A reminder that people can be kept in line (and tyranny enforced) not only by fear but also by niceness.
China’s authoritarianism has many faces, but rarely does it appear in the friendly, grandmotherly guise it has taken over the past week, as thousands of older women have shown up on the streets of the capital, their vigilant eyes eager to ferret out the smallest signs of trouble.
These graying, smiling, energetic women are the most visible sign of the 1.4 million volunteers enlisted to squelch protests, crimes and anything else that could embarrass the ruling Communist Party during its sensitive once-a-decade transition of leadership. . . .
the embodiment of the velvet-glove approach is the collection of older women who turned up last week eager to be sworn in as “Capital Public Security Volunteers.” In all, about 1.4 million security volunteers are at work in Beijing during the party congress, according to state-run media.
“Our duty is to guard our homes and streets and create a deterrent,” explained Zhang Liling, a 68-year-old woman with deep dimples, as she stood with a handful of other women to watch their street corner on the eastern side of Beijing.
After a morning spent with Zhang and others, it is hard not to acknowledge a particular ingenuity to the idea of harnessing the inherent nosiness among some members of this demographic.Retired with time to spare, the women come to the job with an already highly developed penchant for gossip and zero hesitation about posing prying questions. Throw in free windbreakers and red arm bands that indicate their special status, and you’ve got an instant army of eyes and ears.
“I feel it’s my duty to take on this mission,” said a proud Bao Mianfeng, 62, a former teacher and party member. “No one forced me or any of us into this. It’s something we are happy to do.”
A successful party congress, Bao explained, means “a stronger and more prosperous country.” A stronger country means “one step closer to a well-off society.”
There is something fierce in how she says this, so full of conviction. But it is disorienting, too, hearing her warmth and sweetness in discussing the vital mission of blanket security.