By Lizzie Chen
On a quiet Thursday morning in early June, Guo Jing and Li Xiu Lan sit on small chairs outside their homes in Lian Zi Ku Hutong in central Beijing. Retired, they now spend their days as neighborhood public security volunteers, sporting red armbands emblazoned with “Public Security Officer” in large yellow characters while monitoring their neighborhood beats. The community guard system, known informally today as the “Granny Patrol,” was formed in 1949 just after China’s revolution.
The security volunteers have three main roles, according to Li Gang, Director of Beijing’s Neighborhood Management Committee. They are responsible for observing the community and reporting offenses to police officials. They also keep an eye on the community’s physical environment, such as preventing public littering. Lastly, they are on call to assist tourists by providing directions, which became an especially big job during the 2008 Olympics.
“Most of these retirees have nothing much to do at home and so they want to contribute to their community by volunteering their time,” Li said. The volunteers are mainly elderly retirees, but every now and then there is a younger volunteer. Their hours are set from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. and from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., the city’s prime time for theft and vandalism.
“We work these hours because [that is] when no one is home and thieves will try to break into homes,” Guo said. The volunteers each work one day a week in their neighborhood, without pay, and say they value it as a time to socialize with each other while serving their community.
“When people see that I am wearing my red band, they tend to behave better,” Li said. For senior citizens such as Li, her role as a Public Security Officer provides her life with a sense of importance and recognition in her community.