READ THIS: Volunteer in China: “I was not in fact attacked by a mob”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated. Details after the jump.
Here’s an email we received from a volunteer teacher from an Ivy League university volunteer programme in Hunan Province (who shall remain unnamed to protect the identities of everyone involved) — a chilling account of an attack on his colleague by an anti-Carrefour mob in Zhuzhou. The matter has been brought to the attention of the US Embassy in Beijing and should serve as a warning to all Caucasian readers, particularly those living in second-tier cities, to avoid large crowd gatherings at all costs during these crazy, crazy times. Our foreign correspondent friends in Shanghai and Beijing have been receiving death threats on their mobile phones and through their faxes, but clearly, this is something else:
Last night [Editor’s note: Sunday, Apr 20] around 7pm my friend was attacked by a mob of about 150 people outside the Carrefour in Zhuzhou, Hunan (near his placement site). When leaving Carrefour some of the crowd started shouting at him and he tried to say he didn’t have anything to do with the Olympics, but 3 men started to push him and then he was hit in the back of the head at least 3 times. He started to run, and the mob chased him. He jumped into a cab, but the mob surrounded the car and started shaking and rocking it. The cab driver was shouting at him to get out. Then they started hitting the car. The crowd was shouting “kill him! kill the Frenchman.” He called the Field Director while in the back of the car. The cab driver abandon the car when he saw police coming. Two police made there way though the mob and managed to drive the cab away. The Field Director alerted [a certain public official]. The police got him another cab and he took it from Zhuzhou to the field director’s home in Changsha. He spending the night here in Changsha and is likely leaving China as soon as possible.
[My colleague] is only 22, an American (not French), and a volunteer teacher. He graduated from [university] less than 10 months ago. If he can be attacked anyone can be. The situation in central china is becoming much worse very quickly. He has been cut up pretty badly by the glass and the people trying to grab him.
I didn’t think the situation and protests were anything to worry about before now, but if the mob had gotten him outside of the cab he could have easily been killed.
Foreigners need to be more aware that this is a real danger and MUCH more careful around the protests here in central china.
Im also sending this letter to the embassy.
People need to be more much careful.
The following letter was sent by the Field Director of the programme, to all their volunteers in China:
It goes without saying that right now is a very sensitive time in China. I wrote to you last week to avoid talking about the three ‘T’s’ and other controversial topics in China now.
By now, you’ve probably all heard about what happened last night, but before I go into details, I’m going to tell you TO AVOID PROTESTS AND PLACES WHERE PROTESTS ARE BEING HELD. This is extremely important for your own personal safety. I spoke with the US Embassy in Beijing this morning, and the officer that I spoke with told me that there have been cases in the past of protesters in China targeting innocent foreign bystanders. Despite what you may or may not think, just by going to Carrefour, you’re making a statement to say that you don’t agree with the protesters, and they can very well take that to mean that you don’t agree with China. From here on out, there is no need to put yourself into this situation. Also, if you feel that you want to go ahead and become involved in protests of a political nature, keep in mind that you’re directly violating the Conditions of Participation that you signed at the beginning of the year, specifically by getting involved in political events. We’ll call you all individually, so if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask. We’re just trying to make sure that everyone is and feels safe and that people are not put into avoidable situations.
Last night, a Zhuzhou volunteer walked into Carrefour despite the fact that there was a sizable protest going on outside. This volunteer chose not to become verbally or physically involved in the protest, but like I said before, choosing to shop at Carrefour while protests are going on is making a statement in and of itself. When the volunteer finished shopping and tried to leave the store, the protesters did not let him leave at first and a mob mentality quickly ensued. The volunteer was forced to run through the crowd to safety while a couple people threw punches at him and others were chanting and verbally threatening him. The volunteer managed to jump into a taxi and close the door, but the mob surrounded the taxi, trying to break in, tip the taxi over, and smash the windows. The police were finally able to get the volunteer to a safe place and the situation was settled, for the time being.
This situation is no joke at all. The volunteer told me that he felt extremely unsafe, and he even feared for his life at points. When I spoke with the US Embassy about this (which I suggest everyone sign up for, http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/ipr.html), they said that this incident was the first violent one in recent news involving an American citizen. However, they said that they didn’t know if it would be the last and that they urged me to talk with you all about how important it is to avoid Carrefour and protests. [Another colleague] also gave the same advice. From here on out, there is no reason that any of you should be going to Carrefour or be involved in any sort of protests. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, or if you see a large group of protesters and mobs of people, avoid the situation entirely. Also, please keep close communication with your fellow volunteers, so that in case you come across a place that you feel is not safe, let others know about it so they can avoid it.
Once again, [we] will call every one of you individually and talk about this more. Please be respectful of our advice, and try not to put yourself into a potentially dangerous situation.
Editor’s Note: Above picture is of Carrefour in Hefei (from ESWN) and not from Carrefour Zhuzhou. All names and references to the organisation in question have been removed to protect all involved.
UPDATE: The volunteer teacher who informed us of the above incident has just sent us another email, clarifying that the email he originally sent us was written at 3am, only a few hours after the incident happened, and thus “factually inaccurate in many ways”. Here’s more:
One i know of is the line “The situation in central china is becoming much worse very quickly. He has been cut up pretty badly by the glass and the people trying to grab him.”
i did not see his injuries myself and it was only from a secondary source and while his hands were cut and bruised, it does not seem nearly as bad as my email to the consul indicated. regardless the situation is still important.
My concern is that the factual inaccuracies may reflect poorly on the validity of the event itself, and i should have spoken more generally, as is the tone of the description in the later official bulletin.
We think the whole incident is no less shocking, and our original word of caution to readers still stands: Stay away from large crowd gatherings.
UPDATE 2: Oiwan Lam of Global Voices Online directs us to this thread on a BBS:
CONCERNING YESTERDAY’S CLASH AT CARREFOUR
Was anyone there live at the incident to tell us what happened? Is the middle school student alright? I am more concerned for the laowai. After being attacked by several hundred people, can he still get out of bed?
Response from Netizen 1: Yesterday the foreigner who was attacked was a foreign teacher from the US who works at our school. He was buying something at Carrefour, but ended up getting beaten so badly he was unable to teach today. All our classes today were changed to self-revision. He is a nice guy and normally quite active. I guess he will never dare come to teach in China again. Hehe. Talk more reason and use less brute force. Today, the Ministry of Education imposed a curfew on all students. Students now can’t leave school unless their parents come pick them up.
Response from Netizen 2: The name of this teacher is [removed to protect his identity], from the US, and teaching Secondary 1 students at the [school which shall remain unnamed for now]. You can ask all the Sec 1 students, now all their classes have been changed to self-revision. Everyone knows that.