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Police Don't Embrace 'Free Hugs'
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A group of more than 30 people in their 20s appeared downtown on Saturday to ask for hugs from strangers to bolster a sense of hospitality in Shanghai.

The embracing effort, initiated by a call on the Internet, was soon stopped by police.

An online game developer, known as Bai Gu online, initiated the activity.

He said he was moved by a video about an activity called "free hugs" carried out in Changsha, Hunan Province on the Internet and decided to organize a similar activity in Shanghai.

"Everyone will meet many strangers every day and most people show alert, rejection and even hostility in their eyes. To protect ourselves, we choose to keep distance from each other," said Bai Gu. "In fact many strangers are friendly. I think a sincere hug can get more warmth and understanding while estrangement will only bring misunderstanding and hurt."

His call soon attracted many Internet writers. Participants went to the crowded Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall on Saturday afternoon, holding plates bearing words like "free hugs."

The group soon caused attention from the crowd but most people just watched and whispered to each other. About 50 people hugged with the participants, including some children.

Some old people said they weren't accustomed to such behavior.

"I don't like to be hugged by strangers. There are many ways to express love and the behavior should go with our traditional etiquette," said an old woman surnamed Wang who brought her granddaughter to the pedestrian mall.

After 20 minutes, the participants were stopped by police and taken to the police station.

When police learned the purpose of the activity, they suggested the group give up to prevent chaos or trouble.

Bai Gu said he didn't expect the activity would be ended that way, but plans to change the way his participants can inspire a feeling of love from strangers in the city.

Gu Xiaoming, a local sociologist, said the activity shows good will, but he questioned the wisdom of the activity on such a crowded street.

(Shanghai Daily November 6, 2006)

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