August 3, 2021

In Shenyang, north-east of Beijing, industrial history and the old “snowboarders”

BEIJING LETTER

Almost every morning, the esplanade offers the same astonishing spectacle: dressed in knee pads, helmets and for some hockey sticks, about fifteen men put on their skates and indulge in their passion: spinning around at high speed. the monumental sculpture that sits in the center of the square surrounded by modern buildings, or indulge in a game of “concrete hockey” with friends. Some have even made their own material, halfway between rollerblading and skateboarding, which they call the“One-legged donkey”.

There would be nothing extraordinary about the scene if the youngest was not over 60 and the oldest almost 80. Obviously, these people are in Olympic form and have little to envy European or North American retirees on the health side. However, their life has not always been easy. Far from there. These lovers of board sports live in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning. Located 700 km northeast of Beijing, this city of more than 7 million inhabitants is known to have been the heart of the Chinese steel industry until the end of the 20th century.e century. Most of these men are former steelworkers. Twenty-five years ago, this Tie Xi district was home to countless industrial cathedrals, as polluting as they were in deficit. Today, the conversion is almost complete, and it is in front of the 1905 “recreation” center, a former factory converted into a commercial and cultural center for teenagers, that these retirees are having fun like kids.

“Of course life was tough. We even worked on Sundays without being paid. For the success of Chairman Mao. Should we be stupid! “, remembers, mockingly, a 76-year-old hockey player, under the disapproving gaze of his comrades. But this man built like a mirrored cupboard is not complaining: today, he even manages to save to allow his granddaughter to go to university.

“The young people are leaving”

A 70-year-old former soldier stops turning to join us. “France is still a great country on the diplomatic level but, economically, it is Germany that counts. I know my kids work at BMW. “ A third, a former worker, confirms: “Life is now more pleasant than before. But Shenyang no longer has the importance it used to have and the young people are leaving. ” His own children are also in Beijing.

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