Shanghaiist was interviewing housing eviction protesters at approximately 5 pm Wednesday outside the Portman Ritz-Carlton on Nanjing Lu when suddenly a scuffle broke out on the sidewalk. We rushed to see what was happening, and saw at least two young men wearing basketball jerseys shouting and running from the crowd. One had taken a camcorder from someone and proceeded to smash it to pieces on the ground, tramping on the tape.
Police stationed in the immediate area sensed the clamor and rushed over to restore order. An ambulance and several police cars were soon parked outside the west entrance of the Portman. The two youths (there might have been more, but we didn’t have a clear view) were whisked away, and those who had been injured in the fighting were ushered into either a police car or into an ambulance. The crowd became angry and quickly began assailing the police.
Several unidentified men began unfurling banners of white cloth on which they had written statements. There were several of these banners and each of them said something different, but their gist was the same — they condemned the alleged use of hired thugs by a certain businesswoman to physically intimidate and harass the employees of a rival business.
How did this all come to pass? According to some of the employees of the besieged business, their Taiwanese boss and the Shanghainese businesswoman — the one they claim hired thugs — were former co-workers, using the land near the Portman to run several businesses (hotels and restaurants, including Xiao Nan Guo 小南国, a popular chain restaurant in Shanghai).
According to one employee, the Taiwanese boss and the Shanghainese boss terminated their business relationship about a year ago, and in the interim, the Taiwanese owned businesses by the Portman did quite well, and the Shanghainese boss, envious of this success, wanted control of both the property and the businesses. However, as the Taiwanese boss was unwilling to sell or re-partner, the situation stalemated, until the Shanghainese boss decided that the only method they could use was physical intimidation — an illegal means, no doubt, but not one that the powerful in China have shied away from.
And so the current chain of events began: According to the employees of the Taiwanese owned business (Shanghaiist was unable to ascertain the name of the business or businesses in question), hired thugs came to their building on August 15 with metal batons and threatened the night shift workers, eventually forcing them all out of the building. They then proceeded to occupy the building for three days. This afternoon, several employees of the Taiwanese business, including the son of the Taiwanese boss, came back to this area, armed with camcorders. A scuffle broke out, with the hired thugs proceeding to attack those with video cameras.
After the banners were unfurled, an angry man (possibly from the Taiwanese business) proceeded to call people to walk into the middle of the street, on the crosswalk that leads from the Portman to the Exhibition Hall across the street. Traffic stopped, and police soon began trying to forcibly remove the protesting employees of the Taiwanese-owned business and whoever else was in the middle of the street. This led to several minutes of pushing and shoving and shouts of police brutality from onlookers. Soon most of the people were cleared from the streets, with some of the employees of the Taiwanese business retreating to the Exhibition Hall side of the road, where they continued to negotiate with the police.
Shanghaiist was visibly confused by this sudden turn of events, and asked people what was going on. The housing eviction protesters, many of whom remained in the area to look on, began shouting, “The police are hooligans!” (“警察流氓!”), making the situation even more tense. Employees of the Taiwanese business and the housing eviction protesters began explaining what had just happened, and when Shanghaiist expressed disbelief that such events could occur in broad daylight the people around him cynically replied, “That’s Chinese society for you,” and the housing eviction protesters went on to connect this conflict with their forcible evictions, stating that, “These people are used to taking things by force,” and, “This society is completely lawless” (“这个社会没有公理”).
What is worth noting about this is that the person being accused of hiring thugs belongs to the highest echelons of power in the city. The banners named names. Shanghaiist will not. We had not previously heard of the bad blood between these two businesses. After the situation had calmed down somewhat, housing eviction protesters and people involved with the Taiwanese business proceeded to sign their names on a large piece of paper, saying that anyone who had witnessed the violence and was willing to testify ought to sign their name. One man in the crowd said, “Don’t worry, we’ll all sign it, anyone who has a sense of justice（正义感）will sign it.”
Shanghaiist, however, had seen enough for one day and subsequently left the scene. We will post more updates as information becomes available. More photos can be viewed here.