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China’s ‘Dancing Grannies’ Anger Stressed-Out Students Ahead of Gaokao Exams

They gather at dusk and dawn to dance, for their good health and social catch ups. But during the most important exams of the year, the rowdy gatherings of China’s ‘dancing grannies’ lead to angered reactions from students with exam stress.

Manya Koetse

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They gather at dusk and dawn to dance, for their good health and social catch ups. But during the most important exams of the year, the rowdy gatherings of China’s ‘dancing grannies’ lead to angered reactions from students with exam stress.

Square dancing or plaza dancing is a common sight in public spaces like parks or squares across China. It is mostly elderly retired women who meet each other in the mornings and evenings to perform synchronized dance routines together to loud music. For these so-called ‘dancing grannies’, square dancing is both a cheap way to stay fit and a nice occasion to socialize with friends and neighbors.

In the days before the gaokao, China’s national college entrance exams, many square dancers across China decide to skip dancing for some days to give stressed students some silence to study.

For most Chinese students, the gaokao is the most important exam of their lives. Getting a high score might be the ticket to a good job and bright future. The period around these exams is like a national event, with construction workers halting their projects near examination rooms and police cars patrolling the streets to keep things quiet.

In Huizhou, Guangdong, however, some ‘dancing grannies’ were not willing to skip their exercise on June 6 and went ahead with their dancing as usual. A video report by Pear Video about these stubborn dancers drew thousands of angry comments on Weibo.

“The exams are tomorrow, not now, and we need to work out!”, one person told Pear Video reporters in this video clip. Another older man asked the journalists: “Why don’t you take the health of the elderly into consideration, too?!”

Some plaza dancers refuse to stop dancing to give students in the neighbourhood some peace to study. Image via Pear Video.

The video of the Huizhou dancers went viral on Weibo on June 8. Many people are angered with the inconsiderate dancers, saying that elderly people should know better than to be so selfish: “We shouldn’t respect the elderly just because they are old – they did not have to do anything for that -, we only have to respect the good morals and conduct that come with growing old.”

One of the most popular comments said: “I respect the elder but do not respect those without morals, I love young people but don’t like those without teachings”(‘吾敬老不敬无德之老,吾爱幼不爱无教之幼”).

“These are the kind of people who have enough energy to dance during the night, but will make you give up your seat on public transportation during the day so they can sit down,” another person writes.

“Don’t they have grandchildren taking exams, too?”, some wonder.

This is not the first time China’s dancing elders make headlines for their being rowdy and loud. In response to the growing complaints about square-dancing grannies, Chinese authorities started introducing fines and penalties since 2015 for dancers who cause too much nuisance.

On Weibo, bothered students ask: “Grannies, don’t you know how important these exams are to us?”

The topic “Good luck with the exams” (#高考加油#) is the number one trending topic today. “There are a thousand ways to exercise,” one commenter says: “but our college entrance examination is the only way out.”

By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

Knife-Wielding Woman Goes on Rampage at Guixi Primary School

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground.

Manya Koetse

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A woman in Guixi, a county-level city in Jiangxi’s Yingtan, has been taken into custody after stabbing people at a primary school on Monday, May 20, around noon. The incident resulted in at least two fatalities and left ten others injured.

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground, victims of the woman’s stabbing rampage at the Mingde Primary School in Guixi’s Wenfang.

The incident immediately attracted significant attention on Weibo, where netizens not only commented on the tragedy of innocent children being involved in such a horrific crime but also on the unusual fact that the suspect is female; as typically, perpetrators of such crimes are male.

Others also questioned why the school security guards were not present to prevent such an incident and how the woman managed to gain access to the school grounds in the first place.

The 45-year-old female suspect is a native of Guixi. It’s reported that she used a paring knife to carry out the stabbing attack on the school premises.

Shortly after the incident, local authorities called on blood donation centers in Guixi to extend their opening hours, and local residents started queuing up to donate blood to help out the victims who are still being treated for their injuries.

Another question that lingers is why the woman would commit such an atrocious crime. People suggest it is bàofù shèhuì (报复社会), a Chinese term that translates to “retaliate against society” or “taking revenge on society.”

Baofu shehui is often cited as a type of criminal motivation for knife-wielding incidents in China, particularly those occurring at schools, where individuals with personal grievances and/or mental health issues commit these extreme crimes. Such incidents have happened multiple times in the past, notably between 2010 and 2012, during a series of elementary school and kindergarten attacks.

Different from these kinds of attacks in Europe or the US, it often involves older perpetrators who are disillusioned, frustrated, and alienated from their communities amid rapidly changing social and economic conditions in China.

But for many netizens, such a possible motivation does not make sense. Some commenters wrote: “Taking revenge on society should never be done by venting one’s anger against children.”

Others wish the worst upon the perpetrator. One popular comment says, “I hope she gets the death penalty, and that the victims’ families get to execute her.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

Red Cross Society of China in Bad Light Due to Online Rumors after Gansu Earthquake

Even though the rumors surrounding the Red Cross might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

Manya Koetse

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A handwarmer for 500 yuan ($70), a tent for 2200 yuan ($308), a blanket for 100 yuan ($14)? An online list detailing items supposedly procured by the Gansu Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts has ignited controversy on Chinese social media in recent days. Although the Red Cross has denied all rumors, the incident underscores public skepticism towards the organization.

After the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Jishishan (积石山), a county in China’s Gansu Province’s Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, on December 18, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with news related to the disaster. The overnight earthquake killed at least 148 people and left hundreds injured.

News of the earthquake resonated deeply throughout the country, and the ongoing search and rescue operations and relief efforts, hindered by landslides, ruined infrastructure, and freezing temperatures, have attracted major attention online.

While much of the discourse revolves around the goodness of the people contributing to charities and doing all they can to help victims in the affected areas, there is also public distrust surrounding the motives of some charities or helping organizations that might use the disaster as an opportunity to make a profit.

One hotly debated topic revolves around the Red Cross Society of China, after a list surfaced online of items allegedly purchased by the Gansu Red Cross for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake.

Image published on Weibo via Red Cross Society of China (@中国红十字会总会).

The procurement list raised controversy due to the high prices of the common items listed, and because of a supposed “management fee” (管理费) of 1.6 million yuan ($224k).

In response, the Red Cross refuted these claims, asserting that they had not issued any such list (#甘肃红十字称没发布任何物资清单#). On December 24, the Gansu Red Cross took to Weibo (@甘肃省红十字会) to clarify that the circulating information was “grossly inaccurate.” They assured the public that all donations would directly aid earthquake relief efforts, without incurring management fees.

The Red Cross statement on Weibo.

Even though the procurement list might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

“Why does the Red Cross end up in the top trending lists every time?” one commenter wondered: “Their information should be more transparent and timely.”

Others also suggested that merely denying the rumors was not enough, and that they hoped that the Red Cross would provide more details and information to show netizens, of whom many donated money, how their charity money is being spent to help relief efforts in the affected areas in Gansu and Qinghai.

The fact that the Red Cross Weibo post did not allow any commenting did not help: “Why are you afraid to let us openly discuss this?”

 
Red Cross Society of China: Tainted by Suspicion
 

The Red Cross of China, the nation’s largest charitable organization, continues to grapple with a tarnished reputation that partly stems from the 2011 “Guo Meimei Incident.”

Guo Meimei (郭美美), whose real name is Guo Meiling, became an infamous internet celebrity in the summer of 2011 after flaunting her excessive wealth online whilst claiming to work as a “commercial general manager” for the Red Cross Society of China.

The issue severely eroded the society’s credibility, which has been designated by the government as the central public donation organization during times of disasters (Cheng 2016). From luxury handbags to sports cars, the 19-year-old Guo showed off her money on Weibo, and quickly went viral on various message boards as people were angered over corruption and potential misuse of charity money.

Guo Meimei

Despite efforts by the Red Cross Society to debunk these rumors and distance itself from Guo, speculations persisted. Many speculated about Guo’s potential ties to the organization, even if she did not officially work there. As highlighted by Cheng (2016), the public’s negative sentiment toward the Red Cross triggered “a chain of credibility crises” and even spread to other charitable groups in China.

During the 2020 Wuhan Covid outbreak, the Red Cross faced scrutiny for allegedly stockpiling public donations of medical supplies in warehouses rather than promptly distributing them to frontline medical personnel facing shortages.

The current allegations against the Red Cross of China in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake also echo other past controversies, such as the one they dealt with after the 2008 Sichuan quake. Red Cross officials were then also accused of misusing donations by purchasing needlessly expensive tents and vehicles.

 
Donations for the ‘Underdog’: The Han Hong Foundation
 

The growing public distrust towards the Red Cross has arguably paved the way for other Chinese charities to gain prominence. A prime example is the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation (韩红爱心慈善基金会), established in 2012 by renowned Chinese folk singer Han Hong (韩红, 1971).

Although Han Hong has been engaged in charity for many years, during which she invested a lot of her own money, the charity she established became more known after the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation was committed to aid efforts during the Wuhan Covid outbreak in 2020 and the Henan floods in 2021.

Han Hong (center), picture via Xiaohongshu fan of Han Hong.

After the earthquake in Gansu on December 18th, Han Hong’s organization immediately organized rescue teams and provided people in the affected areas with clothes and (medical) supplies. Hang Hong was able to rake in millions thanks to her reputation of being compassionate and altruistic, as well as through her strong network in China’s entertainment industry, leading numerous Chinese celebrities to support her relief efforts.

But Han Hong’s organization is also affected by the public distrust surrounding charity in China. On December 23, it was rumored that her Charity Foundation was officially asked to leave the disaster area as well as to hand over a portion of their donations.

The foundation refuted these claims by issuing a statement on December 25 (#韩红基金会辟谣#).

Statement by Han Hong Love Charity Foundation refuting rumors that their charity work was hindered by officials.

In the public view, there seems to be a big difference between perceptions of large entities like the Red Cross and other ‘official’ charitable organizations versus smaller, more independent initiatives like the Han Hong foundation, which operates as a private charitable entity.

Reflecting on the rumors surrounding both the Red Cross and Han Hong’s foundation, one Weibo commenter noted: “These rumors come into existence because so many of these so-called charitable foundations actually treat charity as their business. And so, they become ‘competitors.’”

Meanwhile, Han Hong’s organization stresses that it operates under the guidance and oversight of the party and government, and only provide emergency support through their support.

In online discussions on the power of the Red Cross versus Han Hong’s organization, some commenters suggest that it is time for the government and authorities to reflect on why a private organization would be more trusted than the Red Cross, a government organized NGO.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “What Han Hong does is true charity instead of business.” Another person replied: “The biggest disaster here is actually the erosion of public trust.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Cheng, Yang. 2016. “Social Media Keep Buzzing! A Test of Contingency Theory in China’s Red Cross Credibility Crisis.” International Journal of Communication, June 2016: pp. 3241+.

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