Singing communist anthem, China seniors protest benefit cuts

February 15, 2023 GMT

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese seniors singing the communist anthem protested in the city of Wuhan on Wednesday over benefit cuts, in a rare sign of confrontation with the authoritarian state.

The demonstration was the latest sign of economic pain caused by China’s now-abandoned “zero COVID” policy and a drop in local government coffers exacerbated by the collapse of major players in the real estate industry.

The ruling Communist Party maintains strict control over the press, but videos and photos said to be of the protest in front of Wuhan’s Zhongshan Park spread on social media before censors took them down. The images couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press.

While there is no indication of a nationwide movement, citizens have become more outspoken over the failure of local governments to deliver on social welfare promises. Elder care has become a more acute issue because of a falling birthrate that has left fewer workers to support retirees who were promised pensions and healthcare by the state.

In Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first detected in late 2019, police lined up in multiple rows, some locking arms, while hundreds of mostly elderly protesters spilled onto the main road, shouting complaints. In one video, the crowd began singing “The Internationale,” the communist anthem taught and sung in China since the Communist Party took power at the end of a civil war in 1949.

China has experienced a wave of labor unrest and protests sparked by draconian coronavirus lockdowns that were abruptly abandoned in December. Dozens or more people have been arrested on the vague charge of causing disorder.

Ma Haiyang, who works at an internet cafe near the park, said he didn’t see the protest but had heard about it. He said there was no trace of protesters by the time he arrived at the area around noon, while police remained there.