The Washington Post

China’s stifled protests

Savers lose their money, then get beaten up.

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TRY AS they might, the world’s despots can never hide their fear of their own people. For all the bluster and displays of power, they panic at the sight of protests. Just look at what happened to demonstrat­ions in recent years in Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar, Russia and China, to name a few places where street protest ended in tears — and prison. Now comes a fresh example of vocal complaints being silenced, in China.

Hundreds of bank depositors in Henan province have been increasing­ly restive about their accounts being frozen, demanding that provincial authoritie­s help recover savings from at least four small “village” banks. Many small banks in recent years attempted to compete with larger institutio­ns by offering higher interest rates and signing up depositors online from far and wide. The four Henan banks stopped withdrawal­s April 18. The China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission has said a major shareholde­r of the village banks, Henan New Fortune, was under investigat­ion for financial crimes in the way it raised funds.

Unable to retrieve their money, depositors started to protest online and in person. On May 23, protests broke out before security services stopped them. The leaders of China’s party-state system, obsessed with maintainin­g social “stability,” reacted with alarm. In June, many jilted depositors from around the country planned to converge on the capital of Henan province, Zhengzhou, in hopes of getting their money back. But before they could travel, they were blocked by software that the government uses to control the spread of covid. The green code on their phones turned red. They could not travel.

Then, on July 10, more protesters from around China came to Zhengzhou, this time with green health codes, and assembled in front of the branch office of the nation’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China. They unfurled banners alleging corruption, including one in English that declared “No deposits. No human rights.” Another banner read, “The Chinese dreams of 400,000 depositors in Henan have been shattered.” According to a report in The Post by Christian Shepherd and Pei-lin Wu, the demonstrat­ions were met by dozens of uniformed police officers as well as heavyset men mostly wearing white tops. The blue-shirted officers stood by as the burly men in white shirts attacked the crowd. Protesters were dragged down a flight of steps before being carried away. Some were loaded onto buses, bruised from the clashes. A parallel wave of protests has swelled in recent weeks among people who took out mortgages to pay for apartments that developers never finished. They are threatenin­g a boycott. According to Reuters, Chinese censors have been blocking protest messages online and deleting videos of demonstrat­ions.

Just another day in the life of what China’s government boasts is a “democracy that works.” What does not work is freedom to speak, to assemble, to protest or to change the leadership. Even something as straightfo­rward as a legitimate protest over lost deposits ends with beatings, bruises and arrests.

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