China: three days of rioting over suspicious death

Residents of Shishou clash with riot police

Residents of the city of Shishou in the central province of Hubei fought police and set fire to a hotel after authorities labeled the death of a chef at a hotel a “suicide”.

The chef, 24 year old Tu Yuangao, was found dead outside the Yonglong hotel on the 17th of June, but his family cast doubt on the finding of “suicide” after viewing his body. They said there were no signs of blood where he was found, and the injuries on his body were inconsistent with a fall.

Locals told media that the hotel was known to be involved with drug trafficking, and that it is partly owned by the mayor, with senior police and other officials having a stake in it. They believed Tu was killed for threatening to expose the hotel owner, and that police intended to cremate his body to destroy the evidence.

Offered 30 000 RMB ($4 400)by the owner, Tu’s father apparently armed himself with a gas canister and threatened to blow himself up until the truth about his son’s death was revealed. Crowds began to gather on Friday the 19th outside the hotel to prevent police removing the body.

Three days of clashes
Over the weekend several violent clashes between residents and riot police occurred, involving 10 000 people according to official sources, or up to 70 000 according to reports on internet sites and Hong Kong media. The hotel was set on fire, and six police vehicles were destroyed or overturned to block the roads.

Police who tried to disperse people were repelled with projectiles by the crowd, and at one point on Saturday night the street lights were turned off by authorities. Eventually Tu’s family agreed to a formal autopsy of the body, and people dispersed.

The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy claimed at least 200 people were injured, but the authorities claimed no one had been injured in the clashes.

On the surface it is surprising that a seemingly small incident lead to such a violent clash, but Radio Free Asia reported one witness as saying:

"The reason for this is that the relationship between the government and the ordinary people here has been mishandled. 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. Now I hear they have agreed to the family's requests. I don't know whether they really will carry out an autopsy."

The role of the Internet
Internet users played a significant role in spreading news of the incident. Photos and video footage taken by observers was posted on the internet, and accounts of what people believed had happened wide spread.

One rumor alleged that Tu was murdered when he threatened to expose a drug-dealing operation that was based in the hotel where he worked. A posting in Chinese on asserted that the owner of the Yonglong Hotel was the head of a drug-cartel who enjoyed close ties to senior local government officials.

When the owner refused to pay Tu his salary, Tu threatened to expose his illicit activities and was murdered as a consequence. The posting is replete with a graphic account of Tu's gruesome and sadistic killing, which included a lengthy beating, castration and the insertion of nails into his skull. It is also alleged that the Yonglong Hotel was the site of at least several related murders in the past few years.

Official response
Officials, however, insisted it was suicide:

"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."

An subsequent official autopsy has reaffirmed suicide the suicide. It also claimed a suicide note to have indeed been written by Tu, despite allegations by some that he was illiterate, as he had only received 3 years of primary school education. Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency, reported that Tu's uncle, Tu Dexiang, speaking for the family, said he accepted the conclusion.

"The tests were conducted by experts from the Public Security Ministry, the local department and the university, so we have to be convinced of the result," he said. "We don't want to spark more unrest and bring more trouble to the government.”

Nevertheless, the China Daily said local authorities gave Tu's family 300,000 yuan ($44 000) in compensation. The report did not specify which authorities awarded the compensation, nor explain why it was paid before an investigation into Tu's death was completed.

One unusual response from authorities was an editorial in the People's Daily on the 24th of June, which called for both local government and the mainstream media to provide greater "information transparency" in the immediate aftermath of incidents that could trigger public unrest.

Mass protests against official corruption, land grabs and arbitrary taxes are becoming increasingly common in China and often spin out of control into violent confrontations between the public and officials.

Photos and video from Shishou:

Posted By

Jul 10 2009 15:06


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Jul 10 2009 16:07

One observer is quoted on that website saying:

Wang works in Shishou's Zhongshan Business hotel, 300 metres from the hotel Tu worked in. She was at the scene on Monday.

Although people said it was between 40,000 and 50,000, i think it was more like 10,000 people who came out in support of Tu. My colleague saw everything and told me that it was very violent. The rioters were actually chasing the police and throwing bricks and bottles through their windows.


Half of the people protesting this weekend were there in support of the family, but many were just using it as an excuse to vent their anger against the local government ."

Very interesting stuff though, I wonder what the truth of it is?

Jul 11 2009 09:37

supporting the family or venting anger at the local government, combined with other riots etc it expresses the level of tension there must be within China. The ruling class must be very worried about how to deal with this. especially now stuff is being posted on the internet. There is no democratic buffer to try and absorb this discontent.

Jul 11 2009 17:08

It looks like the popular anger may actually be an incipient class alliance. I would be interested to see any of this develop into any sort of independent political movement and what their demands would be.

Petit-bourgeoisie and proletariat, both having serious beef with the state. It appears that on the one hand the petit-bourgeoisie are rising to protect and expand their market by reducing taxes, government corruption, etc. as the contradiction there deepens between the apparent possibilities of becoming independently wealthy (i.e., as the market forces introduced there take hold and increase uneven development) and of their (the petit-bourgeoisie's) actual material circumstances.

On the other hand is the proletariat, a section of whom which is directly concerned with the continued existence and growth of the petit-bourgeoisie (as their respective employers, insofar as that work is a career [I'm unsure of the level of workers' precarity there]). This section's interests are as good a reason as any other for the proletariat to "come to the stage", but if the proletariat as a whole class are to take hold, they have to expand their demands from "protect the jobs of the section of the proletariat under the petit-bourgeoisie" to "More, better, higher-paying jobs for all workers." (Obviously that would not be the final demand in a movement where the proletariat came to the fore, taking the helm from the petit-bourgeoisie.)

This is all almost entirely conjecture, however, based on these two front-page articles and some other things I've read and my general understanding of the Chinese situation.

Where can I get more information? Where do we think this movement is going? What is it's class composition, and is there really a possibility for the proletariat to take over the movement at this or a later stage?

Jul 11 2009 21:10

Is there much of an anarchist movement in China? Im guessing information on class composition of protests etc will be very hard to come by.

Jul 12 2009 00:04

On China, no there is no real anarchist movement there.

There is however a growing workers movement. There is quite a lot of good information and analysis of this about, here's a few useful articles:
news article about workers struggle reaching all-time high earlier this year:

an analysis of the impact of the current crisis on China by wildcat Germany:

There is also a great article in the newest aufheben about the composition of the current wave of unrest, and its history, but it's not online yet unfortunately.

Jul 12 2009 00:05

In general, there's loads of information about China available here:

Jul 12 2009 02:29


Thanks for your contribution on the literature available on this topic. I've heard "through the grapevine," from a comrade in the Workers' International League (US section of the International Marxist Tendency, a Trotskyist group) that the IMT has a huge underground section in China. Do you know of the veracity of this specifically, or of a specifically-Trotskyist Chinese movement generally?

mikail firtinaci
Jul 12 2009 02:36

"huge" trotskyist underground section in China... Scary and creepy if it is true. Is there any article that can be suggested on that in their site

Jul 12 2009 07:07

Mikail Firtinaci, I'm unsure. The US section's website is and the International's website is

Jul 12 2009 09:33

I think it's very likely that that is a lie.

Jul 12 2009 12:52

thanks for links guys.

Jul 12 2009 13:33

Ooh, this is pretty good too..
Going it Alone: The Workers’ Movement in China
Edit: from an information point of view I mean, the politics are pretty liberal..

Jul 12 2009 14:39

Steven - that's entirely possible. It was for the comrade himself "through the grapevine." Regardless of the influence of Trotskyism, etc., there doubtless exists a growing workers' movement in China.

Eventually we're going to have to find some way to be able to appraise the class situation there. Having links - secret contacts - "on the ground" in China which are in touch with each other all across that country is the only plausible way of really being able to thoroughly develop an informed and correct appraisal of the situation there.

It's pitiable that we're stuck with almost pure conjecture about the workers' movement there and the class forces which make them up, etc.

PS. The same guys who told me this also told me that they have a "huge" section in Pakistan with real weight. I searched a little and found that group's website: Except I can't read this at all, lol.