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A Chinese City's Rage At the Rich And Powerful

'How Dare They?'

A photo from Bo Xun, a Web site created by Chinese dissidents, shows the crowd gathered outside the police station in downtown Chizhou where rioters set three police vehicles on fire. Crowds also looted a nearby supermarket.
A photo from Bo Xun, a Web site created by Chinese dissidents, shows the crowd gathered outside the police station in downtown Chizhou where rioters set three police vehicles on fire. Crowds also looted a nearby supermarket. (Bo Xun)

Members of the crowd, which was still growing as the confrontation continued, demanded that the three police officers turn Wu and his companions over to them, according to several people present at the time. Instead, the four men were taken inside the station. But the two bodyguards returned to the car and took out long knives, presumably to protect themselves, according to witnesses and official accounts.

"These guys tried to kill one of our sons," people in the mob shouted, according to those present. "How dare they? Let's get them."

The outnumbered police officers persuaded the two toughs to give up their knives and bundled them into a police van to be transported to the central jail. But in a gesture that further outraged the crowd, they were not handcuffed. To many of those standing in the street, the two were being taken away for their safety, not for punishment.

"Why are you letting them go?" people shouted, according to accounts from several witnesses. A motorcycle driver who was in the crowd was still outraged about the lack of handcuffs a week later. "That's illegal," he shouted in a long conversation during which he described the scene. "Why didn't the police handcuff them?" he asked. "They were so rich, so they weren't afraid of anything."

Wu, meanwhile, was seen looking at the crowd from a second-floor window above the police station, smiling dismissively. "When I saw him smirk at the crowd, I was really mad," said the driver, a sinewy man wearing only shorts and a tank-style undershirt.

Anger boiling, the crowd blocked the police van, still demanding to get its hands on the two bodyguards. About 50 anti-riot police showed up wearing helmets and camouflage fatigues, witnesses said. They were met by a volley of stones and bottles from a mob that now numbered around 10,000. The anti-riot forces hustled the bodyguards to safety, the witnesses said, but the unarmed officers did not have the numbers to bring the situation under control.

Four were seriously injured and the rest swiftly drew back, authorities said. The injured, officials said, were hospitalized for more than a week. "They were afraid of dying," said one member of the crowd who, like others interviewed, refused to reveal his name for fear of being arrested.

By 5 p.m., the emboldened mob turned its attention to Wu's sedan, overturning it, pummeling it with rocks and then setting it afire with cigarette lighters, the witnesses said. Two police cars suffered the same fate an hour later, they added, and the police van was also trashed and set ablaze. The fires were so hot they scorched the entrance to the police station, Cao said.

The crowd cheered and shouted at the sight of government vehicles burning. Several of the people there that evening said that the riot had become a battle against a system that encouraged local police to protect rich outsiders instead of sticking up for a local boy. A number of those present, interviewed at length, referred to the crowd as "the common people," a term frequently used in China to distinguish ordinary civilians from the rich or the powerful.

"They are rich people, and they always bully us poor people," said one of the legions of men who ferry customers around Chizhou on the back of motorcycles and who played a prominent role in the violence.

Supermarket Ransacked

About that time, one of the rich and powerful got a fateful telephone call. Zhou Qingrao, who owns the Donghuadong Supermarket, said police inside the besieged station phoned to ask for some water. Zhou immediately walked over a six-pack of mineral water in what, for him, was a natural gesture of solidarity. The gesture made him the next target.

Zhou, a Communist Party stalwart and a former delegate to the People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing, also heads the Chizhou Investors Association; his company owns Donghuadong and four other Kmart-type stores in the region. Originally from Hangzhou, 150 miles to the east, Zhou since arriving here 20 years ago had become a prominent part of the party-business establishment that the angry people in the street were out to attack.

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