A news article lauding the police work behind the arrest of a 64-year-old construction worker in Shanghai’s Pudong district instead drew attention to the financial insecurity experienced by China’s elderly workers. The construction worker, identified only as Mr. Fan, was arrested for using a false identification card to appear seven years younger in an effort to duck manual workers’ legal retirement age of 60. His arrest inspired online outrage at the cruelty of a society that neither provides social security to elderly workers nor permits them to support themselves through work. The anger was compounded by the timing of Fan’s arrest, which occurred amidst a push by the Chinese state to encourage elderly people to return to work. Last week, Workers’ Daily—the official paper of the state-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions—ran a piece encouraging “young elders” to find work so that China might realize its “silver dividend,” a play on the voguish concept of China’s “demographic dividend” that state-affiliated experts maintain continues to drive economic growth. “All the ‘huminerals’ have been used up, huh,” one Weibo commenter said in response to the Worker’s Daily piece. CDT collected Weibo reactions to the 64-year-old construction worker’s arrest, all of which expressed anger at the country’s treatment of elderly laborers:
Torexiaosile：“The government will care for you when you’re old” is the biggest Ponzi scheme.
木___木啊：They can’t get hired on construction sites, and they don’t have an ounce of security. This society casts the elderly away, giving them no route forward.
我走过那一隅：Why would he be willing to break the law by faking documents to work on a construction site? Is it because resting at home was too comfortable? Maybe he just likes hard labor?
风吹山果落：The bitter tears of old chives.
多弗朗信哥丶: XXXX is good, XX will care for you when you’re old. [A coded reference to an ‘80’s-era One-Child Policy slogan that said, “Having only one child is good, the government will care for you when you’re old.”]
洪广玉：What sort of news is this? [Chinese]
Fan’s plight is but one salient example of the vulnerability of China’s elderly. Earlier in February, retirees in Wuhan and Dalian took to the streets to protest reforms to local public health insurance systems. One elderly Wuhan protestor, speaking anonymously to prevent retaliation from the police, told The New York Times he felt resentment at being asked to shoulder cuts to his medical insurance: “The socialist country today was created by us, the older generation.” The proposed reforms are in part necessitated by the fiscal crunch incurred by China’s expensive and now-abandoned zero-COVID policy. Local governments spent billions of dollars on PCR testing and the construction of centralized quarantine facilities which now stand vacant. The crunch extends beyond China’s social security systems. Bus operators across the country are cutting down on routes and even suspending services. Lanzhou, the provincial capital of Gansu, announced that it was unable to pay drivers’ salaries and that they should in the meantime take out specialized personal loans which the government would repay later. Even China’s well-funded security forces seem to be feeling the pinch. A screenshot circulating online, the veracity of which has been confirmed by Chinese state media outlets, revealed that Guangxi’s Public Security Bureau has not paid its nearly $70,000 electricity bill. One netizen, borrowing Mao’s term for the Party’s security forces, commented, “Even the ‘knife handle’ is short on cash?”