Se­niors, show some re­spect for the young

Shanghai Daily - - OPINION - Zachary Low­ell

A CROWD of evening strollers based in Yangpu District marched straight into con­tro­versy re­cently. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, res­i­dents from the An­shan Com­mu­nity started an af­ter-din­ner walk­ing group last year. The group, which is mostly com­posed of mid­dleaged and el­derly peo­ple, has since grown to over 100 mem­bers. As the pack swelled, hik­ers broke the bounds of the side­walk and spilled over nar­row roads and cy­cling lanes, cre­at­ing po­ten­tial safety hazards. To the fur­ther an­noy­ance of some res­i­dents, the group also blared a por­ta­ble sound sys­tem as a way to en­liven its evening am­bu­la­tions.

The walk­ers’ noise and flout­ing of traffic rules even­tu­ally forced the au­thor­i­ties to get in­volved. Now, the group’s twi­light pa­rade hap­pens un­der the watch­ful eyes of po­lice, ur­ban man­age­ment of­fi­cials and volunteers, who en­cour­age walk­ers to stay out of traffic and keep the noise down. To ac­com­mo­date the hik­ing throng, plans are re­port­edly in the works to ex­tend the open­ing hours of a nearby park, or sim­ply pedes­tri­an­ize the street used by the group. While I was happy to read about ef­forts to reach a po­ten­tial com­pro­mise, the walk­ers them­selves seemed less than grate­ful — in fact, some quoted by Shang­hai Daily had choice words for the po­lice, while another com­plained that the evening rou­tine had be­come bor­ing with­out loud mu­sic (“Twi­light walk­ers tread fine line with the law,” Novem­ber 28, Shang­hai Daily).

This is not the first time that older ex­er­cis­ers in Shang­hai have made them­selves a nui­sance or drawn at­ten­tion from au­thor­i­ties. I un­der­stand the de­sire of many older Chi­nese to stay phys­i­cally ac­tive and so­cially en­gaged, but they should do so in a way that re­spects the rights of oth­ers. Fur­ther­more, I won­der what kind of ex­am­ple Shang­hai’s se­niors are set­ting for younger gen­er­a­tions when they be­have in such an un­ruly man­ner.

As many are aware, the city’s ubiq­ui­tous square dancers have fre­quently drawn com­plaints for play­ing loud mu­sic and dis­turb­ing the peace of other res­i­dents. Specif­i­cally, par­ents typ­i­cally com­plain that the ruckus caused by “danc­ing grannies” dis­tracts chil­dren from their home­work. Ten­sions be­tween loud square dancers and those put out by them have been mount­ing for years, forc­ing au­thor­i­ties in Shang­hai and else­where to be­come in­creas­ingly strict on shim­my­ing se­niors and their ear-ring­ing racket. Still, stories about con­flicts be­tween dancers and an­noyed res­i­dents sur­face from time to time in the press and so­cial me­dia, sug­gest­ing an uneasy peace.

Surly se­niors also made news in Shang­hai back in 2014, when the re­open­ing of Lu Xun Park sparked some­thing of a “turf war.” Dozens of reg­is­tered ac­tiv­ity groups, many of them made up of re­tirees and older peo­ple, clashed over space in the re-de­signed park. Lo­cal po­lice had to in­ter­vene be­tween feud­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions look­ing to claim prime real es­tate in which to per­form tai chi, danc­ing or other such ac­tiv­i­ties. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports from the time, it was only through me­di­a­tion from au­thor­i­ties that a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion seemed pos­si­ble be­tween the squab­bling se­niors.

Be­ing ac­com­moda­tive

I can sym­pa­thize with older Chi­nese peo­ple who want to stay ac­tive.

Many se­niors in Shang­hai are, for var­i­ous reasons, sep­a­rated from their fam­i­lies or lack the dis­pos­able in­come nec­es­sary to in­dulge in hob­bies. Group ac­tiv­i­ties like walk­ing or square-danc­ing are a low-cost way to so­cial­ize and keep fit. More­over, pub­lic group ac­tiv­i­ties give older Shang­hainese peo­ple vis­i­bil­ity within so­ci­ety, whereas in the West se­niors are of­ten, lit­er­ally and sym­bol­i­cally, shunted from pub­lic view and for­got­ten about.

Still, Shang­hai is not a vil­lage. It’s a com­pli­cated so­ci­ety com­posed of mil­lions of peo­ple, all of whom have their own rights and in­ter­ests. For the sake of pub­lic or­der and com­mon ben­e­fit, cer­tain rules of ci­vil­ity must be fol­lowed. Thank­fully, Shang­hai has be­come more law-abid­ing and or­derly over re­cent years — for ex­am­ple, a re­cent crack­down on driving in­frac­tions has im­proved traffic con­di­tions and road safety, mak­ing ev­ery­one’s life bet­ter as a re­sult. The same logic ap­plies to other spheres of pub­lic life as well.

Young peo­ple in China are of­ten dis­par­aged for be­ing self­ish and overly in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic. Whether or not this is true, older gen­er­a­tions also seem per­fectly ca­pa­ble of putting their own in­ter­ests ahead of oth­ers. Per­haps the dif­fer­ence is that older folks tend to as­sert them­selves within the con­text of a group — for ex­am­ple, a walk­ing club or a square-danc­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. But in my view, a group that dis­re­spects the rights of oth­ers is also act­ing self­ishly, no mat­ter what kind of ben­e­fits the group’s mem­bers might en­joy.

Within Chi­nese cul­ture, se­niors are said to com­mand re­spect and rev­er­ence. This is cer­tainly a com­mend­able tra­di­tion, but I won­der what kind of ex­am­ple their oc­ca­sion­ally un­ruly an­tics sets for the young. In the spe­cific case of the walk­ers in Yangpu, per­haps ef­forts by au­thor­i­ties to help their group will at least demon­strate the ad­van­tages of be­ing ac­com­moda­tive.

The au­thor is a for­mer copy edi­tor at Shang­hai Daily.

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