On Sunday, Chinese police brutally disrupted a peaceful demonstration by hundreds of depositors who attempted in vain to reclaim their life savings from banks in the grip of a mounting liquidity crisis.
Four rural banks in China’s central Henan province have frozen millions of dollars in deposits since April, endangering the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of clients.
Over the last two months, distressed depositors have held many protests in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, but their requests have always fallen on deaf ears.
More than 1,000 depositors from throughout China gathered outside the People’s Bank of China’s Zhengzhou branch on Sunday to begin their largest protest yet, according to more than a half-dozen protestors.
The protest is one of the greatest in China since the epidemic, with internal travel restricted by different Covid restrictions on mobility. Last month, Zhengzhou officials even tampered with the country’s computerized Covid health-code system to limit depositors’ movements and hinder their planned protest, causing a countrywide outrage.
To avoid being stopped by officials, most protestors came outside the bank before daybreak – some as early as 4 a.m. – this time. The elderly and children were among those who occupied a flight of towering stairs outside the bank, singing slogans and brandishing banners. Protesters in China, where dissent is rigorously prohibited, frequently use national flags to express patriotism. The strategy is intended to demonstrate that their problems are limited to local governments and that they support and rely on the central government to seek satisfaction.
A big image of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was placed on a pillar at the bank’s entrance.
Across the street, hundreds of police and security officers gathered and ringed the demonstration site, some in uniform and some in plain clothing, while demonstrators yelled “gangsters” at them. The brawl continued for several hours, until just after 11 a.m. when rows of security agents stormed up the steps and battled with protestors, who threw bottles and other small items at them.
According to witnesses and social media recordings, the scene swiftly devolved into pandemonium as security forces hauled protestors down the stairs and pummeled those who resisted, including women and the elderly.