the center speaking loudly and excitedly, and others surrounding him listening attentively, chirping in now and then.
They were all men, most looking to be of retirement age. No women in the talkers’ circles, though I saw a couple sitting under a tree nearby, not paying attention. My appearance thus caused a small disturbance. A few men approached me, and I asked them what they were talking about. I’m not sure what they thought I was – a journalist perhaps? – but they immediately started to voice their opinions, nearly shouting: “We want a multi-party system!” “We want democracy!”
A major target for them is Bo Xilai and the corruption he represents. They even accuse him of being involved in organ harvesting.
Is this unique to Chongqing or is it part of a larger trend? I have no idea, but I find the fact that these men bother to do this on a regular basis to be rather astonishing. I wonder what motivates them; is it just Bo Xilai or is he merely a symbol of what’s wrong with the government?
The post concludes:
My friend He Shu, a Chongqing historian, tells me that spontaneous gatherings like the one I saw have appeared in several areas of Chongqing. On Yangjiaping’s Pedestrian Boulevard, he says, there are some regular speakers making intelligent remarks on current affairs and have attracted quite some audience. Again, most of the men are retired, and aging seems to instill a more urgent need in them to see a change in their country while there’s still time.
This is well worth reading in full. We can only be grateful that someone is documenting this phenomenon, and we can only wonder how long they’ll be allowed to continue if they keep drawing sympathetic crowds.
Update: Perhaps the findings from the latest Pew Research poll, just released, are relevant:
“As China prepares for its once-in-a-decade change of leadership, the Chinese people believe their country faces serious and growing challenges,” the authors of the survey wrote.
“In particular, the side effects of rapid economic growth, including the gap between rich and poor, rising prices (and) pollution … are major concerns, and there are also increasing worries about political corruption.”
Graft is a particular sore point for leaders of the world’s second-largest economy. The party has repeatedly warned that anger over corruption could threaten its survival, or at least destabilize its tight hold on power.
Half the respondents said they thought corrupt officials were a very big problem, up 11 percentage points from four years ago….
More and more Chinese people seem to be saying enough is enough.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.