Tax dispute gets ugly as protesters go on rampage in eastern China
A police bus on fire during unrest in the town of Zhili. Photo posted to Chinese social networking site Weibo.
More than a thousand people took to the streets in eastern China Thursday night, in a second day of demonstrations over tax hikes for store owners. On their way to local government offices, protesters destroyed cars and clashed with riot police.
The unrest began on Wednesday when a children’s clothing store owner refused to pay taxes because the amount had raised sharply from last year. Local residents claim he was physically attacked by the tax collector for his refusal. State-run media have said the victim then rallied other shop owners in an attempt to retaliate - though our Observer says they just wanted to negotiate lower taxes – and then, the situation got out of hand.
Some people in the town of Zhili in Zheijiang province, where the protests are taking place, have said they are not only venting anger at the tax hike, but also against what they perceive as discrimination against migrant workers. Other reports have suggested that migrant business owners were required to pay higher taxes than locals, though this was not the case our Observer encountered.
In what has now become customary during periods of unrest in China, the government has blocked results for key search terms – in this case, “Zhili” – on Chinese search engines and social networking sites.
Rioters attack a police bus that was apparently left unattended. They throw stones at it, and at 2'00 and 5'20, they attempt to overturn it.
“I just wanted to negotiate lower taxes, but some workers are immoral and prefer to destroy everything”
My wife and I moved from our home province of Jiangxi [which neighbours Zhejiang province] to Zhili in 1998. We run a children’s clothing store, just the two of us. Many migrants come here with friends from their hometown to run children’s clothing workshops together. According to the law, business owners must pay taxes on five sewing machines, even if the owner has less than five machines. We own only two, but pay for five. Last year, the tax was 300 yuan [around €33] per sewing machine per year. But this year it’s soared to 625 yuan [around €70]. We feel this is too high.
On October 26, a woman refused to pay this tax and was beaten up by tax officers. She was hospitalised. So workers began a strike to try to negotiate a lower tax. That afternoon, we went to the local government’s offices. There were thousands of us workers. The authorities deployed Zhili’s entire police task force. We said the tax had increased too much, and that we couldn’t accept it, but the government kept its tough stance. I returned home; afterwards, the police beat many people up. One man who works next door to my workshop was detained.
Protesters flood the streets of Zhili. At 5'20, a group of protesters overtturn a parked car.
In the evening, enraged workers tried to damage a random Audi, whose driver managed to flee and drove into many workers in the process. So the violence escalated from there. I later saw dozens of vehicles that were smashed, overturned or burned, including police cars. Some people took this opportunity to create chaos; I don’t know who these people were. Yesterday many more cars were destroyed. We didn’t dare go out after sunset.
I just wanted to negotiate with the government, but our negotiations failed. It is impossible to defeat the government anyhow. I will have to pay the tax in the end. However, some workers are immoral, and prefer to destroy everything. Now that things have turned ugly, we can’t work normally.
All workshops here have stopped production. The roads out of Zhili are blocked by police, so we can’t distribute our goods anyway. The authorities are urging us to resume production, but we don’t dare. Some stores reopened, and were destroyed by rioters. The owners were badly beaten. Schools have suspended classes as well.”
All photos posted to Chinese social networking site Weibo.