Chinese city abuzz at Rollerman's drive against rule-breakers

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The Independent Online

China's southern boomtown of Guangzhou has a new hero – "Rollerman", a mysterious bespectacled foreigner on rollerblades who has taken to challenging government vehicles seen violating traffic rules.

He is an unlikely superhero – more Clark Kent than Superman, in a red T-shirt, often wearing his backpack or clutching his shopping in a brown paper bag as he points at the signs being flagrantly ignored by the cadres.

Chinese number plates are colour-coded to indicate which sector of society is using the car – most plates are blue, foreigner plates are black, and official government plates are white.

The silver people-carrier challenged by Rollerman in one photograph is clearly an official's car, and some web sites have identified the plate as belonging to a branch of the military or public security.

In an atmosphere of growing hostility towards perceived abuse of privilege by government officials, Rollerman has his fans, although some are concerned that it takes a laowai – a common Chinese expression to describe a foreigner – to intervene to stop the cadres breaking the rules.

"In the evening I always see cars doing this on that road, and I give them an angry star (gesture)," said one web commentator. "We should call this foreigner a hero. If we all acted like this on the road, we'd be charged with disrupting state security! But that it takes a laowai to help us sort out the business of the road is shameful."

Officials can frequently be seen whizzing down the breakdown lane, horns honking, in black Audi limousines and, increasingly, in large Porsche SUVs. Many ordinary Chinese question whether they are indeed on official business.

"There's no way that we could behave like Rollerman," wrote the web commentator. "(The police and government) take bullying us citizens as their right ... Only foreigners can do this, not us."

Others were philosophical. "Who has more privilege – a car with military plates or a foreigner?" asked one.

Another referred to a cadre's son who allegedly ran over a young woman while drunk and tried to use his father's high office to avoid responsibility. Unless his father was a high-ranking official, Rollerman "better run away", the web user advised.

For now, Rollerman remains anonymous, with neither the bloggers nor local media able to identify the lean man seemingly taking the traffic law into his own hands.

And for a government mindful of the need to keep a firm grip on single-party rule, clearing up growing public anger about abuse by officialdom features high on the order of business.