[Warning: This article contains graphic images.]
On the cusp of China’s handover of power at its 18th Party Congress, this is the last thing the country’s central government wants or needs. According to as-yet unverified chatter on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, a massive riot has broken out in Luzhou, a prefecture-level city of approximately 4 million people in China’s southern Sichuan province. Eyewitness accounts state that riots erupted after three police beat a driver to death in front of onlookers, perhaps following a dispute and exchange of blows between the driver and traffic police. (A short video, apparently of the immediate angry aftermath, is available here.) The amassed crowd then turned violent, overturning police cars and setting them on fire. Police responded with tear gas and the arrest of an unspecified number of people.
At present, the identity of the dead driver, the reason he fought with police, and the particular cause of citizen outrage all remain unclear. However, some clues have emerged. Beginning at around 6:40 in the evening, user @Aluo阿罗 tweeted a vivid and apparently real-time account of what @Aluo阿罗 says are rapidly-intensifying riots in the city this evening, geotagging the posts and attaching photographs shot via iPhone, some of which are posted beneath this article. In chronological order, @Aluo阿罗’s account thus far, translated by Tea Leaf Nation, reads:
“Luzhou police have beaten someone to death, causing tens of thousands of onlookers to gather ’round. …
An overturned police car…
Mother****! Three police have beaten someone to death, isn’t this the kind of thing that will make citizens angry?
JC (code for “police”)
Mother**** this is getting serious, there are more and more people.
A lot of the crowd is not calming down, they’re throwing trash at the JC, I think this is going to get worse.
Now they’re throwing rocks, this stuff is crazy.
An overturned police car.
A police car was overturned, and after that people set fire to it. Some people are adding gasoline. I’m getting out of here. [@Aluo阿罗 then appears to have moved further back but not left the scene.]
This is the first time I’ve seen the legendary tear gas [with my own eyes].
Mother**** it really is burning! I’ve got to steer clear.
The 119 [meaning police] have come to put out the fire.
Mother**** they’ve set another car aflame.
The JC has started to arrest people, I almost got grabbed but luckily I ran fast.
They’ve set three more police cars on fire, sounds of explosion are everywhere, I need to stay out of harm’s way.
There’s more fire and bigger flames, it’s really scary, there’s thick smoke and the pungent smell of burning rubber everywhere.
The scene is a mess.
The driver who was beaten to death is still at the scene.”
A photo of that driver then followed:
Other users claiming to be on the scene have chimed in as well. One wrote that angry protesters did not permit the police to remove the corpse from the scene. Another confirmed the violence, writing that Luzhou would “soon be famous.” Another user had this vivid account:
“I just got home … There’s still rioting outside. My mom said it’s gotten very aggressive, she said she saw with her own eyes police being chased from the scene, with their riot helmets falling off. Some girls picked up the riot helmets and used them to smash cars. I heard what sounded like gunshots, perhaps they were warning shots from the police.” One can only hope they were merely warnings.
Netizens are eagerly commenting even as reports continue to trickle in, many but not all via @Aluo阿罗‘s account. Some have taken a witty tack, with one writing, “Poor 18th Party Congress!” while another asked, “Are you happy?” in a dig at recent government efforts to showcase its emphasis on citizen happiness.
Other commenters focused on the location. One sighed, “Sichuan again”–citizen protests famously broke out just three months ago in Shifang, another city in Sichuan, in opposition to a planned molybdenum copper plant there. Another cautioned, “Luzhou people are tough, and they don’t tolerate violence well.” Tea Leaf Nation will continue to monitor this situation closely.
Thanks to TLN Editor Rachel for assistance with research.