Chinese state steel workers beat
private firm boss to death
• Staff rioted over planned buyout of company
• Violence said to be biggest disturbance for a year
Sunday 26, July 2009
Thousands of angry Chinese steel workers clashed with
police and beat to death an executive of the firm trying to
take over their company, a Hong Kong-based human rights
organisation has said.
Rioters killed Chen Guojun, the general manager of Jianlong
Steel Holding Company, after learning that the privatised
firm was to buy a majority stake in state-owned Tonghua
Iron and Steel Group. The deal now appears to be scrapped.
The violence in Tonghua city, Jilin province, north-eastern
China, on Friday is believed to be the country's biggest
civil disturbance since last summer. It comes weeks after
inter-ethnic conflict between Han Chinese and the Muslim
Uighur minority in China's north-west region of Xinjiang
left 197 people dead and 1,700 injured.
The Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said
30,000 people were involved in the latest incident,
although some internet postings put the figure at closer to
China is the world's largest consumer and producer of
steel, but its industry is regarded as inefficient.
The workers are thought to have been fearful of further
large-scale redundancies at a company that reportedly axed
many jobs only a few years ago. Reports suggest Tonghua has
between 20,000 and 50,000 employees.
Millions of people were laid off by state enterprises in
the 1990s and workers often complain that they receive
The human rights centre said workers were angry that Chen
earned about 3m yuan (£267,000) last year while Tonghua's
retirees were given as little as 200 yuan a month.
They blocked roads and smashed police vehicles, the centre
said, adding that 100 people were injured in the violence.
Authorities in the area have made no formal comment on
events and phone calls to the companies went unanswered.
But the South China Morning Post quoted a police officer
from the public security bureau as telling them: "Yes, it
did take place … Workers from Tonghua would not allow
ambulance and medical practitioners to enter the building
to rescue Mr Chen and he died."
Local television said on Friday night that the takeover
would be scrapped, the newspaper added.
Beijing-based Jianlong – one of the largest private
steelmakers – is thought to have invested in Tonghua as
early as 2005 and to have attempted to take a controlling
stake last year, only to back out after it failed to
improve the company's fortunes.
But as the steel market rebounded, thanks in part to a
government stimulus package, Jianlong made another attempt
to take over.
One account posted on the internet suggested that several
hundred workers had begun a demonstration on Friday morning
and closed down production at much of the site. When they
learned that Chen was briefing senior staff, they rushed
into the meeting. An argument ensued and they assaulted
The incident is thought to be the largest civil disturbance
since up to 30,000 people took to the streets in Weng'an,
Guizhou, last summer, trashing police and government
headquarters over rumours of corruption and official
China has seen a rising number of "mass incidents" in
recent years. According to the ministry of public security,
the tally rose from 10,000 in 1994 to 87,000 in 2005.
Figures have not been published since then but experts
believe they may well have increased further. The
government is particularly sensitive to such unrest this
year ahead of the 60th anniversary of Communist Party rule
this October. In China, six decades is considered a
complete life cycle.