The Red Cross corruption story yesterday was only the tip of the iceberg. A number of subsequent stories have since floated to the surface; in some cases, there have been been clashes between police and angry citizens.
Since May 21st, a number of Chengdu people have reported seeing official disaster-zone tents (clearly marked as such) being raised in Chengdu itself. Chengdu is outside of the official disaster-zone, and no such tents have been distributed legally in the area. This has set off a huge operation throughout Chengdu, as average citizens have given themselves the mission of tracking down these tents and demanding government action.
Directly and indirectly as a result of these actions, there have been at least 3 clashes:
– First, ESWN reports on a clash at Deyang. The Chinese government responded to these reports this afternoon, and the Sichuan provincial government said at a news conference on May 23rd that they had identified the man accused of unloading rescue material from a government truck. Wang Yadong, an employee at a local armed police training center, is accused of taking advantage of the situation to steal food supplies to be resold at a convenience store owned by his girlfriend. He’s been arrested, and the supervising manager has also been suspended. ESWN has added more information here.
– Second, a series of tents were surrounded by mobs demanding action throughout Chengdu. In one such confrontation, a woman wearing a SEXY t-shirt insisted that no one had any right to worry about where she purchased her tent. She has become high on the public enemy list, and the Internet lynch mob has identified her as the owner of a local camera store.
The Chinese press reports that at least two store operators have been arrested for selling these tents; one is accused of falsely posing as a Red Cross representative in order to purchase some. Other cases might be misunderstandings; some Chengdu people are reusing old tents, and others have relatives from inside the disaster zone who’ve relocated into Chengdu. Netizens remain very skeptical, and are still demanding a detailed accounting.
– Finally, another confrontation erupted where a group of people were found playing mahjiang and sipping tea inside a disaster tent, in Beisen. The tent itself had the large characters saying “disaster” painted over, but it was still easily recognizable. When asked where they had gotten the tents, they replied “through connections”, but refused to give more details. The mob quickly grew to several thousand people. All those inside the tent were arrested, but many in the mob wanted an immediate explanation.
The conflict became even more heated when a woman police officer (badge number #007767) apparently got into an argument with Chengdu citizens (“why is this any business of yours?”). She was quickly surrounded by hundreds of people, chanting “apologize! apologize!”. (She’s the woman pictured in the center of the crowd in the picture below.) After being surrounded for hours, a relief squad of up to 60 police officers tried to get access and free these police officers. A more violent brawl subsequently broke out, and several in the crowd were arrested. (The Falun Gong-funded Epoch Times reported violent “suppression” at this point, but its reputation as a news-gathering source isn’t very good.)
The Chinese press also reported on this story, giving its basic facts of the story. It reports that 15 government workers were injured, and a total of 11 in the crowd were arrested and will be administratively detained up to 30 days.
The tent story has now become a very sensitive political issue, and the Chinese leadership seems well aware of it. President Hu Jintao has flown out to Zhejiang to “monitor” tent production, which many sees as a reminder to all (including local officials) that the central government is watching the relief effort very, very closely.