A year of protests signals dissent in Xi's China

STORY: In July – a filmed protest in China went viral.

Plain-clothed officers violently broke up demonstrators outside a bank in Zhengzhou.

People wanted to know why they had lost access to their savings in a banking fraud scandal.

Entrepreneur Shi, who only gave his surname, did not protest in July, but had joined a protest two months earlier.

He said he was not able to access his savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the scandal which centred on a string of rural lenders.

"It's unbelievable, because I chose to deposit into the bank as I was risk-averse and didn't want to invest. I simply deposited it in a state-approved bank. Now the money can't be withdrawn and it's affecting me badly. I may soon have to sell my apartment, because I have no more money on hand. I can only sell my house, after which I can have at least food, drink, shelter and living expenses. Right now I feel like my world is collapsing, there are no solutions."

Vocal protests are not common in China, and the bank scuffle took place at a politically sensitive time as Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be appointed for a third term - ensuring his place as China's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

The protests are part of a broader swell of public dissent: from mortgage strikes to COVID lockdown protests, with anger also being vented online.

Some say they feel let down by the state they revered.

And the protests have persisted despite a security clampdown and fears of repercussions.

Lai Jingming, who participated in the July protest, was adamant in voicing his dissatisfaction.

"I'm scared. But I have to do it so that I can live the rest of my life with security. Otherwise, without this money the rest of my life could be worse than death. What do you think I should do? Even if I lose my life, I want to get that money back. The worst is if I die and I don't get the money back, then I would have died with regrets."

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Daniel Mattingly, said the lack of enthusiasm for political change is likely to continue.

"I think the threshold for (people to be) taking to the streets, to demand large-scale political change is pretty high. And it's hard for me to connect the dots between these pretty specific grievances about specific policies that the government can eventually sort of meet. It's hard for me to see it translating into some sort of larger political movement demanding political change."

China's Ministry of Public Security, the Henan and Anhui local governments, and relative police departments did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Chinese authorities say social stability is the foundation for a prosperous future.

They dismiss human rights complaints as Western propaganda and interference in internal affairs.