Hundreds of retirees in China take to the streets to protest cuts to medical benefits

Protesters seen singing and shouting slogans against cuts that reduce healthcare benefits for the retirees

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 16 February 2023 21:36 GMT
Retirees sing protest anthem as they slam medical benefits cut in China

Hundreds of retirees in China staged a protest in the cities of Wuhan and Dalian against the government’s decision to cut medical benefits.

Protests are rare in China, where the Communist government is known to throttle dissent and enforce strict laws. The fresh protests in Wuhan on Wednesday come just months after citizens took to the streets in an unprecedented move against Beijing’s stringent “zero-Covid” policy.

The retirees said they were protesting local reforms, including a recent cut to the monthly personal medical benefit allowance for them, from $38 per month to $12.

Elder care has become a prominent issue in China because of a falling birthrate that has left fewer workers to support retirees.

“This money is very little, but to old people it is life-saving money,” said Wuhan resident Zhang Hai, who did not attend Wednesday’s protest, but said some of his friends did.

“People are not prosperous, so every little bit of money is hugely important,” he told Reuters.

According to reports, several Wuhan residents said they believed authorities were aware of the protests in advance and urged people not to participate.

Several of his friends who planned to attend were asked by residential authorities to sign a commitment “not to hold illegal protests, gatherings or demonstrations in public spaces” or post online content about the protest.

They were barred from leaving their homes by police, Mr Zhang added.

The first bout of demonstrations reportedly took place in Wuhan on 8 February after local authorities said they were reducing the amount of medical expenses allocated for retirees.

In Wuhan, the city where Covid was first detected in late 2019, police lined up in multiple rows, some locking arms, while mostly elderly protesters spilled onto the main road.

Demonstrators shouted slogans outside the Zhongshan Park in clips circulating on social media and also sang songs such as the “Internationale” – a popular Communist protest anthem.

Videos and photos showed a large group of people gathered under an overpass, singing and chanting, while police officers stood nearby. Crowds could be seen jostling with officers in one video, while another showed officers forcefully leading people onto buses.

Footage from the protests has largely disappeared from Chinese social media platform Weibo, in an expected move by Beijing, which regularly censors critical posts.

The demonstrations have once again put president Xi Jinping’s administration in a tough spot as they come just ahead of China’s annual parliamentary gathering in March.

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