Chinese authorities on Sunday violently dispersed a peaceful protest by hundreds of depositors, who sought in vain to demand their life savings back from banks that have run into a deepening cash crisis.
Since April, four rural banks in China’s central Henan province have frozen millions of dollars worth of deposits, threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of customers in an economy already battered by draconian Covid lockdowns.
Anguished depositors have staged several demonstrations in the city of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan, over the past two months, but their demands have invariably fallen on deaf ears.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 depositors from across China gathered outside the Zhengzhou branch of the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to launch their largest protest yet, more than half a dozen protesters told CNN.
The demonstration is among the largest China has seen since the pandemic, with domestic travel limited by various Covid restrictions on movement. Last month, Zhengzhou authorities even resorted to tampering with the country’s digital Covid health-code system to restrict the movements of depositors and thwart their planned protest, sparking a nationwide outcry.
This time, most protesters arrived outside the bank before dawn — some as early as 4 a.m. — to avoid being intercepted by authorities. The crowd, which included the elderly and children, occupied a flight of imposing stairs outside the bank, chanting slogans and holding up banners.
“Henan banks, return my savings!” they shouted in unison, many waving Chinese flags, in videos shared with CNN by two protesters.