Protests surge against China's capitalism

November 18, 1998

By Eva Cheng

Despite Beijing's repressive rule, pockets of small protests persist across China. In recent years, the number of such protests have risen sharply in reaction to mass sackings, rampant corruption by Chinese Communist Party officials and other ills associated with the Beijing bureaucracy's push to restore capitalism in China.

On November 11, 200 demonstrators attempted to march to Tiananmen Square in Beijing in protest against the loss of their "investments" in the Beijing-based Xin Guo Da Futures Company.

Thousands of workers invested their life savings in Xin Guo Da, which offered lucrative interest payments of up to 30% per month. For many, the risks seemed to have been mitigated by the firm's perceived backing by the People's Liberation Army. It was state-owned until January.

The police stopped the protesters from reaching the square, but the demonstrators quickly marched to the nearby office of the official news agency Xinhua to protest against its "unfair" reporting against them. Police videotaped the protesters and several foreign journalists were arrested for covering the event. They were later released.

The workers demanded compensation from the government for allowing a phoney firm like Xin Guo Da to take investments from the general population.

A number of small investors in Xin Guo Da have been protesting almost daily since the firm went bust in August. The exact losses of these investors are unclear. Xinhua reported that the firm had attracted a total investment of 532 million yuan (US$58 million), while only 15 million yuan in cash has been recovered.

In Luoyang, Henan province, 200 workers employed by a state-owned cement factory staged a protest outside a city government office for five days until November 6 in a desperate attempt to stop the government privatising their factory.

The workers have little doubt that the privatisation would put their jobs and pension at grave risk. The protesters suspended their action after officials pledged to "look into" their concerns.

In Beijing on November 3, 30 workers recently sacked by a state-owned hotel near Tiananmen Square and the central government offices staged a sit-down protest.

"I came [to the protest] to defend my means of livelihood", said one of the laid-off workers, a 40-year-old caretaker who has worked for the hotel for 20 years. "This is too unfair. We want to reclaim our lives — to have a wage and medical care", he said.

In the Xinglong district, Sichuan province, on October 21, dozens of farmers from the Si'er village stormed the local government offices and demanded the release of four representatives who had been detained by police.

The four had just returned from Beijing where they delivered a protest letter to the central government against crushing taxes levied by the local authorities on farmers.

China Rights Observer newsletter reported that a local official died from a fall while trying to run away from the protesters. Local officials refused to confirm the report, except for admitting there had been "serious political incidents" lately.

About 50 "temporarily redundant" workers of Wuhan's Heavy Machineries Plant protested outside their factory on October 9, after failing to receive their maintenance pay for months.

On October 12, some 300 workers from several factories in Shi Yan city of Hubei blocked a main road to demand official compensation for the loss of their "investments" in a collective enterprise called Golden Bull, which is majority-owned by the local government but went bust recently.

Offering high interest, Golden Bull had been actively soliciting investments from workers of key local factories since 1993 and about 600 put in their money, including life savings in some cases.

On October 14, more than 200 workers of Wuhan's Integrated Manufacturing Plant, who were earlier put onto "temporary" redundancy on partial pay, had their maintenance payments halved to 100 yuan (US$11) a month — hardly enough to cover even essentials for an individual, let alone a family.

With banners reading, "We need to fill our stomachs", the workers staged a sit-down protest on a main road.

In September, more than 1000 workers of the Hunan Television Plant in Changsha, Hunan province, blocked the traffic of a main road to demand the payment of three months of unpaid wages. They demanded punishment of their factory officials whom they accused of corruption.

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