The “White-haired Movement” (白发运动, Báifà Yùndòng) refers to protests led by elderly and retired workers in Wuhan and Dalian in February 2023, and in Guangzhou in January 2023. The protesters were objecting to medical insurance reforms, proposed by cash-strapped local governments, that would transfer contributions to “personal health accounts” (used by individuals to pay for doctors’ visits and medications) to a state-controlled outpatient insurance fund. Given that the outpatient insurance fund features higher deductibles and lower coverage, many retirees feared that it would result in steep cutsto their medical benefits, despite attempts by dozens of cities to tout the benefits of the reforms. As one protester in Wuhan told the Financial Times, “This is robbery. […] The government wants to use my money to subsidise others without my permission.”
An initial demonstration on February 8 in Wuhan was largely peaceful: the elderly and retired protesters shouted slogans, sang “The Internationale,” and promised that they would return a week later if Wuhan authorities did not address their concerns about the reforms. And as promised, on February 15—just weeks before the opening of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) legislative session in Beijing—thousands of older protesters filled Wuhan’s streets, gathering at Zhongshan Park and Wuhan Union Hospital.
This time, the official response was less muted: a metro station near a protest site was shut down, shoving matches broke out between police and protesters, and some protesters who tried to escape by climbing barricades were pulled back by uniformed police officers. A second retiree-led protest on the same day in the northeastern port city of Dalian was likewise heavily policed.