China's Aunties Dance to 'Forget the Darkness of the 20th Century'

china-dancers-01292016.jpg Chinese women dance in public in a common scene in China's cities, in undated file photo.
Public domain photo.

China's "dancing aunties," middle-aged to elderly woman who dance in groups in public places, have been the subject of heated debate in recent months amid complaints that their music is too loud and they cause an obstruction. Some argue that their dance routines are a valuable addition to a healthy lifestyle for older people, while others wonder why so few men take part. The ruling Chinese Communist Party even designed a series of unified, approved dance routines for them, which failed to catch on. But Hebei-based poet Li Nan says that for all the style and bravado worn by these groups of women, their feisty approach belies a deeper social malaise:

The older women who like square dancing are actually the survivors of the great famines, women in their fifties and sixties.

People in this age group don't have any religious beliefs or other pursuits.

I agree that exercise could be a factor. But these women all lived through the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] and the famines [of the Great Leap Forward, 1958-1961] and they don't reflect on it.

They forget it, as if it never happened. They just get on with their lives, acting as if they're happy. But it's all on the surface; the outward semblance of an entire people.

Whenever I see them dancing in the squares and other places, it always makes me feel very sad.

They seem to see it as a lifestyle choice, and feel superior to other people. They view it as entertainment, but really it's just an empty form of psychological comfort.

I think this has something to do with gender.

Of course there's a big gap between men's and women's experiences and studies show that there are differences.

For example, women like to talk more, and get together and talk about their lives, to throw off a feeling of depression. Women also live longer than men, so this could be a factor.

But whenever I see them I think that all these people suffered through all the darkness of the 20th century, and yet they were the first to forget it, and they don't like to think about it much.

Men are more likely to wallow in failure and oblivion, but women seem to want to reaffirm life, so their lives don't seem quite so empty.

Reported by Han Qing for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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