China: Forced Mass Workplace Exercise – Move back to the Cultural Revolution

Radio Free Asia, 2010-08-12 -

HONG KONG— Labor officials in the Chinese capital are launching a campaign this week to promote collective workplace exercise sessions in tandem with Beijing’s state-run radio station, which will broadcast the music for the program, officials said.

An employee who answered the phone at the Beijing Model Workers’ Association confirmed the move. “Yes, that’s correct,” the employee said.

But he declined to speculate on the motivation behind it. “I’m not sure why they decided this,” he said.

Calls to the Beijing General Workers’ Union went unanswered during office hours Monday.

But a directive issued by the union and reported in local media said that the union wants 60 percent of the city’s workforce, and 100 percent of the workers in state-owned industrial plants, to be taking part in collective exercise programs by the end of next year.

Targets for civil servants had been set at 70 percent of the workforce, and would be added to assessment criteria for leadership performance in government departments.

“Starting from Aug. 9, all workers of state-owned enterprises and at least 70 percent of employees of government offices and public institutions are now required to complete physical exercises at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. with exercise music from Beijing Radio Station on 102.5 FM,” the People’s Daily Online reported.

The move was part of the “Healthy Beijinger—National 10-Year Plan” campaign, which mandates the promotion of physical exercises and requires every employee in the capital to do 20-minute exercises at least once a day, the paper said.

Motivation questioned

Critics have already lashed out at the plan as a backward step for a China they see moving away from regimented, socialist patterns, and questioned the political motivation for the move.

“This is all connected to the singing of revolutionary anthems and the campaign against vulgarity,” wrote a user identified as Kevin Wu in an online forum. “It totally shows that history is moving backwards.”

Beijing-based artist Yang Licai said he expects China to move back towards the political campaigns of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

“I have been hurriedly reading up on Cultural Revolution history, because I think that we’re about to arrive back in that era,” Yang said in an interview. “The Cultural Revolution is the reference point for all these movements.”

“I need to study in order to learn how to survive in that sort of time,” he said.

Collective morning exercises have been a feature of China under communist rule since 1951, with new initiatives being promoted by the government every five to 10 years, up to the present day.

The new exercise broadcast will be the eighth edition of the morning music broadcast, which was briefly resumed in celebration of Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Amid a recent growth in the popularity of revolutionary songs from the Mao era, and a campaign against “low, vulgar, and pandering” elements in society and culture, netizens are now commenting on whether China is in the middle of a return to its Maoist roots.

“There have only been three countries in the world that go in for this sort of thing,” wrote user Pu Fei on the microblogging service Twitter. “One was the former East Germany, another was North Korea, and the third was China.”

“This sort of collective mass exercise by the whole population to a radio broadcast is characteristic of authoritarian regimes. Our government’s thinking is typical of an authoritarian regime,” Pu wrote.

- The Radio Free Asia