WHO TO RAGE AGAINST?
By this point, according to many depositors, it was clear that authorities knew their every move by monitoring their large WeChat groups.
Many decided to adapt their tactics ahead of the next planned demonstration – the flashpoint Jul 10 protest in Zhengzhou – including by breaking up into smaller online groups and using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to breach China’s “Great Firewall”.
Jiangsu province resident Fiona Xu, who had lost access to around 8 million yuan in deposits, said many depositors felt they had little choice but to go “over the wall”.
“Our WeChat group was easy for police to monitor. When we set a date in the group, police would stop us in advance,” she added.
The original groups still remained open but were mainly used for members to share news and give each other support, with no sensitive information discussed, according to depositors.
“Generally they are groups to keep warm in,” said Wang, adding that members still had to do “homework” like continuing to call the banks, police and regulators, as well as posting on social media.
The date for the new Zhengzhou demonstration was kept largely secret, more than a dozen depositors told Reuters. Until the last minute, many people only knew that they had to wake at 4 a.m. in Zhengzhou on Jul 10 for further instructions.
About 1,000 people gathered at dawn outside the local central bank branch. A long banner in English read: “Against the corruption and violence of Henan government.” Protesters chanted: “Henan banks, give us back our deposits.”
The crowd was eventually surrounded and outnumbered by police and unidentified men mostly wearing white shirts. At around 11am the security personnel charged and dragged depositors onto nearby buses, according to the depositors and online footage of the clashes, which was shared millions of times before the videos and related hashtags were censored.
Wang said she suffered a hairline fracture of her jawbone when a plain-clothed security man hit her with his elbow.
The next day, the CBIRC announced Henan and Anhui would start repaying customers on behalf of the rural banks, starting with those with deposits of up to 50,000 yuan. The regulator subsequently regularly raised the threshold by increments until Aug 30, when the sum due for reimbursement hit 500,000 yuan – the state-guaranteed limit on deposits.
However Yao, like hundreds of others with large deposits, has yet to be refunded. He wants to keep fighting but says he does not know what else he can do.
Feeling disillusioned, he now wants to leave the Communist Party.
“I do not know who to rebel against. Who am I persecuted by? There’s no specific person.”
Zhiwu Chen, professor of finance at the University of Hong Kong, said both state authorities seeking social stability and consumer activists seeking redress had achieved a measure of success.
“Both sides have probably drawn the conclusion that they won in this battle,” he said, adding that he expects more financial scandals and social discontent to materialise in the coming years as China’s economy slows.
“This game will continue.”