Distressed depositors have staged several demonstrations in Zhengzhou city, the provincial capital of Henan, over the past two months, but their demands have always gone unheeded. On Sunday, more than 1,000 depositors from across China gathered outside the Zhengzhou branch of the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to launch their largest protest yet, more than a half-dozen protesters told GLM. The rally is among the largest China has seen since the pandemic, with domestic travel limited by various Covid movement restrictions. Last month, authorities in Zhengzhou even resorted to manipulating the country’s Covid digital health code system to restrict depositors’ movements and foil their planned protest, sparking a nationwide outcry. This time, most of the protesters arrived outside the bank before dawn, some as early as 4 am, to avoid being intercepted by the authorities. The crowd, which includes the elderly and children, filled a flight of imposing stairs outside the bank, chanting slogans and holding up banners.
“Henan Banks, Give Me My Savings Back!” they shouted in unison, many waving Chinese flags, in videos shared with GLM by two protesters.
Using national flags to show patriotism is a common strategy for protesters in China, where dissent is strictly suppressed. The tactic is meant to show that their complaints are only against local governments, and that they support and trust the central government to seek redress.
“Against Henan Government Corruption and Violence,” read a banner written in English. A large portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was plastered on a pillar at the bank’s entrance. Across the street, hundreds of police and security personnel, some in uniform and some in plain clothes, gathered and surrounded the site, as protesters yelled “gangsters” at them.
The confrontation lasted for several hours until after 11 a.m., when lines of security officers suddenly ran up the stairs and clashed with protesters, who threw bottles and other small objects at them. The scene quickly turned into chaos as security officers dragged protesters down the stairs and beat up those who resisted, including women and the elderly, according to witnesses and videos on social media.
A woman from the eastern province of Shandong told GLM that two security guards pushed her to the ground and twisted her arm. A 27-year-old man from the southern city of Shenzhen, surnamed Sun, said seven or eight guards kicked him to the ground before he was taken away. A 45-year-old man from the central city of Wuhan said his shirt was completely torn at the back during the fight. Many said they were shocked by the sudden outbreak of violence by security forces.
“I didn’t expect them to be so violent and shameless this time. There was no communication, no warning before we were brutally dispersed,” said a depositor from a metropolis outside Henan who had protested in Zhengzhou earlier and asked GLM to withhold his identity. name due to security concerns. “Why would government employees beat us up? We are just ordinary people asking for our deposits back, we didn’t do anything wrong,” the Shandong woman said.
Protesters were thrown onto dozens of buses and sent to makeshift detention sites across the city, from hotels and schools to factories, according to the people who were brought there. Some wounded were escorted to hospitals; many were released from detention in the late afternoon, the people said. GLM has reached out to the Henan provincial government for comment.
The Zhengzhou Commercial District Police Station, which has jurisdiction over the protest site, hung up GLM’s call requesting comment. Late Sunday night, Henan’s banking regulator issued a brief statement saying “relevant departments” were speeding up efforts to verify customer fund information at the four rural banks.
The protest comes at a politically sensitive time for the ruling Communist Party, just months before its leader Xi Jinping is expected to seek an unprecedented third term at a key meeting this fall. Large-scale demonstrations over lost savings and ruined livelihoods could be perceived as a political embarrassment for Xi, who has promoted a nationalist vision of leading the country into a “great rejuvenation.” Henan authorities are under tremendous pressure to stop the protests. But depositors are not discouraged. As the problem drags on, many have become increasingly desperate to get their savings back.
Huang, the Wuhan depositor, lost his job in the medical cosmetology industry this year as companies battled the pandemic. However, he cannot withdraw any of his life savings (more than 500,000 yuan ($75,000)) from a rural bank in Henan.
“Being unemployed, all I can live on is my past savings. But I can’t even do that now, how am I supposed to (support my family)?” said Huang, whose son is in high school. Shenzhen-based Sun is struggling to keep his machine factory from going bankrupt after losing his 4 million yuan ($597,000) deposit at a Henan bank. He can’t even pay his 40+ employees without the funds. Sun said he was covered in bruises and his lower back was swollen after being repeatedly trampled by security guards at the protest. “The incident completely overturned my perception of the government. I’ve lived my whole life putting so much faith in government. After today, I will never trust him again,” she said.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.