Protests in Zhengzhou and Henan: China crushes a mass demonstration of bank depositors demanding the return of their life savings

Protests in Zhengzhou and Henan: China crushes a mass demonstration of bank depositors demanding the return of their life savings
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Distressed depositors have staged several demonstrations in the city of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, over the past two months, but their demands have always fallen on deaf ears.

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 CNN.

The rally is among the largest China has seen since the pandemic, with domestic travel limited by various Covid movement restrictions. Last month, Zhengzhou authorities even recommended handling with the country’s Covid digital health code system to restrict depositors’ movements and thwart their planned protest, sparking a nationwide protest.
Victims of the bank run in China planned to protest.  Then their Covid health codes turned red.

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 back my savings!” they shouted in unison, many waving Chinese flags, in videos shared with CNN 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.

A banner in Chinese reads:

violent repression

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 CNN 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 CNN 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 did nothing wrong,” the Shandong woman said.

Videos taken by witnesses at the scene show protesters being forcibly led away by plainclothes security officers.

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.

CNN 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 CNN’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.

“(Authorities) are drawing up a plan to address the problem, which will be announced in the near future,” the statement read.

Police in Xuchang, a city neighboring Zhengzhou, said in a statement late Sunday that they recently arrested members of an alleged “criminal gang,” who were accused of taking effective control of Henan’s rural banks from beginning in 2011, taking advantage of their actions and “manipulating bank executives”.

The suspects were also accused of illegally transferring funds through fictitious loans, police said, adding that some of their funds and assets had been seized and frozen.

shattered lives

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 seen as a political embarrassment for Xi, who has promoted a nationalist vision of leading the country into a “great rejuvenation.”

Small banks in China are having problems.  Savers could lose it all

Henan authorities are under tremendous pressure to stop the protests. But the depositors remain undetermined. 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 have lived my whole life putting so much faith in the government. After today, I will never trust it again,” he said.

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