After more than three months of frozen accounts, rural bank depositors in Henan Province, China, held a large protest that was crushed with physical violence. The public was outraged with the police brutality and forced the officials to promise to repay qualified customers.
On July 11, Henan provincial authorities promised they would repay some customers starting on July 15.
Multiple media reports show that protesters encountered harassment by local authorities and the possible involvement of local gangs in violently ending a large-scale protest at a branch of China’s central bank in Zhengzhou, Henan Province on July 10.
Analysts believe the incident could initiate a chain reaction that could threaten the Party’s dictatorship.
Likely an Empty Promise
The local banking regulator and the finance supervision bureau promised in a joint statement to reimburse the clients who had deposits of 50,000 yuan (about $7,440) or less. Those with larger amounts would be processed on a later date.
Chinese netizens are doubtful about the pledge being met. One wrote, “Without a set date, it means no money will be returned.”
Another said, “Depositors with under 50,000 yuan are the true revolutionary and proletarian class, who would really fight with their lives. Any death of the officials would affect Xi Jinping’s reelection. These people need to be pacified first.”
Forceful Update of Bank App
The Epoch Times reported in May that customers of four rural banks in Henan Province found that their accounts were restricted when they tried to make regular withdrawals on April 18. The banks claimed they were doing system upgrades and maintenance, and so had suspended internet banking and mobile banking services.
Customers continued to experience irregular banking update and maintenance notices while various scales of protests were staged in Henan.
On July 7, customers reported a mandatory bank app upgrade had occurred. The newly updated app was missing the functions of withdrawal and transfer, as reported by multiple Chinese media.
After the news broke out, one Chinese netizen said, “They could have just robbed you directly, but they used an app to do it.”
Police or Triads?
During the violent suppression of the protest on July 10, groups of people, dressed in white and black, violently dragged and beat many of the demonstrators.
Some of the angry and helpless bank clients sought help through the official Weibo account of the U.S. Embassy, hoping to gain the attention of foreign media.
One depositor said, “I am sorry that I have insulted you before. But please help Henan [protestors].”
Another post read, “Could you help to report the Henan police attacking depositors? The domestic media has been blocked, and we can only count on you.”
It is unclear who the groups of white- and black-clothed people are, but the Chinese netizens called them the “Henan triads!”
Outsourcing the Police Force
In the book, “Outsourcing Repression: Everyday State Power in Contemporary China,” author Lynette Ong gave some insight into the regime’s control over society by using “thugs-for-hire.”
According to Ong, Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto, “thugs-for-hire” are “an expedient extension of the state’s formal coercive capacity.”
In the interview with Made in China Journal, Ong warned that by outsourcing violence, the state has voluntarily ceded its monopoly on violence.
“This usually comes with severe consequences, such as excessive and undisciplined use of violence, and de-legitimization of state authority,” said Ong.
Threat to the Regime
Wen Zhao, a political commentator with The Epoch Times’ sister media NTD News, discussed in his program the impressive organization of the protest.
Based on the banners in the protest, the depositors made their demands and target loud and clear, he said.
One banner targeted Lou Yangsheng, the leading cadre of Henan Province, and his oppressive “three-zero” policy: zero petitions, zero accidents, and zero cases—in Henan.
Another banner opposed Lou’s measures to ensure his policy of detaining village petitioners, disciplining and oppressing dissidents in detention centers, and turning depositors’ health codes red in Henan to restrict thier travel and gathering. Currently, the regime uses a health code as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Wen believes it was indirectly targeting the suppressive policy of the regime and its leader Xi Jinping.
A banner in the middle of the group demanded human rights, freedom, equality, rule of law, etc.
Among the banners in the last row, one read, “Oppose the beating of depositors by the Henan provincial government in collusion with local gangs.”
In between the Chinese banners, an English banner was displayed to get international attention. “Against the corruption and violence of the Henan government,” the banner read.
Wen believes that the depositors had let go of their fear and staged a rarely seen peaceful protest that could be just “the beginning of the nightmare for the regime’s dictatorship.”