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From The Capital To Beijing: Angry Youth on Guoan’s Terraces

[singlepic id=41 w=320 h=240 float=right]A viral thread was passed around Sina Weibo before the Chinese New Year that went like this, “Where are you going for Chinese New Year? I’m going from the capital to Beijing.”  When hearing this, an outsider might not understand, Beijing is the capital after all, so what are they getting at?  It is a longing for “Beijing for the real Beijingers” and a loathing for all those “outsiders” and”waidiren” who call the capital their home.

The reality is that these outsiders run the gamut of backgrounds and economic conditions, but the ire of those with Beijing hukous is focused intently on the two extremes of the spectrum, targeted at the very top and the very bottom.  At the top end of the spectrum, you have those from across China who’ve got rich in a variety of ways, your Zhejiang businessmen, Guangzhou factory owners, and Shaanxi coalmen, who have realized that Chinese laws don’t offer many investment opportunities and while the property market is hot, investing in some provincial backwater isn’t going to bring much return, so they turn their sights on buying apartments in the capital.  This is only one of many reasons why Beijing property values have skyrocketed over the past 10 years and only continue to go up, but it is a noticeable one.  If you look at the parking lots of high-end apartment complexes, you’re often likely to see Beijing license plates only slightly outnumber non-Beijing plates.

The other end of the spectrum consists of the migrant workers, just departed from the farms of places like Henan, Anhui, and Sichuan who take whatever menial job is available, often backbreaking work as delivery men, restaurant staff, or in construction.  The problem is that these individuals are “straight off the turnip truck” (or whatever the Chinese equivalent is) and are lacking in culture and manners.  Their behavior on the streets, in the subways, and in other public places is often shocking and angers the more “cultured” locals.  The relationship is a complex one, much like undocumented workers in the United States, these migrants make the city work, they take jobs that most city residents aren’t willing to do and without them, the city wouldn’t run the way it does.

Much like young people all over China, Beijing youngsters face a lot of pressure, but outside of Shanghai, it’s hard for those in any other city to understand the problems.  The issues in Beijing are no different from those across China, but being a first tier the pressure is far more intense.  Getting into a top university is hard and even if one does what’s needed, it’s still very possible they’ll graduate and enter the ranks of the unemployed or, at best, underemployed.  Even if they’re among the lucky few to find a well-paying job, they’re likely to require a massive loan to be able to afford an apartment in Beijing.  Of course, this being China, without an apartment (and most likely a car), they’ll struggle to find a suitable mate.

What does all this have to do with football?  Nothing and everything.  A football terrace is a place where men (and to a lesser extent women) go to let out their frustrations and there has been a growing “anger” on the terraces in Beijing, represented by the commonness of the infamous “jing ma” as compared to years past.  Unsurprisingly, this “freedom” to yell and swear seems to be one of the things the 90s generation of fans loves most about attending matches at Worker’s Stadium.  One part (perhaps small, but still definitely a reason) more people are going to Gongti and wearing Guoan gear around the city is that increasingly there is a feeling that by identifying yourself as a Guoan fan, you are identifying yourself as a Beijinger and showing pride in your Beijing roots.  With more than a bit of bitterness, fans often refer to Worker’s Stadium as Beijing’s last siheyuan (or traditional courtyard house).

For the city’s police, this youthful angst is more than simply brushed off and ignored, it’s one of the reasons that Worker’s Stadium is one of the safest places in all of Beijing every other weekend during the summer.  The terraces in Beijing are strictly apolitical on match days, but there is always the fear that “a single spark can start a prairie fire” as Chairman Mao once said.

This season is sure to be one of the most competitive in recent memory, if things start out going badly for Guoan, it will be interesting to see if things get even angrier inside the stadium or if losing begins to challenge the loyalties of the 90s generation who likely don’t remember the lean years of the early 2000s, before Lee Jangsoo really turned things around.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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