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Dancing with danger

Guangchangwu dancers participate in a contest in the Luyang district of Hefei, Anhui Province, on September 28, to celebrate the National Day holidays. Photo: IC

Dusk had fallen over Changping district, in the northern suburbs of Beijing on August 30, and the public square was no longer being used as a basketball court. The teenage players had been replaced by dozens of female dancers, and the sounds of music and dancing had begun to fill the square.

But at around 8 pm, the event was brutally cut short when an intoxicated man emerged from his nearby property. Enraged by the music, he lifted his gun and began firing into the air.

"I just wanted some good sleep and I shot because I was so angry about the annoying noise," the man, surnamed Shi, later said on China Central Television (CCTV).

That was the last time the dancers gathered in the square. Shi appeared before a court in Changping on November 5, charged with illegal possession of a firearm.

This kind of dancing in public squares, known in China as guangchangwu, involves choreographed dance, incorporating a variety of styles. In the morning and evening, in parks, squares and residential compounds across the country, groups of people, mostly middle-aged and elderly women, can be seen participating, in an effort to exercise and socialize with peers.

But this kind of dancing is not without its downsides. Rather than pillorying Shi as a villain, Net users have been unusually sympathetic, and the widespread support online shows that not everyone is a fan of guangchangwu, and in many cases, nearby residents are losing their tempers.

Raging residents

Due to its low cost and ease of participation, guangchangwu is a popular pastime. According to a report broadcast by CCTV on Thursday, China has over 100 million fans of the dance, most of whom are women aged between 40 and 65.

"It's an activity that can help people socialize and increase confidence. Maybe you don't have much dancing skill or the confidence to dance in front of the public, but you can still enjoy guangchangwu," said 50-year-old Beijinger Wang Xin.

But its detractors are legion. According to a survey by the Beijing News on Saturday, over half of the respondents said the activity is "annoying" because of the noise.

"I think guangchangwu is a good activity but the music they play is always too loud to tolerate," said Wang.

A staff member from a residential committee office in Beijing's Chaoyang district told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that it is not rare for him to get over 10 complaints from residents during summer.

"Some complain about people dancing in residential areas, and some complain about salesgirls who danced in front of their shops every morning," he said.

While Shi's case was a striking example of how rage from nearby residents can manifest, it is far from unique, and it is not localized to China.

In August, a Chinese woman surnamed Wang was detained in New York because her guangchangwu dancing group made loud noises while dancing in Sunset Park in Brooklyn,  after some angry neighboring residents called the police.

A local court dropped the case later because she was a first-time offender, but warned her not to breach the regulation again. Wang also promised they would lower the volume of music and move away from residential areas.

But in China, the problem persists.

In Chengdu, Sichuan Province, angry residents threw water bombs at dancers in their residential compound on April 12. Local community workers came to mediate the conflict but failed. The dances continued, and so did the water bombs.

Those dancers were lucky compared with some who got caught in a dispute in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in October. Annoyed residents dropped excrement out of their windows on to a group of dancers outside, the Wuhan Evening News reported.

However, both cases came to an impasse. The dancers claimed that the square was a public area so they had the right to use it, while the residents accused them of creating noise pollution.

Regulating noise pollution

China does have laws and regulations to combat noise pollution.

According to the noise standard in urban areas, which was issued in 2008, the maximum level of ambient noise is 60 decibels in the daytime and 50 decibels at night. Any noise beyond the limit can be reported to environmental watchdogs, who can order it to be halted.

Additionally, the law on prevention and control of pollution from environmental noise requires that those who make noises that disturb the daily lives of others can be fined or ordered to pay compensation if the noise persists.

In the Wuhan case, tests by local authorities found that the noise made by the dancers exceeded the limits specified in the regulations, according to a report by China Network Television aired on October 30, which said that despite this, the government organs with the power to act did not pay attention.

Wang Yi, an expert in law and urban management studies with Yangzhou University, told the Global Times that if the residents want to launch a lawsuit, they would need evidence provided by environmental watchdogs.

However, considering the large number of guangchangwu dancers across the nation, it was not practical to ask the authorities to come to the scene every time.

"When residents gathered enough evidence, would they try to sue those dancers individually?" asked Wang Yi, pointing out that laws and regulations won't be enough.

Solving the problem

Some Chinese cities have attempted to tackle the problem.

In Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, residential committee offices, consisting of local volunteers and government staff, began to monitor the volumes of noise emitted in certain areas where dancers gathered.

Meanwhile, groups of dancers in Liuyang, Hunan Province, signed contracts with law enforcement departments, regulating when and where they could dance, and stipulated fines for transgressions.

Wang also pointed out that the key difficulty in this issue is the fact that they are organized by individuals and lack proper management.

"The key is to set up a community organization and management. If these communities can gather these individuals together and organize them to dance in the same location within fixed time durations, such problems will be solved," Wang Yi said.

Yang Hongshan, an associate professor of the Public Policy School of Public Administration with the Renmin University of China, told CCTV that the key to solving the problem is to increase the number of affordable public indoor spaces to allow people to socialize and entertain, as well as dance.


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