Chinese seniors protest the reduction in their health benefits

On February 15, 2023, protesters gather in Wuhan, China, outside Zhongshan Park to voice their opposition to chang...

Chinese retirees have once more protested against medical benefit cuts in the streets in large crowds.

On Wednesday, they gathered once more in Dalian, in the far northeast, and in Wuhan, where Covid was first discovered.

Just weeks before the annual National People's Congress, which will elect a new leadership team, the second round of protests in seven days puts pressure on President Xi Jinping's administration.

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The majority of the protesters, as seen in social media video, are elderly retirees, who claim that the timing of the demonstration is related to rising healthcare costs.

Although provincial governments handle such health insurance issues, demonstrations have spread across the nation in what appears to be a renewed belief in the effectiveness of protesting in China.

Thousands of young Chinese people participated in protests at the end of the previous year, which ultimately forced the government to abandon its strict zero-Covid policies. The public had grown weary of the widespread testing and sudden, sweeping lockdowns that had been wrecking the economy.

However, the sudden change in policy put a tremendous strain on China's healthcare system as the coronavirus spread quickly across the nation. It resulted in an undetermined number of deaths, and BBC reporting seemed to indicate that the elderly made up the vast majority of those who passed away.

The officials have referred to the adjustments to retiree health benefits as reforms, and they come as China is beginning to recover from the devastating Covid wave.

The plan has been promoted as a way of adjusting reimbursement rates to broaden the range of coverage. However, there has been backlash against the plan on social media, including the widely-held belief that Chinese officials are attempting to recoup the enormous sums of money spent on mandatory Covid testing and other pandemic measures.

Both Wuhan and Dalian officials stated that they were unaware of the most recent demonstrations and had no further comment to make. Police stations nearby didn't return calls.

According to Radio Free Asia, a sizable portion of the original Wuhan protest group was made up of retired iron and steel workers.

In a nation where organizing opposition to the government in any way is difficult and can result in harsh punishment, including prison sentences, the use of existing social network connections may help to explain how these gatherings have been coordinated.

Social media users posted videos of elderly protesters singing the Internationale, the Communist Party's official anthem. This song has previously been used to convey the message that protesters are simply seeking redress for their grievances and are not hostile to the establishment or the Communist Party.

In order to prevent more people from joining the hundreds of elderly protesters who were already chanting slogans, police on both sides of a nearby road had blocked access to the area, according to a shopkeeper who saw this Wednesday's demonstration in Wuhan, who spoke to the BBC.

Public discontent with China's health policies has increased as a result of three years of the pandemic crisis and a turbulent exit from zero-Covid.

Staff members in protective suits conduct COVID-19 nuclei acid tests at a residential area on January 2, 2022 in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province of China.
Mass testing was part of China's zero-Covid policies.

The Party has struggled to explain why such a swift about-face was required after Mr. Xi personally endorsed the nation's Covid amelioration policies.

The Chinese government had also openly mocked other nations for their early opening, claiming that doing so had forced them to sacrifice their citizens needlessly.

It later reversed course and lifted its own restrictions more quickly than other countries had managed to do so, and it did so after keeping lockdowns and other harsh measures in place for a lot longer than anyone else in the world had.

Many people in this area now think that as a result, livelihoods were needlessly destroyed.

The Chinese hashtag "healthinsurance" received millions of hits on Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter, but it was taken down from the "hot topics" section.

The hashtag that matched Zhongshan Park, the scene of the most recent protests in Wuhan, was censored, and images purporting to be of the demonstration were deleted.

A significant amount of support is still being shown for the protesting retirees on social media, even with China's extensive censorship apparatus in full swing.

Beijing will need to find a way to resolve the issue if it wants to avoid further public agitation.

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