Amid China’s Henan bank crisis, a video of military tanks lining up on the street circulated on the internet this week, and people went bonkers.

The clip was first uploaded on July 18 via Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that the Chinese government sent these tanks to control an ongoing protest in Henan province. However, it also gained traction from other social media sites and enraged netizens from far and wide.

Many had even compared the incident to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 when the Chinese government deployed tanks and other fatal munitions to crush pro-democracy protests.

However, according to a fact-checking team, the video was “actually filmed in the city of Rizhao in Shandong province,” not in Henan. Upon further investigation, they also found that it was a military drill. Not to mention that a nearby naval base sits close to the city.

“Furthermore, the China Maritime Safety Administration published a press release informing citizens military exercises would take place from July 14 to 16,” the France 24 Observers team reported.

They also spoke with staff at Jinjian Inn, a hotel on the same road as the video, who confirmed the presence of the tanks on July 17. So, the tanks in the video were unrelated to the banking scandal.

What actually happened in Henan?

While tanks weren’t present in the current Henan bank crisis, the leaders of China’s party-state system did retaliate against protesters to maintain social “stability” and control the situation from further escalation.

Hundreds of jilted depositors from at least four rural banks in the central province of Henan and one in Anhui went to the streets to protest about their frozen accounts. As a result, these clients were denied access to their accounts, which totaled 40 billion yuan ($6 billion)—amidst a growing financial crisis in China.

Protester in Henan taken last July 11
(Source: @chen_yenhan/Twitter)

These small village banks have misled their customers with high-return interest rates to compete with larger institutions.

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Yu Zhou Xin Min Sheng Village Bank, Shangcai Huimin Country Bank, and Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank froze deposits on April 18, citing internal system upgrades. Depositors didn’t hear anything back from them. And after weeks of radio silence, some began to gather in Henan’s provincial capital of Zhengzhou to demand regulators act more forcefully.

The protests began online before they went out to the streets, with the biggest one breaking out on May 23, before officials retaliated harshly, even to the extent of using the country’s mobile health codes to seize demonstrators.

More than 200 depositors were allegedly barred from traveling to Zhengzhou by changing their COVID health codes from green to red. On the other hand, those who registered to enter Henan with no connection to the frozen funds didn’t encounter such technical issues. Meanwhile, those who managed to slip in, “their codes turned red as soon as they scanned the city’s health codes,” Reuters reported.

Harsh retaliation against protesters

Once freed from the “digital handcuffs,” more protesters across China came to Zhengzhou, assembling in front of the branch office on July 10 to demand back their savings.

Hundreds of uniformed police officers and heavyset men in white shirts attacked the protesters and dragged some down a flight of stairs before loading them into buses.

A week after the harsh retaliation, regulators finally responded and assured the depositors they would be repaid. They vowed to improve risk management to prevent such financial crises from spreading across the region and in the future.

However, only those depositors with less than 50,000 yuan ($7,500) will receive repayment starting July 25, according to the local offices of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, with details for the rest to be announced later.

Furthermore, those who used “additional channels” to obtain higher interest payments or those suspected of dealing with “illegal funds” will not be repaid.

The central government has always bailed out banks and businesses in hot water, but as the economy deteriorates, this has become increasingly difficult to resolve. Last week, China reported its lowest growth rate since the beginning of the covid pandemic at 0.4 percent.

The Hanan banking scandal has exposed more systemic issues in China’s financial system that result in distrust and fear among its citizens, leading to increasing social instability.