- By Liz CarterLiz Carter is assistant editor at Foreign Policy's Tea Leaf Nation. She lived for several years in Beijing, China, where she wrote and translated three Chinese-English textbooks and studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University. Since returning to the United States, she has co-authored a book on subversive linguistic trends on the Chinese Internet and been interviewed about developments in China by the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, the Washington Post's WorldViews, and PRI's The World.
The newspaper China Youth Daily estimated that over 100 million Chinese people do it. The magazine The World of Chinese called the tensions surrounding this activity, performed mostly by women between the ages of 40 and 65, a "national issue." And it provoked news outlet Ifeng to conclude, "Old people haven’t gone bad, it’s bad people who have gotten old."
The nefarious act in question is outdoor line dancing, in which pop or traditional Chinese tunes are blasted in public areas, often in the morning or the evening, as dozens of geriatrics move in unison to the beat.
And over the past several months, it appears China’s would-be party-poopers are growing increasingly fed up with the practice. Residents of one such neighborhood in the central Chinese city of Chengdu reached a breaking point on April 12: They threw water balloons at a gathering of women in the square below who refused to turn down the volume. In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, on Oct. 24, unknown assailants hurled "a large amount of poop" out of their windows and onto the heads of dancers assembled below. "The whole square stunk to high heaven," a dancer surnamed Chen told state-run China Central Television. (The perpetrators are still at large.) And in November, a group boogying outdoors in Changsha, the capital of southern China’s Hunan province, complained to Huasheng Online, a local news website, that they had been hit with "shit bombs" no less than three times since Aug. 2012.
At least shit bombs aren’t dangerous: China Youth Daily reported that on Nov. 5, a 58-year-old Beijing man surnamed Shi fired his (illegal) shotgun into the air and released three large dogs on a group of women dancing in a square near his home in the suburbs. Shi said he had repeatedly complained to organizers about the noise. (The article did not mention whether any of the women had been hurt.)
As China’s urban population grows, from 502 million in 2002 to 712 million in 2012, city dwellers have struggled to coexist peacefully in increasingly crowded spaces. Yang Hongshan, a professor of urban planning and management at Beijing’s Renmin University, told China Youth Daily that the government’s failure to set aside indoor spaces for public activities during urban planning had contributed to the growing number of conflicts. "Since there are no places to hold these activities," he argued, "City residents have no choice but to go to these outdoor squares."
Without alternative locations for their gatherings, the majority of China’s public dancers may keep on dancing. For their part, some of the dancers could not fathom why neighbors were so vexed. "We’ll keep the noise down, but people should be up and going to work by 8 a.m.," argued the leader of one such group in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing. "Why can’t young people just get up earlier?"