HONG KONG, Dec. 7, 2004--More than 1,000 people in the southern Chinese city of Qinzhou clashed with police over the weekend after local officials beat up disabled street performers, only to be attacked themselves by an enraged crowd.
"I saw lot of people, many hundreds, more than 1,000 people," an eyewitness told RFA's Mandarin service. "The crowd had surrounded some city construction officers, and they were fighting with the regular cops, and also the People's Armed Police."
The trouble began around 8 p.m. Saturday after a group of four officers from the Qinzhou city construction inspection team, the equivalent of environmental management officers, ordered the group of four performers to move on.
"There were four of us there, three disabled people there and a blind person, busking [performing] on the footpath," one of the performers, a 22-year-old man surnamed Chen, told RFA host Han Dongfang.
The area was packed full of people. Several streets had been cordoned off...The crowd didn't disperse until about 2 a.m... There were several thousand people, or thereabouts. I think what happened was that a lot of people called their relatives on their cellphones to come and help when they saw what was happening.
"There were four city construction inspection officers, three men and a woman. They came over and said we weren't allowed to sing, that we were causing an obstruction to traffic and affecting the city's environmental quality."
"I don't depend on anyone else. I depend on my busking to keep me alive. I don't beg from people," said Chen, who with his three companions is a native of the central Chinese province of Hubei.
Residents said the crowd's anger was sparked at the sight of the ensuing struggle between Chen and his colleagues, in which they were kicked, punched, and thrown to the ground.
"I think people got really angry with them, the city construction officials.... The crowd said they shouldn't have behaved like that towards disabled people," one woman said. Eyewitnesses said the area was filled with people and the crowd didn't disperse until around 2 a.m.
I grabbed hold of his leg and bit him. He turned around and knocked me senseless with a punch.
Chen said the fight started after he protested being photographed by one of the officials in the group. Chen demanded the camera film, and tried to wrest it from the official's hand. He was immediately knocked to the ground.
"I grabbed hold of his leg and bit him. He turned around and knocked me senseless with a punch," Chen said. "A lot of people saw this and got really angry, pulling him off me. I was in a lot of pain there on the floor, and I was angry too. I grabbed hold of his leg again, and he kicked me in the guts."
"When I woke up, I was in the hospital. Afterwards two other disabled people told me that the crowd had smashed his car up," Chen said.
Chen's colleague, a 21-year-old man also without the use of both legs, said he too was pushed to the ground and injured in the fracas, during which bystanders set upon the official who attacked him. "I still can't move my legs now. My legs are swollen up, and my eye," he told RFA's Labor Express program.
One witness reported the size of the crowd at more than 1,000. An officer on duty at the municipal Public Security Bureau confirmed the incident but disputed the numbers. "The number of people involved was only a few dozen. As for 'several thousand,' they were probably 80 or 90 percent onlookers," the officer said.
But he appeared to suggest there was more to the incident than met the eye. "It would be a very strange phenomenon worthy of further analysis if a neighborhood dispute could turn into an incident involving several thousand people, now wouldn't it? Worthy of further study, wouldn't you say?"
It would be a very strange phenomenon worthy of further analysis if a neighborhood dispute could turn into an incident involving several thousand people, now wouldn't it? Worthy of further study, wouldn't you say?
An emergency room doctor who treated Li and Chen's injuries at the Qinzhou No.1 People's Hospital said their condition was not too bad, although they had severe bruising to the head, eye, and torso.
An official who answered the phone at the municipal government said she had heard nothing of the incident.
Social unrest has become commonplace across China, as rapid economic reforms leave hundreds of millions without a safety net.
Tempers flare rapidly into violence, as anger over official corruption and financial worries simmer below the surface. Most protests and clashes are suppressed quickly by riot police and a news blackout imposed to prevent unrest from spreading.