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Semafor LogoDiego Mendoza
newsEast Asia

Chinese social media users slam police, health officials' brutality

Diego Mendoza is a Breaking News reporter. You can reach him at dmendoza@semafor.com. Sign up for Flagship, our daily newsletter that distills what’s happening in the world into a concise, insightful morning read.

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Social media users in China are speaking up against police brutality after videos over the last week documented instances of authorities violently cracking down on individuals.

Suzhou vendor incident
United Daily News
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A video widely circulating on Weibo — China's version of Twitter — appeared to show uniformed police stomping and kicking on the head of a street vendor pinned to the ground, with another vendor pleading with them to stop. Local media reports the incident occurred in Suzhou, a city northwest of Shanghai.

Many people who were part of the crowd that gathered at the scene documented the incident on their phones. Bystanders appeared to yell at the officers, telling them not to hit the man.

According to the Economic Observer, a Chinese newspaper, the incident occurred on Wednesday when "chengguan" — local urban law enforcement largely tasked with clamping down on illegal street vendors — approached the vendors and asked them to move. The paper reports that the vendor refused, after which the officers resorted to force.

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The officers involved have been suspended and an investigation has been launched, according to multiple local media outlets.

Still, the video has sparked massive outcry on Chinese social media, with users sharply criticizing the officers. "Uniforms are for serving, not beating," wrote one. "No matter what the reason, this is too ruthless," posted another.

Videos and photos of the Suzhou beating have curiously been untouched by censors, who often clamp down on criticism of the authorities. The incident is the latest incident of social media users documenting police brutality. Posts from previous incidents over the last week have been heavily moderated on social media.

In one video, apparently taken in Guangzhou, a demonstrator protesting against a mandated lockdown in his district appears to be pinned down by police wearing PPE, yelling "I can't breathe," as bystanders berate law enforcement for their conduct. Posts about the incident were quickly taken down, with local media also remaining silent on the footage. Semafor has been unable to independently verify the source of the video.

Other unverified video circulating this week appears to show "chengguan" doing a sweep of an unidentified city, throwing vendors' food and products on the ground without a verbal warning, causing vendors to yell obscenities at authorities. A text overlay on the video — which was also censored on Chinese social media — refers to the authorities as "Japanese Devils," a derogatory term that compares the police to Japanese troops responsible for the Nanjing Massacre during World War II.

Title iconNotable
  • Law enforcement in China have frequently resorted to physical violence and public shaming for violating zero-COVID protocols, a New York Times analysis found. This includes spraying people who refuse to wear masks with irritants or beating people who complain about quarantine conditions.
  • Freedom House reports that protests — both digital and physical — have become more frequent under Xi Jinping's regime, with the non-governmental organization reporting at least one mass demonstration in almost every province since June.
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