On July 16, law enforcement officers were stationed outside the iapm mall on Huaihai Road in Shanghai and an ambulance was parked in front of the door. Exactly one month ago, the chief financial officer of Jinxing Investments (Shanghai Uprosper Asset Management Co) Ji Jianhua appeared at the firm’s offices and admitted that the firm’s boss was nowhere to be found.
Ever since then investors have been protesting. Inside the mall, which is home to luxury brands like Prada and Givenchy, a line of officers stood at attention in front of the escalators. Mall officials in blazers and ties milled around. A crowd of spectators had gathered at the edge of the second, third, and fourth floors, looking down into the atrium.
A group of retired Chinese people came marching out into the first floor, carrying signs, some with images of Xi Jinping, and waving Chinese flags. A protest. In Chinese, wei quan—“protecting [our] rights.”
”Come out, boss, and return my hard-earned savings!”
”Jinxing committed fraud, the common people suffer; Honest Judge Gongbao, uphold justice.”
[Under a picture of Xi Jinping]: “Weiquan is actually truly maintaining stability.”
Over ¥400 million Chinese yuan (US$60 million) have been stolen from about 2,500 investors who were attracted by street fliers and seminars. When it opened in November 2015, Jinxing/Uprosper Assets promised to be a safe investment option dedicated to “creat[ing] the top service brand in supply chain finance industry in China.” On its website it claimed to have partnerships with Chinese state-owned banks like China Construction Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. Its boss, a 37-year-old man named Wang Jian, held glitzy events at 5 star hotels and invited celebrities like 2008 and ’12 Chinese gold medalist boxer Zou Shiming to his offices. On its opening day it held a flamboyant ribbon-cutting ceremony with a dragon dance and flowers gifted by Shanghai district administrative governments.
Three months later, he couldn’t access his money. On June 15, many investors found their money was gone, and employees weren’t getting paid. Back at the office on June 16, the scene was chaotic. Papers were thrown everywhere. A group of investors surrounded the offices, and 100 of them stayed for three days, not letting financial officer Ji Jianhua leave. Ji said he would let them take him to the police, but Zhang said he feared that even if Ji faced a few years in prison he will come out and still have access to stolen money. Another investor who surrounded the offices for three days, Mrs. Mua was quoted in a Sina Finance article saying, “I feared important evidence would be missing. I have seen salespeople trying to take computers away, so we have stopped them.”
Fled to the United States?
Since then three officials, Ji, legal representative Yan Aimin, and salesperson Li Yintao have been arrested, but Wang Jian is missing and rumored to have fled to the United States along with his mistress. Zhang sourced the claim that Wang flew to the U.S. to Ji via a third-party. On an hour-long recording, one of the representatives of the investors tells other investors about a conversation he said he had with Ji. Wang reportedly has access to ¥150 million yuan of stolen assets (according to Sina and investors). Authorities are trying to trace the path of the money through dozens of bank accounts and recover some of it, but Zhang and Ms Li, another investor using a pseudonym, are not confident that they will ever see much of it again.
In a country with an under-regulated financial sector full of people who have recently acquired wealth, fraudulent schemes are a growing problem, and pilfered investors are increasingly resorting to protest to try to put pressure on a government they say doesn’t care enough. In July 2015, investors of Fanya Metal Exchange were denied access to their cash, which they were told they could withdraw at any time. Later that year investors took to protesting. Over 2,000 were arrested before a planned protest in Beijing on October 26, 2015. In December the founder of Fanya Metal Exchange was arrested on charges of fraud involving ¥40 billion yuan in investments (US$6 billion), but one of the investors, said, in an essay that appeared in Foreign Policy, that she doesn’t think she will get her money back either.
The Fanya scheme and the Uprosper scheme both involved many of the same elements that gave investors a false sense of security. According to the investor who wrote for Foreign Policy, a 29-year-old girl who invested ¥1.1 million yuan (US$175,000) of her parents’ retirement money, she had the impression that Fanya was reputable because it boasted it had the backing of state-owned banks, and it appeared in a CCTV report. (I cannot confirm whether Uprosper actually had a relationship with the banks it claimed to, but the Foreign Policy report stated that Fanya did in fact.)
As many Chinese are investing large sums of money for the first time, they are not always aware of the best practices involving diversification and risk management. The investor in Fanya wrote that she invested “almost all of my family’s savings.” The two investors into Uprosper who spoke to me told of an old woman who received ¥900,000 yuan in compensation when her son died in a car crash who lost all of it to Uprosper.
Most of the protesters at iapm were older than 60. Those older people are more trusting and less sophisticated, thus easier to scam, Zhang and Li said. Both Zhang and Li have conditions that they need money to treat. Li, who lost ¥150,000 yuan, suffers from an aneurysm. “¥150,000 yuan couldn’t save my life, but it could cut down on the pain,” she said.
There were some younger victims, too, they said, but, according to Ms Li, “The young people don’t dare come out to protest. They are scared of hurting their future.”
While walking past Apple and DeBeers, protesters waved their signs at my camera. Some of them covered their faces with their signs. Near the front of the mall, an energetic lady, whom Zhang said was a maid who lost ¥100,000 yuan, shouted slogans into a bullhorn. Others raised their fists and repeated the chants. The spectators crowded around the glass walls above and watched and photographed.
The officers stood in a line and surrounded the protesters. They were not police, but unarmed teqin, a special branch of security that often appears at protests. Inside the enclosement of teqin locked arm to arm, which was getting increasingly crowded, protesters surrounded me and pulled out smart phones and showed me photographs of Wang Jian drinking alcohol, dining, and celebrating holidays and business events. Some of the pictures were shared on his own Weibo social network. Many were exactly what you would expect of an executive, promotional photos even, but they took on a different meaning in light of his theft.
The group of protesters was becoming increasingly crowded, and I found myself cornered between the wall of a shop and the wall of teqin. Behind me, the protesters were pushing and encouraging me to break the line. I saw their faces, and I threw my arms up. The elderly protesters pushed past me and into the teqin and broke through, marching up the escalator to the second floor.
Another group of protesters stayed back on the first floor, and the officers once again began forming a human enclosure. I ran out before they had completed it. I was surprised the protesters were able to maneuver as they did, facing little resistance when they challenged the teqin’s control of the mall, but they had experience doing it.
Afterwards, Ms Li said that the teqin at the protest I observed were well-behaved. “Yesterday they weren’t violent. They were good,” Ms Li said. She speculated that they might have been more aggressive towards younger protesters. “Maybe they were a little bit sympathetic. They just want to earn money.” At other protests, there have been allegations of officers hitting protesters.
(Later when I showed pictures to a former Chinese soldier, he remarked that the men wearing “teqin” uniforms looked like “security” or “subway police.” “They are standing around too casually.”)
Mr. Zhang claimed that some of the leaders of the protesters have had to speak with officials and that some had thereafter not participated in future protesters, but there were little specifics offered. There was a general sense of the possibility of consequences, which is one of the reasons both protesters spoke on the condition of anonymity (and also because Ms Li said she didn’t want her family to worry). “Doing weiquan, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the day after that,” Li said.
At the end of the day’s activities, they unveiled banners outside the mall that said, “Jinxing thieves, return our hard-earned money, [and we] request the government to protect our rights.”
Beyond the fact that they want the government to put in more effort to catch Wang and recover the money, the protesters also think the local governments in Shanghai that left flowers for the grand opening have a degree of responsibility. According to photographs shared of the opening ceremony, the district governments of Huangpu, Baoshan, and Xuhui, where the group’s offices are located, and the National Development Bank all left flowers.
The property owners of iapm, Shanghai World Trade Square in Chinese, who have also been caught in the crosshairs of some of the protesters, left a sign outside warning against escalation and continuation of protests, claiming such protests affect business. “World Trade Square has exercised an attitude of restraint and patience up until today from start to finish through many mass incidents, but if these mass incidents continue happening, World Trade Square will take actions to maintain the ordinary operations of World Trade Square and will use the legal channels to pursue compensation for losses. Those suspected of criminally breaking the law by causing disorder in a public place will be reported by World Trade Square to the public security bureau to face investigation and prosecution in accordance with the law.”
A Closer Look at a Protest Sign
Maintaining Rights Actually is the True Maintaining of Stability
Secretary Xi has said: Maintaining stability depends on maintaining rights. This is to say that you can only implement real stability if you protect the legal rights and interests of the great common people. If you don’t talk about maintaining rights but only talk about maintaining stability then the more you try to maintain it, the more unstable it will be. Definitely protecting the common people’s rights and interests must be put number one. Do that, and only then can problems be solved, only then can real stability be implemented.
If legal cases are not held transparently in public, if stolen goods are not pursued and returned, if the lids are not opened [scandals uncovered], and the problems raised by the common people are not solved, this kind of maintaining stability might actually be the stability of corrupt cronies [corrupt political elements], then maintaining stability might just mean maintaining corruption! Stop dreaming, start protecting our rights now, don’t let a minute be wasted!
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.