Shandong protests erupted when veterans discovered their identities – and benefits – had been stolen by government officials. Violence and arrests followed.
Frequent mass protests of veterans broke out across China in 2018, following on similar demonstrations in 2016 and 2017.
In October 2016, more than one thousand veterans dressed in camouflage uniforms are reported to have protested outside the Bayi Building of the Ministry of National Defense in the city center of Beijing for a sit-in protest. In February 2017, thousands of veterans gathered again and protested in central Beijing outside the building of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection to demand the government pay promised retirement benefits. During the summer, there were further mass protests in Jiangsu near Shanghai.
China set up a Ministry of Veterans Affairs in March 2018, to provide better management of demobilized troops. By the summer of 2018, government officials were urging veterans to “obey the law,” to avoid mass protests, and to lodge individual complaints “rationally.” The Veterans Minister, Sun Shaocheng, reported in July that almost 20,000 individual complaints had been submitted through the Ministry’s official petition system.
In October, police sealed off the city of Pingdu in China’s eastern Shandong Province after thousands of veterans converged there to protest the beating of other veterans by police in earlier incidents. Radio Free Asia reports that the scene was dramatic, with lines of police dressed in full riot gear facing off against elderly men carrying sticks and banners with Communist symbols on them. Many protesters were reportedly beaten again, with footage showing elderly men lying on hospital gurneys waiting for treatment.
Jobs promised to veterans never materialize
What is sparking these dramatic and apparently escalating protests by patriotic veterans and corresponding crackdowns by police? In addition to issues of back pay and missing pension benefits, many veterans are not getting the jobs they were promised, and many believe that official corruption is to blame. A veteran from Pingdu city reported to Bitter Winter his suspicions that veterans’ discharge papers were fraudulently used.
Typically, military personnel are granted jobs in state-run institutions after they leave the military. In this case, however, the positions intended for veterans were filled by imposters – they took the jobs using the veterans’ discharge papers to get hired. After learning this, the veterans tried to seek an explanation from the Pingdu government, but multiple roadblocks were put in their way.
Public corruption to blame?
Luan Jianjun, a 49-year-old man from Pingdu, joined the army in 1988, and was transferred to civilian work in 1999. Mr. Luan’s discharge files included the instruction, “Arrange work at a public institution.” He took his file to the county employment committee and submitted a work application, but he did not receive any response for more than a year. When he enquired into the matter, personnel from the county committee said that his file had been lost and they could not arrange work for him. On his own initiative, Mr. Luan was arranged to work as a consigner at an enterprise, Pingdu Brewery, with a monthly salary of about 2,300 RMB (about $340).
Once when taking a bus, Mr. Luan was asked to show his military discharge certificate. The bus driver informed the surprised veteran that he had seen at least three people using the same document. It was only then that Mr. Luan realized his papers had been used by impersonators to get the benefits he was entitled to. Understandably, he was angry. He said that no one else knew his military discharge certificate number. The only other place the number was recorded was in his official file. Government officials must have violated his privacy and broken the law by accessing his documents and using them for personal gain.
Mr. Luan went to the Pingdu government several times to investigate, but he was told repeatedly that his file had been lost.
A veteran who requested anonymity explained, “Five percent of retired volunteer soldiers, and senior non-commission officers and above, are entitled to placements in state-owned or centrally-managed enterprises (joint ventures with private companies). The other 95 percent must go to public institutions such as education, health, and media bodies.” According to him, the files of a lot of these veterans were fraudulently used, all across China.
Jobs in state-owned or centrally-managed enterprises and public institutions have some of the best pay and benefits in the country, so they are highly sought after.
Luan Jianjun made several attempts to remedy his situation. He went to Beijing to petition twice – in April and June 2018 – but to no avail.
On Thursday, October 4, 2018, Mr. Luan made a third attempt. He and 37 other veterans set out for Beijing again. When passing through Dongying city, they were intercepted by a group of police officers and gangsters led by Guo Haoli, the deputy director of the Pingdu Municipal Public Security Bureau. When the veterans refused to turn back, they were physically assaulted. One veteran suffered a broken leg, one’s arm was broken, and another was wounded in the head.
Upon seeing this, Mr. Luan alerted other veterans in Pingdu for help. Veterans began streaming into Pingdu to support their former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colleagues. Police began to try to close off access to the city, blocking expressways, setting up checkpoints, and using facial recognition to identify protestors from other cities. But veterans continued to make their way into the city throughout the weekend and into Monday, October 8. Many veterans were injured, and Mr. Luan suffered a concussion and bruises on his neck and legs.
“The government showed a complete disregard for veterans’ lives. They wouldn’t let them receive timely treatment at the People’s Hospital,” a source told the reporter.
Seventeen leaders of the veterans’ protest were arrested. On October 8, Mr. Luan was also taken into custody, and there was no word about his situation for a long time. Not until two months later did a source reveal that he and three fellow veterans were being detained at a horticultural farm in Pingdu. Other veterans were held separately at Xiguan Primary School and the Olympic Sports Center in Pingdu. Their current situation is unknown.
Veterans’ families punished
The authorities took steps to punish the veterans’ families as well. Mr. Luan’s wife was taken into custody for a time. During her detention, neighbors tried to take care of their son, but were chased away by surveillance personnel. After his wife was released, Mr. Luan’s parents came to his home to stay with his son and her. According to witnesses, the CCP installed 360-degree surveillance cameras around his home. Two vehicles were stationed outside his apartment building to conduct around-the-clock monitoring so that no one could be in contact with them. “They are in fact under house arrest,” one witness said.
Mr. Luan’s son is currently in high school. Every day, when he goes to school and back, he is photographed by those monitoring his home. “I don’t want to go to school. Going out is too scary,” he said.
Since the outbreak of veterans’ protests, Chinese media have rarely reported on the matter. On December 9, the CCP mouthpiece China Central Television (CCTV) aired a high-profile report on the protests, characterizing the incident as “serious violent crime.” They reported that criminal measures were imposed against ten of the veterans on suspicion of “obstruction of official duties,” “intentional assault,” “assembling a crowd to disturb order at a public place,” “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” and other charges. (However, Luan Jianjun, Yu Youfeng, and other organizers were not among those formally charged. They were still being detained.) The CCTV news report never explained why the veterans were appealing for their rights.
“The Communist Party is so corrupt. From the highest authorities to the lowest level, they are all conspiring with each other. They have almost reached their end,” one citizen said.
Some residents also commented that violent law enforcement tactics would never gain the approval of the general population. They believe that the government should solve problems and defuse conflicts, while oppressive crackdowns will only intensify conflicts.
These events are only the latest manifestations of veterans’ rights protests that have frequently occurred throughout the country.
Liu Jun (a pseudonym), a veteran from Gaoqing county in Shandong, told Bitter Winter that in the winter of 2016, he petitioned the county government to remedy his unfair retirement treatment. As a result, he was placed under ongoing surveillance by the authorities. He said, “Since petitioning, I have been placed under close surveillance. I have to submit an application before going on a long trip, and I’m not allowed to go to Beijing. My license plate number and driver’s license number have both been registered.”
Reported by Li Mingxuan