Beijing will this week deploy 700,000 security volunteers to patrol the streets in the latest mobilisation of a “granny” civilian force which acts as an imposing level of scrutiny for Communist authorities.
The decision to mobilise almost three-quarters of a million mainly retired, elderly community volunteers comes after a woman died and 12 others were injured when a man went on a knife rampage in a busy city shopping centre on Sunday.
Volunteers wearing red armbands and caps are a common sight on Beijing’s streets, and are viewed by some as helpful community-minded individuals, but by others as intrusive busybodies.
Authorities usually dispatch large numbers of community volunteers during periods of heightened security, particularly during sensitive political gatherings.
Security is often ramped up in the run-up to Chinese New Year, which begins on Friday, as many people are travelling and ‘end of year’ wage disputes can surface.
In addition, China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, meets in the Chinese capital in about three weeks.
“The security volunteers, including residents wearing red hats and armbands, would strengthen patrols at traffic hubs and densely-populated areas, including business districts,” the state-run Global Times newspaper said on Monday.
A total of 200,000 volunteers will be deployed on Monday, with another 500,000 on Tuesday, the Beijing Daily said.
Authorities have previously announced that Beijing has a total of 850,000 such volunteers.
They often help police with “safety inspections”, checking passengers and their belongings at railway stations and road junctions.
Others may patrol residential areas to monitor safety hazards and security issues, or identify illegal activity in the community, such as unlicensed street vending.
“Many of the volunteers are retired people aged from 50 to 70 years old,” state media previously reported.
China has growing ranks of elderly, but dwindling numbers of younger generations due to a demographic imbalance caused by almost four decades of the one-child policy.