Grannies congregate in China’s public parks and squares in the early hours of the morning or late in the afternoon.
The gangs, mostly made up of middle-aged and older women who lived through the Cultural Revolution, gather in a corner of a local park or sports field and dance in unison to Chinese music. Music that’s too loud.
The practice has resulted in tense standoffs, with blaring music frequently blamed for disturbing the peace in often densely populated residential areas. Many people, however, are too afraid to confront the women.
The plight of the dancing grannies has prompted some to look for technological solutions. This week, a remote stun gun-style device that claims to be able to disable a speaker from 50 meters away went viral online.
The item received positive feedback. “Downstairs has finally become quiet. “The grannies thought their speaker wasn’t working for two days!” said one on Taobao, China’s version of eBay.
“Great invention, with this tool, I’ll be the boss in the neighborhood now,” another said. “This is more than just a product; it is social justice!”
There are an estimated 100 million dancing grannies in China. Square dancing allows older women to socialize, as many of them live alone or with younger family members whom they accompanied on a move to the cities. They form strong bonds, often going shopping or doing other activities, such as group investments, together, according to the South China Morning Post.
Square dancing, which dates back to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, has been described by state media as a “positive and effective way to reduce the medical and financial burden as well as increase the life quality of older people.”
“Many of the participants are retired, and their children are no longer alive.” Square dancing becomes a social activity for them.”
However, neighbors complain that it has gotten out of hand, with competing groups blasting music over each other in small areas and bullying those who try to intervene. Viral videos and reports show the groups arguing and fighting with basketball players in order to take over their court, or, in one case, breaking into a football field and stopping the game to dance in the space, prompting a police response and arrests.
Tianjin City added new regulations in 2019 to promote civilized behavior, allowing police to fine dancing grannies up to 500 yuan (£56) if their music is too loud in public.
Some disagreements have devolved into violence. Neighbors in Shijiazhuang fight back against the grannies by spreading stinky tofu, paint, and engine oil while they dance. According to one media report, a high-rise resident threw human feces out the window at them. “Most of them are products of the Red Guard era; they don’t respect society or the environment,” said an unnamed young Chinese resident of Guiyang.
“Square dancing is a problem from the past.” Many elderly people believe that their generation is responsible for the construction of China as a whole. They have a monopoly on power and influence. We, as young people, have done nothing and are therefore unqualified to question them.”
The stun gun and other online-sold devices are part of an emerging market in goods designed to combat noise pollution while avoiding interaction. “I tried to communicate with them once, but the police stopped me,” the Guiyang resident explained. “They were afraid I was going to do something bad. You are aware of the golden rule of Chinese policy: the greater the number of people, the greater the impact. Everything is based on social upkeep.”
It’s not all bad. Last year, a group in Lanzhou, Gansu, came up with a solution that made everyone happy by using Bluetooth earphones and holding their own version of a silent disco.