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Posted by Iain Bonner on 13. Okt 2010

BEIJING, OCT 14 -- One of the things that I've noticed the most during my five months in China are the ubiquitous bao an who appear to man every gate here in the capital city.

There's just so many of them. And since many are so young, I'm reluctant to believe that their presence is really for our safety.

It seems to be a kind of social expectation to have them there -- their job reduced to just acting as background scenery.

Some, after standing for hours at their post have the distinct look of being more a part of the building than fulfilling a useful role in society.

I've met many over the last couple of months -- at housing estates, at universities and at businesses like IKEA -- where most, incidentally, are 17-19-year-old girls.

Most bao an are not generally noticed, just a green uniform with eyes poking out. I've interviewed some with the hope of reversing this situation and to shed some light on their lives.

Three are included here.

I've concentrated on the young ones -- those whose energy and potential I see going to waste -- and for this I wonder what else is possible.










On the left is a young man (he preferred to remain anonymous) who works in my building. He has a makeshift desk inside the foyer, but he is rarely manning it. Instead, he can be normally found around the corner with one of his friends, chatting and smoking.

Some of the others operate the boom gates inside the estate, letting the occasional car come and go, but he doesn't even get to do that, he says. There is really nothing for him to do.

This is his brief and to-the-point story:

I am 18-years-old, from Shijiazhuang, Hebei. I finished middle school and found this job through a friend. Before that, I helped my parents in the fields.

The thing I like about my job is to help others. The worst thing is I never wanted to be a bao an.

When I see someone with their family, doing something all together, I really admire them. In the quiet times I think about going back to my hometown and to live with my parents again.

My mum wants me to change jobs and learn something technical, but my dad wants me to remain a bao an.

What would make me happy would be to open a small shop -- maybe sell cigarettes, some drinks and snacks. In my spare time, I like to chat with my grandmother.

To have a happy life, you need to be together with your family, help each other and be united.

If I could have anything, I would bring my grandpa back to life. I want him to know he has a good grandson. And I would live in my hometown with Meng Xingxing, a girl from my middle school.

The thing I don't like about Beijing is that although we all live together, people still steal my things.

I asked him about how he sees his prospects for future job mobility -- he had no idea.





Meet Li Tao, a 22-year-old guard who works at Audi. I was riding past one day and he started waving and shouting until I stopped for a chat.

He's got a big personality and gets very excited.

Li Tao: I'm from a peasant family [outside of] Baoding, Hebei. I was brought up by my grandparents because my parents were very busy working and didn't have time to look after me. I was a little bit naughty as a child.

I got this job from a friend's introduction. Before, I worked in a hot pot restaurant in Tianjin as a waiter, at the counter and as a cook. I did many different things! After that, I went to Inner Mongolia to learn how to cook mantou before coming back to Beijing to work in a factory producing some materials for decoration.

My favourite thing about my job is to have space and time to sit and rest -- I get very tired. The thing I dislike the most is that three or four cameras are always watching your behaviour.

You cannot smoke a cigarette -- you must do it secretly. Oh, I hate it.

For the career of bao an, our responsibility is to make the sure the area is secure and never let strange cars enter and break the harmony. For example, if a taxi enters this area, we will be punished, losing up to 200 RMB from our pay.

In my spare time, I usually think about how I can be a rich person, or think about which beautiful girl will come by next.

My family is against me being a bao an. They say that it is a useless job with no future and the pay is very low -- only 1000 RMB per month. And you must spend all your time pleasing your boss and customers. If you don't, you may end up with a bruised face and a bloody nose.

To be honest, I graduated from primary school but I didn't finish middle school because of getting into fights. After getting tired of working, I went to a technical middle school.

I enjoy watching cooking shows because I like cooking. By the way, I also have some of my own creations. In my spare time, I prefer to have a bath for 10 minutes and then read a newspaper, watch television and chat with people.

I think happiness has a very close relationship with money, freedom and status. If I have these three things, I can be happy, but it is very unrealistic -- totally unrealistic.

I figure that having a beautiful wife, healthy parents with enough money and us all living together is happiness. Of course, healing thousands of unhappy families is the most important task for the people with happiness. I will never let people be unhappy because I am a kindhearted man.

My dream is not a fantasy, although it is a long way off: I want to operate a chain of breakfast stores in Beijing and Tianjin. My breakfast menu will contain doufu, wonton, pancakes and so on. It is very realistic, I will start up my business with one or two years savings -- that is my plan.

The payment should be credit because cash is inconvenient. Maybe if I have lots of money, I will buy a big house in southern China for use in the winter. Now I am living a single life without a girlfriend. If I meet one, maybe I want her to help me with my business and for us to live together.

I also want to leave for a foreign country, open a restaurant and earn US Dollars.

In Beijing, I think what I like the most is eating and drinking. You can eat hot pot, ice cream and drink with friends. However, I am always drunk before I've finished four beers.

The thing I dislike the most is going through all my money. I must save it! I have not yet changed my life so I must try harder.

My job is not bad because I am an optimistic and kindhearted man. As a bao an, you must be on guard every day. It's very tiring, and my feet get very sore. Although it is very boring, I must hold on till the end and hope that tomorrow is better.





I first saw Pei Pei standing near the checkouts at IKEA. There was a herd of bao an, of course, but the way she held her uniform up in three-dimensional space was so delicate, yet also very striking.

I stopped eating my replica hot dog and watched her, spellbound. She stood so still scanning the room, yet she also looked removed from it.

Pei Pei: I'm 19 and I was born in Hebei.

I got this job through my friend. I have worked a lot of different jobs before -- in a clothing shop, doing embroideries and selling mobile phones.

I think my current job is so boring and tiring because I have to stand every day -- my legs get very sore. I like to walk around in my job and relax a little, but it's not possible here.

I hate the customers that ask me the same question every day: It's so annoying.

Each day, I observe those customers who are pretty, who have a good-looking hairstyle... who wear pretty clothes. While I have nothing to do, I will think of my past -- both happy and unhappy matters. And sometimes, I will think about my future.

My parents don't have an opinion of my job -- they think that the most important is that I like [being a bao an]. Other than that, they don't care

I don't have a good qualification of education. I just finished my junior high school and did one year of senior high school, but I regret I didn't continue my education.

I think singing can make me feel good -- I love it. While I am having a rest, I will listen to music, go online and chat with friends.

I think happiness makes a good life, it's most important to be with your family. And to do that, we have to give and receive understanding, caring and forgiving behaviour. And to love everyone who treats you well, let everyone live a happy life. And we have to learn contentment -- contentment means you can lead a good life.

My dream is being a hairstylist or makeup artist, thus I can make myself very pretty. Soon, I will go to learn make up and hairstyling. This is to fight for my dream. I will live with my most favourite people. Where we will stay I'm not yet sure, but let's see!

In Beijing, I love the scenery most, as it's really charming and beautiful. But I feel the weather in Beijing at night is not so good, as I cannot see many stars. I don't like some of the people in Beijing -- I think that they are too arrogant and they look down on others.

I do not like my job. I am not satisfied! I feel tired and that I have no freedom.

In the future I want to open a salon and hope I can earn a lot of money to give my family a good life. I will buy my parents a huge house. I hope we will live well and be happy in the future.





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