Protesters once again stormed banks in China’s Henan province last weekend, a little over a year after the authoritarian regime violently crushed mass demonstrations by depositors who wanted to pull their life savings out of collapsing financial institutions.
Images shared online by Chinese dissident outlets on Tuesday suggested that groups of depositors organized on November 26 outside of banks in Nanyang, a city in Henan province, demanding the bank hand over their money.
“They were all subsequently arrested,” an anonymous citizen journalist in China known as “Mr. Li is not your teacher” reported, sharing a video of the protest. The citizen journalist claimed the protesters had not been able to access their own money for over 600 days.
— 李老师不是你老师 (@whyyoutouzhele) November 28, 2023
The Vision Times, a Falun Gong-affiliated media outlet, reported on what appears to be the same protest on Wednesday, citing sources within China separate from “Mr. Li is not your teacher.”
The Henan bank crisis erupted in the summer of 2022 after thousands of customers were told they could not withdraw their money from a half-dozen rural banks, which had attracted their business by offering high interest rates.
The banks began refusing to allow withdrawals after a liquidity crisis. Roughly $6 billion in funds were frozen, mostly from small depositors who said they could not feed their families or pay rent without access to their money. Crowds of frustrated bank customers began staging protests outside the banks that stole their money, and eventually outside Chinese central banking offices in some Henan cities.
The government dispatched plainclothes security officers to infiltrate and disrupt the protests, but the protesters quickly spotted them and drove them away, sometimes in a shower of rocks and bottles. The Communist regime irritably told international reporters to stop covering the protests, accusing Western media of “hyping” the protests to embarrass Beijing.
Once the protesters numbered in the thousands, the Communist regime sent in skull-crackers and leg-breakers to shut the movement down, putting a fair number of the anguished depositors in the hospital. By the end of July 2022, tanks were rolling through the streets of Henan, evoking memories of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
The regime grudgingly agreed to force the banks to allow their customers to make modest withdrawals, but it also claimed the protests were organized by “criminal gangs” and said money involved in anything the government deemed “criminal activity” would remain frozen.
The 2022 Henan protests gained worldwide attention because the Communist regime abused its coronavirus tracking software to monitor the demonstrators and shut the protests down. Government officials simply used their coronavirus software to magically transform the protesters into code-red “infected” patients and lock them out of public transportation. All Chinese subjects were required to have the government’s lockdown health-code software installed on their phones at the time.
The Henan banking crisis seemed to be under uneasy control by the beginning of 2023, but last weekend protests appeared to break out again. The angry depositors used clever tactics to evade the police, who have been monitoring them ever since July 2022, and assemble in sizable numbers at the banks. Reports indicate they were all arrested once they began demonstrating, and some of them have reportedly been slapped with up to fourteen days in detention.
Protesters outside a bank in Nanyang City, according to the reports, demanded the return of their deposits and brandished banners reading “Henan Courts Trample on Justice!” and accusing the provincial government of “misappropriating deposits and shattering the Chinese dream.”
Sunday’s demonstrators recalled police beating the bank protesters last summer and even reportedly accused the government of “brutally murdering” some of them. The protesters said freezing bank deposits has led to poverty, illness, and death among the depositors.
A few of Henan’s angry depositors have been slipping past government censors to describe their plight on social media. A young couple named Liangliang and Lijum became social media celebrities in November for telling the story of how they invested their life savings into an apartment that was never finished because the real estate developer ran into cash flow problems, but their down payment was not returned, and they were required to make loan payments on the apartment they could not live in.
When the couple confronted their real estate developer and asked if they could at least get the $2,800 cash-back incentive they were promised when they took out the loan, company staffers beat them up and took their cell phones.
Liangliang and Lijum quit their jobs in Henan’s provincial capital of Zhengzhou and returned to their hometown, despairing of ever getting either their apartment or their money back, and fearful for the safety of their young daughter. Liangliang also said his employer was pressured by local officials to make him resign.
“Last generation” has become the desperate slogan of young people in China. Faced with the high cost of housing and the birth of a child, more and more young Chinese are choosing not to have children.
Last year, a video went viral in which a man who refused to be taken to a quarantine camp was warned by police that “punishment will affect three generations of your family.” The man replied, “We are the last generation.”
Faced with demographic decline, Chinese authorities have tried to increase the fertility rate. In September, the city of Zhengzhou announced a subsidy for couples to have children. Two months later, some parents of newborns applied to the government for these funds, but were told that the fund did not exist.
The Chinese government is forcing banks to prop up tottering property firms, a strategy that might forestall the long-feared property collapse for a while longer, but could bring the banking industry down with it.
Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that banks may be forced to cover $89 billion in bad real estate debt next year, wiping out an estimated 21 percent of estimated annual profit for the banks. China’s bankers are darkly hinting that massive job cuts could be the only way they can find the money to subsidize the property sector.
“The demands have been taking a toll on finances and operations. Net interest margins slumped to a record low of 1.73% as of September, data showed. That’s below a 1.8% threshold regarded as necessary to maintain reasonable profitability,” Bloomberg observed. “Bad loans meantime have hit a new high, and a revenue growth streak since 2017 for some of the nation’s largest state banks may snap this year.”