An angry crowd of protestors stormed the Zhengzhou branch of the Bank of China after their deposits were frozen, resulting in their being unable to withdraw their money.
While the world of high, and not so high, finance is preoccupied with the volatility of cryptocurrencies and recent painful losses for overlevered players who, much to the surprise of ordinary equity investors, were not bailed out by a generous Fed (which, however, only rescues stock markets, not cryptos), things in China are once again heating up with its $54 trillion financial system, or more than double the size of assets across US commercial banks.
According to Reuters, amid the freezing of their accounts by certain rural banks, a large gathering of angry Chinese bank depositors clashed with police on Sunday in the city of Zhengzhou. Many of them sustained injuries as they were being hauled away.
In April, the banks froze deposits totaling millions of dollars while informing their clients that they were modernizing their internal systems. Depositors claim that since then, the banks have not released any communications on the subject.
Chinese media reports that authorities are looking into the three banks and that the frozen deposits at the several local banks could be worth up to $1.5 billion.
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Around a thousand people gathered outside the Zhengzhou branch of China’s central bank on Sunday to call for action. They chanted and held up banners as they stood on the wide steps leading up to the entrance. Zhengzhou is a city in the Henan province, about 620 kilometers (380 miles) southwest of Beijing.
Several thousands of people opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and the nearby province of Anhui that provided higher interest rates, including the protesters. Following media rumors that the CEO of the bank’s parent company was missing and wanted for financial crimes, they subsequently discovered they were unable to withdraw their money.
Social media posts included videos and images of depositors brandishing signs and hurling plastic bottles at oncoming security personnel, who then roughly hauled some of the protesters away.
Along with the police in uniform, there were groups of men wearing simple T-shirts. When a banking regulator and a representative of the local government arrived, the crowd shouted down their attempts to address them.
“We came today and wanted to get our savings back,” said a woman from Shandong province who only revealed her last name, Zhang, out of concern for reprisals. “I have elderly people and children at home, and the inability to withdraw savings has seriously affected my life.” Zhang and a second protester, a Beijing-born guy by the name of Yang, told the AP that the protestors have heard the officials’ claims before and do not believe them.
The protesters were then informed by the police that they were an illegal assembly and would be arrested and fined if they insisted on staying. Around ten in the morning, the T-shirted guys charged the crowd and scattered them. Zhang reported seeing women being dragged down the stairs leading to the bank. After being struck, Zhang claimed to have questioned the officer: “Why did you hit me?” She claims he answered, “What’s wrong with beating you?”
In the confusion, one security guard who had fallen off the steps believed Yang had hit or shoved him, according to Yang, who claimed he was struck by two other security guards.
“Although repeated protests and demonstrations don’t necessarily have a big impact, I think it is still helpful if more people get to know about us, and understand or sympathize with us,” Yang said. “Each time you do it, you might make a difference. Although you will get hit, they can’t really do anything to you, right?”
Zhang, 40, told Reuters, “I feel so aggrieved I can’t even explain it to you.” Zhang claimed that he had hoped to recover 170,000 yuan ($25,000) that had been put with one of the banks, the Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank.
Zhang claimed he was hauled away by four unidentified security personnel at around midday with injuries to his foot and thumb. According to him, security personnel outnumbered protesters by about three to one.
“They did not say they would beat us if we refused to leave. They just used the loudspeaker to say that we were breaking the law by petitioning. That’s ridiculous. It’s the banks that are breaking the law.”
Authorities are looking into the banks, which include the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank and the Shangcai Huimin Country Bank, for engaging in unlawful fund-raising, according to the state-run Global Times.
After being transported by bus to many locations, the protesters were allegedly made to sign a letter promising not to gather anymore, according to Zhang. Late on Sunday, Henan’s banking regulators published a brief notice on their website informing the public that authorities are moving quickly to check customer funds in four of the banks and to create a strategy to address the issue in order to safeguard the rights and interests of the general public.
When their COVID-19 health codes, which determine whether a person can travel, shifted to a “no travel” status, more than 1,000 depositors from all across the country who had planned to gather in Zhengzhou to try to withdraw their money were unable to do so.