- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

BEIJING — At the respectable age of 74, most pensioners are enjoying hobbies or perhaps a trip on a cruise liner. But in communist China, it’s a time to embark on a moral crusade and join the police.

Hundreds of retired Beijing residents are lining up to join a government-approved Moral Police constabulary to rid the streets of the four “new pests” — spitting, swearing, smoking and line-jumping.

Wearing armbands and red caps, they appear as an elderly throwback to the 1960s Cultural Revolution and Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, who roamed the countryside and ousted closet capitalists, often violently.

The youthful hysteria of that turbulent era, however, has been tempered with the passage of time. The new Red Guards possess pension books and publicly name and shame the bad-mannered.

Retired factory worker Ma Runtian, 74, is among hundreds to sign up to walk the beat and reprimand fellow citizens for unruly behavior.

“If they don’t listen to me, I write their names in my notebook and report them to the officials,” he said, wearing a red armband and red baseball cap emblazoned with Daode Jingcha, or Moral Police.

“Those displaying bad behavior will have their names shown on community billboards, and others will learn from their mistakes,” he said.

Retired civil servant Liu Ruinian, 70, also volunteered to tick off those who lower the tone of the neighborhood because he wants his city to smarten up before next year’s Olympics.

“As we approach the 2008 games, it should be made clear how people should behave,” he said.

Spitting, line-jumping and smoking in public are widespread in the capital, despite a government effort to improve manners in time for the arrival of an estimated 500,000 visitors and athletes next year.

“Most people accept our advice and try to change,” said Mr. Liu. “Most people will stop if we talk to them in a nice way. It’s all about mutual understanding. Some don’t. But they are very few.”

Wang Sheng, 60, a former worker at the Tongzhou print factory, and fellow beat officer Fu Minzhong, 63, a retired agricultural bureau official, are, like many of the volunteer force, members of the Communist Party. The pair approached Li Yurong, the vice manager of the Jin Yuanquan community office, who organizes the volunteer brigade, to sign up.

“Many volunteers have been doing this job for a year, but were low key and not organized,” Mr. Li said.

“Now they are more visible [with their armbands and caps] and are more important, so we are rewarding them with the Moral Police title. This will make people respect them more. They have proper rights to stop people and report their bad behavior.”

There is some good news for those who are not so enthusiastic about the crackdown. The Moral Police do not work weekends, nor do they go out when it rains.

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