Reporters on the Job
• Protesting Patriots in China: Correspondent Simon Montlake was in Shanghai, China, to cover the widening political scandal over the plundering of a $1.2 billion pension fund. He'd heard that there was a regular weekly citizen protest over land seizures or something, and decided to investigate while he was in town.Skip to next paragraph
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"I checked into a hotel in Shanghai, and as soon as I walked outside I could hear people chanting. About 100 pensioners were just down the street, protesting outside the Social Security office. They were quite orderly, with printed signs," he says.
Simon admits that in most countries this would not be a particularly exciting event. But in China such protests are not often around long enough to be witnessed by foreigners. "The police were there, but just watching. So, I went over and spoke to a few of the protesters – while trying not to draw too much attention to myself because the police would likely remove me," he says.
The grievances of the demonstrators, Simon learned, stemmed from the era of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. They were educated youths living in Shanghai and had volunteered to go to the countryside, out west, to help the rural poor. But when they came back, they were told they'd lost their rights to get a full pension and benefits, as Shanghai residents. "In recent years, they've organized themselves, and march every week, calling for justice. The pension scandal has given them a fresh event to rally around," he says.
"It was an amazing introduction to Shanghai. Within an hour of arriving, I was standing in the middle of a demonstration. That's not something you actually get to see very often in China. I suspect the police are sympathetic because these pensioners are considered patriots."
David Clark Scott