In the past two months, aggrieved depositors have held several demonstrations in Henan’s provincial capital of Zhengzhou, but their demands have been scrapped forever.
More than half a dozen protesters told CNN that 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, on Sunday to launch their biggest protest ever.
The demonstration is one of the largest China has seen since the pandemic, with domestic travel restricted by various COVID restrictions on movement. Last month, Zhengzhou officials resorted to manipulating the country’s digital COVID health code system to restrict depositors’ movements and thwart their planned protest, sparking nationwide outrage.
This time, most protesters reached the bank before dawn – some as late as 4am – to avoid being interrupted by officers. The crowd, which included elderly people and children, stepped in front of the bank, shouted slogans and held up banners.
“Henan Bank, give me back my savings!” In a video shared with CNN, two protesters shouted at the same time, several waving Chinese flags.
Using the national flag to show patriotism is a common tactic used by protesters in China, where dissent is vigorously repressed. The strategy is to show that their grievances are only against the local governments and that they support the central government and rely on their redress.
“Against the Henan government’s corruption and violence,” read one banner in English.
A large portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong was pasted on a pillar at the entrance to the bank.
Hundreds of police officers and security guards – some in uniform and others in plain clothes – gathered across the street and surrounded the area while protesters shouted “gangsters” at them.
The duel lasted several hours after 11am when suddenly lines of security guards climbed the stairs and clashed with the protesters, who threw bottles and other small objects at them.
According to witnesses and social media videos, the scene quickly descended into chaos as security officers dragged protesters down the stairs and beat up the protesters, including women and the elderly.
A woman in eastern Shandong province told CNN she was pushed to the ground by two security forces, twisting her arm and injuring her. A 27-year-old man named Sun from the southern city of Shenzhen said he was kicked to the ground by seven or eight guards before being taken away. A 45-year-old man from downtown Wuhan said his shirt was completely torn during the scuffle.
Many said they were shocked by the security forces’ sudden violence.
“I didn’t expect them to be so violent and bold this time. There were no communications, no warnings,” said a depositor from a metropolitan outside of Henan, who said a depositor from a metropolitan outside of Henan who previously protested in Zhengzhou and urged CNN to go into hiding. name for security reasons
The Shandong woman said, “Why would the government officials kill us? We are just ordinary people claiming our deposits back, we did nothing wrong.”
The protesters were thrown onto dozens of buses and taken to temporary detention centers across the city — from hotels and schools to factories, according to those taken there. Some of the injured were taken to hospitals; The population said several people had been released from custody by the late evening.
CNN has reached out to the Henan provincial government for comment.
The Zhengzhou Business District Police Station – in charge of the protest site – asked for comment on the call from CNN.
Late Sunday, the Henan Banking Regulatory Authority issued a brief statement saying “relevant departments” are stepping up efforts to verify customer money information at four rural banks.
“The (authorities) are developing a plan to address this issue, which will be announced in the near future,” the statement said.
The protests come at a politically sensitive time for the ruling Communist Party, months before its leader Xi Jinping could demand an unprecedented third term at a crucial meeting this fall.
The mass demonstrations over lost savings and wasted livelihoods could be seen as a political embarrassment for Xi, who has espoused a nationalist vision of leading the country toward a “great rejuvenation.”
Henan authorities are under intense pressure to stop the protests. But depositors remain adamant. As the problem continues to escalate, many have become increasingly desperate to get their savings back.
Huang, a hoarder from Wuhan, lost his job in the medical cosmetics industry this year as companies struggled with the pandemic. Still, he is unable to withdraw his life savings – more than 500,000 yuan ($75,000) – from a rural bank in Henan.
“As an unemployed person, I can only live on my previous savings. But I can’t do that now – how am I supposed to (support my family)?” said Huang, whose son is in high school.
Shenzhen-based Sun Henan is struggling to save his machine factory from bankruptcy after losing 4 million yuan ($597,000) in bank deposits. Without money he cannot even pay his more than 40 employees.
Sun said he has bruises on his lower back and swelling in his lower back after being repeatedly beaten by security forces during the protests.
He said: “The incident has completely reversed my perception of the government. I’ve had so much faith in government all my life. From today on I will never trust him again.”