Word of the Week: Take a Walk

The  comes from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.

散步 (sànbù): take a walk

“Walking” in central Beijing, February 2011. (Jordan Pouille)

Along with “sightseeing,” “taking a walk” is a new form of resistance in China. Striking is difficult, applications for protests are routinely denied, and petitioning the government often brings dire consequences. Workers and citizens have adopted new methods that tread the fine line of legality. In February 2011, an online source attempted to stage a “jasmine revolution” by organizing groups to “walk” in the central Beijing shopping district of Wangfujing.

Yu Jianrong, a researcher at China’s Academy of Social Science, gives a vivid description of this method:

Workers’ methods of resistance include petitioning higher levels of government, sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, and blocking traffic. Two extremely important recent methods of resistance include “taking a walk” and “going sightseeing.” [PowerPoint slide] Take a look, these are workers from Baoding “taking a walk” to Beijing on April 3, 2009. It is 137 kilometers from Baoding to Beijing. When I learned the news [of the workers’ “walk”] and rushed over, they were almost at the Xushui County toll station. At the time Beijing was very tense; Shijiazhuang was very tense; Baoding was very tense. A lot of people and workers were sent to negotiate; they said, “You can’t go to Beijing like this.” The workers answered by saying, “Is there a problem with us going to Beijing to go sightseeing? There’s nothing wrong with it. What law says we can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing?” Those [sent to] persuade them said, “You can’t all of you go to Beijing to go sightseeing.” The workers immediately responded, “And what law exactly says that this many people can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing?” Those sent to persuade them against going insisted, “In any event, you can’t all walk to Beijing to go sightseeing like this.” The workers said, “We don’t have any money, why can’t we walk to Beijing?” The situation was extremely tense. Finally, the Baoding City [government] had no choice but to state right there to the workers, “We’ll resolve all your problems.” The workers said, “We don’t have any problems. Our only problem is a sightseeing problem. Look for yourselves, we haven’t brought materials to petition the government, we’re not shouting slogans, we don’t have any problems, we’re not petitioning the government, we’re not lodging complaints. We are going sightseeing.” In the end, their actions at the scene caused their company’s chairman of the board to be taken away [by the police]. Only then did they return.