Rollerman: the military's foe and Guangzhou hero

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2011, 12:00am


Everyone needs heroes - people who can accomplish the impossible. The ancient Greeks had Heracles and modern Americans have Superman.

Now Guangzhou has a hero of its own - Rollerman - a foreigner on roller skates who has taken to challenging military vehicles that violate traffic rules in the city centre.

In photos posted on the internet by Guangzhou residents, Rollerman looks to be in his 30s. Wearing a red T-shirt, black shorts and sunglasses, he stands in the middle of an intersection, right in front of a grey seven-seat van with military plates. His right hand points to a traffic sign indicating that the van is going the wrong way.

Witnesses told local newspapers Rollerman asked the military van not to enter the lane - in Chinese, 'zhe li bu zhun zou, bu ke yi de' (it's not allowed to go this way, no way).

Some who live nearby said they had seen Rollerman appear at the same spot frequently in the past year and stop military vehicles from violating traffic rules. They would see him during weekday rush hours and on holidays, standing at the spot for at least 10 minutes while paying attention to transgressions that traffic police ignored.

His actions have won praise from tens of thousands of Guangzhou residents. One online posting says Rollerman is a hero for doing what Chinese would not dare to do. Others say it is a shame that only a foreigner is willing to help correct poor behaviour on the mainland.

It is no surprise that Rollerman has been hailed for merely standing in front of a military vehicle. Most mainlanders, and foreigners who know a little about the mainland's political power structure, know how bold he is. Among the social strata, the military is arguably at the top of the privilege pyramid.

It is a commonly held view across the mainland that vehicles with military plates belong to a world outside the law. They often run red lights, park in restricted areas and flout one-way restrictions for their own convenience.

Interestingly, traffic police seem to think the same way and just wink at the violations, preferring to let things pass quietly. They are not authorised to pull over the drivers of military cars breaching traffic rules.

Rollerman does not appear to have resurfaced in the past few weeks and so has not been available for interviews. The mysteries of where he comes from, what he is doing in Guangzhou and what his motives are have yet to be solved.

But the reaction to his actions shows the public's antipathy to those with a privileged background. Angry but not daring to speak out, ordinary people welcome anyone willing to perform righteous acts.

It all raises one important question - or reveals one little secret about Chinese society if you like to see it that way. Why is it that when people within the system, such as residents and traffic policemen, are unable to or dare not correct some mistakes, only outsiders can make even tiny changes?

Guangzhou is working hard to become a 'China Civilised City' - a model city with better social development - and it is good to see foreigners helping it reduce improper behaviour.

And that leaves at least one big problem for local government to solve: without relying on bold foreigners, what can it do to deal with such cars in the future?

It's a big question for mainland governments at all levels and it will be a continuing shame if officials do nothing or fail to create a system that can cultivate Chinese heroes.