Chef's Death Sparks Riots

A large-scale protest erupts over a mysterious death in central China.
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Thousands of protesters gather at the Yonglong Hotel in Shishou city in an undated photo.
Thousands of protesters gather at the Yonglong Hotel in Shishou city in an undated photo.
Photo provided by volunteer

HONG KONG—Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hubei said they had brought calm to the city of Shishou on Monday after weekend rioting by at least 1,000 people over the unexplained death of a young hotel chef.

The body of Tu Yuangao, 24, was found Wednesday outside the main entrance of the Yonglong Hotel, which local media reports said was a haven for drug addicts.

Tu's family said the circumstances of his death were suspicious, as there were no traces of blood near where his body was found at the entrance to the hotel.

A lot of armed police came and took the body away."


A protester surnamed Huang said an additional three dead bodies were found buried in the basement of the hotel during the course of the resulting protests.

"We believe this may relate to some kind of illegal activities and drug issues going on in the hotel that resulted in the deaths of certain people. There have already been five mysterious homicide cases at the hotel, but only two cases have been solved," Huang said.

Huang said that around 2,000 protesters gathered at the hotel Monday, but that armed police were deployed to disperse the crowd. "There was no clash today," he said.

He added that road blocks had been set up in the city and that armed police were stationed in front of some residential areas.

“They try to stop people coming out at night. We don’t know how many people were arrested," he said.

The official media have claimed that there have been no arrests in connection with the protests.

Weekend riots

Crowds drive away riot police at a protest in Shishou city, June 20, 2009. Video provided by volunteer

A witness to the riots surnamed Chen said they had continued for most of the weekend, and that he had gone out to watch what happened two days in a row.

"There are a lot of armed police around now. The people have overturned some of their vehicles," he said. "It's all happening in the vicinity of the Yonglong Hotel, on Bijiashan Road."

Video footage supplied to RFA by another witness showed crowds of several hundred people tussling with riot police in camouflage uniform and shouting.

The riot police covered their heads with plastic shields, as the crowd threw rocks at them.

"The body is still inside the hotel, and the dead man's parents are there keeping vigil. The police have made several attempts to wrest the body away from them to take it for cremation. I saw this with my own eyes," Chen said Saturday.

Another witness said the armed police had succeeded in taking the dead body away for cremation.

"A lot of armed police came and took the body away," another protester said. "They detained a few people as well."

"They persuaded the family to let it go after they agreed to go through a formal autopsy. We were just watching from the outside. At one point there were around 10,000 of us," he said.

Street lights cut

Thousands of protesters gathered again in the burned-down hotel Monday morning to protest what they said was a cover-up by authorities for the hotel, which is believed to be owned by a local government official.

A local resident involved in the earlier protest, also surnamed Huang, said more than 1,000 armed police were sent to disperse crowds at 3 a.m. on June 20.

"The authorities turned off the street lights. We don’t know how many were arrested. Tu's dead body was taken away and we lost contact with the victim’s family. Many residents do not believe Tu committed suicide. Many things have been hidden in this case."

Huang said that when she attempted to seek more information online she found that all references to the incident had been blocked or deleted.

Official response

An official who answered the phone at the Bijiashan neighborhood committee office said the entire incident had arisen from a misunderstanding.

"There are still a lot of people on the streets," the officer said. "Some of them have damaged fire and rescue vehicles and some vehicles belonging to the law enforcement authorities trying to keep the peace."

"I'm not sure of the details but there has been a big misunderstanding. They think the local government is trying to protect someone."

"In fact, the truth is that this person committed suicide, so the city authorities are going to carry out an autopsy on the body. Some people thought the government was trying to forcibly cart the body off for cremation, so they rose up in protest," the official added.

A staff member of the Shishou government municipal office surnamed Zhang said the incident was under control as of Monday.

"Nothing happened today. The victim’s family agreed to wait for the results of an autopsy and then we will discuss the issue. Wait for few more days and the authorities will have an official announcement," Zhang said.

But another witness, also surnamed Zhang, said there were crowds all along a 2-3-km (one mile) stretch of road when the protests were at their height.

"The reason for this is that the relationship between the government and the ordinary people here has been mishandled," he said. "In the past there have already been a few high-profile cases, and the police just left them unresolved.

"There was already a lot of anger against the government," Zhang said. "Now I hear they have agreed to the family's requests. I don't know whether they really will carry out an autopsy."

According to the official news agency Xinhua, around 1,000 protesters came out in protest, adding that there were no official reports of injuries.

The police stood guard over roads surrounding the blackened Yonglong hotel after the crowd dispersed, according to the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper.

It quoted police as saying Tu had left a suicide note which showed he was "pessimistic and hated the world."

'Mass incidents' common

China's government reports thousands of "mass incidents" involving riots, protests, or strikes and sit-ins every year.

Tens of thousands of residents of Weng'an county in the southwestern province of Guizhou smashed government buildings and police headquarters and torched officials' cars last June over the alleged cover-up of the death of a young woman in the city.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Feng Ruiyao. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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