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China's Dancing Grannies Are Such a Nuisance They Are Being Pelted with 'Shit Bombs'

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?"

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The Bungled Media Aftermath of China's Fatal Pipeline Explosion

Dozens of people have died in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao, and authorities are sorry -- but, most Chinese think, not sorry enough. Early on Nov. 22, a crude oil pipeline owned and operated by Sinopec, a state-owned petrochemical giant, began to leak. It exploded later that morning, ripping through the road with sufficient force to overturn cars above it, killing an estimated 55 and injuring over 100. Both officials and executives have scrambled to manage the public relations aftermath with a combination of apologies and state media coverage touting clean-up efforts.

But many Chinese are unsatisfied. A public apology from Sinopec, one of China's largest corporations, backfired on Nov. 25 when the company sent Li Chunguang, a vice president, to deliver the official apology, instead of President Fu Chengyu. Li admitted, albeit vaguely, that Sinopec had "failed the city of Qingdao and the people of this country." On Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, a user who claimed to hail from Qingdao condemned Li's "robotic, cold recitation," arguing that if he was truly sincere, he would have stood up and bowed instead of remaining seated. More subdued users called for Li's resignation, while more extreme ones urged him to commit suicide. Others demanded to know why Fu did not appear at the hearings himself. (Fu expressed condolences during a Nov. 23 television appearance lasting less than one minute, and has not publicly appeared since.) "If he was the head of a private company," wrote one Weibo user, "he would have been arrested."

Perhaps aware that anti-Sinopec sentiment can easily tarnish the government that owns it, Chinese officials tried to use media channels to their advantage. The day after the explosion, local papers came under fire as readers alleged certain outlets had played up government responsiveness -- including an appearance by President Xi Jinping -- while playing down the scale of devastation. In particular, the party-run Qingdao Daily drew ire by quoting displaced resident Wang Zhenhua's praise for government officials: "We ordinary people are deeply grateful for the concern of the party and government," without which "we would not have our happy lives today." One Weibo user suggested, "The party and government should try to blow up Wang Zhenhua one more time." Long Xingchun, a columnist and international relations commentator, jokingly cautioned against vilifying Wang: "We don't even if know if this person exists."

Of course, public outrage is often par for the course in the aftermath of such devastation, especially in China, where the government has bungled crisis management situations many times before. Authorities would be hard-pressed to escape criticism no matter how swift or comprehensive their disaster-relief efforts. Many Chinese felt that no measure of assistance could make up for the damage the disaster caused. As one online commenter asked, "Why do people always wait until after things happen to ask ‘why'?"

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