Zhengzhou and Henan protests: China crushes massive rally of bank depositors to demand return of their life savings

Hateful depositors have staged several demonstrations in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, over the past two months, but their demands have fallen on deaf ears.

More than six protesters told CNN, on Sunday, that more than 1,000 depositors from all over China gathered outside the Zhengzhou branch of China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to launch their largest protest yet.

This demonstration is among the largest that China has seen since the pandemic, with domestic travel restricted due to various Covid restrictions on movement. Last month, Zhengzhou authorities resorted to tampering with the country’s Covid digital health code system to restrict depositors’ movements and thwart their planned protest, sparking a nationwide protest.

This time, most of the protesters arrived outside the bank before dawn – some as early as 4 a.m. – to avoid objection from the authorities. The protesters, which include the elderly and children, occupied a flight of stairs outside the bank, chanting slogans and raising banners.

“Henan banks, return my savings!” They shouted in unison, many of them waving Chinese flags, in videos shared by two protesters on CNN.

Using national flags to show the patriotic spirit is a common strategy for protesters in China, where dissent is strictly suppressed. This tactic is intended to show that their grievances are only against local governments, and that they support and rely on the central government to seek redress.

A sign in English reads “Against the corruption and violence of the Henan government.”

A large portrait of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong is pasted on a pillar at the entrance to the bank.

On the other side of the street, hundreds of police and security forces – some in military and some in civilian clothes – gathered and surrounded the site, as protesters yelled “gangsters” at them.

violent repression

The confrontation continued for several hours until after 11 am, when rows of security officers suddenly climbed the stairs and clashed with the protesters, who threw bottles and small objects at them.

The scene quickly turned into chaos, as security officers dragged the stairs and beat those who resisted, including women and the elderly, according to eyewitnesses and videos on social media.

A woman from eastern Shandong province told CNN that two security guards pushed her to the ground, twisting her arm and injuring her. A 27-year-old man from the southern city of Shenzhen surnamed Sun, said seven or eight guards kicked him on the ground before taking him away. A 45-year-old man from the central city of Wuhan said his shirt was completely torn from the back during the fight.

The protest outside the Zhengzhou branch of China's central bank, the People's Bank of China, is the largest depositors have staged in recent months.

Many said they were shocked by the sudden explosion of violence by the security forces.

One of the depositors from a city outside Henan who had previously protested in Zhengzhou, who asked CNN to hide his photo of the name due to security concerns, said.

The woman in Shandong said, “Why are government employees beating us? We are just ordinary people asking for our deposits back, and we have done nothing wrong.”

Protesters were dumped on dozens of buses and sent to makeshift detention sites across the city — from hotels and schools to factories, according to the people who were taken there. Some of the wounded were taken to hospitals. People said that many detainees were released in the late afternoon.

CNN has contacted the Henan provincial government for comment.

The Zhengzhou Commercial District Police Station – which has jurisdiction over the protest site – cut short a CNN call seeking comment.

Late Sunday night, Henan’s banking regulator issued a third statement, saying that “relevant departments” are accelerating efforts to verify information on customer funds in the four rural banks.

“(The authorities) are putting forward a plan to deal with the case, which will be announced in the near future,” the statement said.

torn souls

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 an important meeting this fall.

Large-scale demonstrations over lost savings and destroyed livelihoods may be seen as a political embarrassment for Xi, who has promoted a patriotic vision to lead the country to a “great rejuvenation”.

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Henan authorities are under tremendous pressure to stop the protests. But depositors remain unchecked. As the problem persists, many are becoming more desperate to get their savings back.

Huang, a filing from Wuhan, lost his job in the medical cosmetics industry this year, as companies battled the epidemic. However, he is unable to withdraw any of his 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 do that now – how am I supposed to (support my family)?” Huang said, his high school son.

Sun, from Shenzhen, is struggling to keep his machinery factory from bankruptcy after losing his 4 million yuan ($597,000) deposit in Henan Bank. He can’t even pay more than 40 employees without the funds.

Son said he was covered in bruises and had swelling in his lower back after security guards repeatedly trampled on him at the demonstration.

“The incident completely overturned my perception of the government,” he said. “I have lived my whole life trusting the government a lot. After today, I will never trust it again.”

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