By Oiwan Lam
Shanxinhui is a popular investment company that promotes itself as a “patriotic charity”. Despite the government crackdown, many of the company’s 5 million investors insist that Shanxinhui is a legitimate patriotic business.
Shanxinhui, which means “kindhearted exchange” in Chinese, was registered as a business in 2013 with a goal of spreading “positive” and “virtuous” culture in China. Through its online investment platform, Shanxihui offers a high return rate to individual investors, and promises donations to charitable causes and government-endorsed programs to help the poor.
Every night at 8:30 pm, Zhang Tianming has a live-streamed video section on its website for its investors, where it reports the company’s commitment to charity work and encourages members to share their kindness by inviting more people to join the investment scheme.
Authorities accuse Zhang Tianming, the founder of Shanxinhui, of defrauding “a huge amount of property” from victims “under the guise of helping the poor and achieving common wealth.”
Earlier this year, Shanxinhui was promoted and featured in a number of official media outlets including the state-owned China.com.cn, China Central Television, Hainan Television and Xinhua News. During the interviews, Zhang Tianming emphasized that the company was an innovative attempt at charity and was meant to help fulfil Chinese President Xi Jinping’s China Dream. Here is the company’s introduction:
Investors protest carrying Chinese flags
Even after China’s public security bureau explained on social media how the company made profits through a Ponzi scheme, members of the investment-cum-charity company believe the crackdown is a result of a “failed blackmailing” of the group.
More than 50,000 people, many of whom carried Chinese flags, demonstrated outside Beijing’s Dahongmen International Convention Exhibition Centre and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate on July 24 demanding the release of Zhang Tianming, the founder of Shanxinhui.
For some, the protests was a deja vu of the massive Falun Gong protests in 1999 outside Zhongnanhai. Back then, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) responded with a series of crackdowns on the religious group.
Similar to members of Falun Gong in 1999, Shanxinhui’s protesters are very loyal to the ruling CCP. Independent media outlet @iyouport posted a video showing protesters peaceful knelt down outside Dahongmen:
— iyouport (@iyouport_news) July 24, 2017
“The head of the marketing business “Shanxinhui” has been arrested. Hearsay, more than 6 million people were cheated.”
Twitter user @suxinPL talked to one of the members near the protest site:
— 小札 (@suxinPL) July 24, 2017
“This woman is a member of Shanxinhui. She was talking to onlookers near the protest site and explained to them how the authorities had abused their power. She stressed they were not protesting but petitioning. She also said that the gathering was not organized, members just spontaneous gathered at the spot where their leader was arrested illegally. Her presentation is very rational with self-restraint, with is different from the democratic political circle.”
Members of Shanxinhui believed that Zhang was arrested for rejecting “blackmail” by the Yongzhou public security bureau. Their version of the story was told in a smaller scale protest which took place in June outside the Yongzhou city government building. The protest scene was recorded by Twitter news outlet @Images from China:
善心汇上月永州市政府前抗議 事情发生在今年的6月4日，永州市公安局人员以集团涉“传销”为由向善心汇索要千万元以上的“保护费”，被董事长张天明严词拒绝。当晚， 永州市公安局经侦支队人员将集团大数据中心8名核心技术人员带走，同时被抓的还有几名会员，1.1亿元资金被以敲诈的名义冻结。 pic.twitter.com/OBe8DoMGAE
— 即时中国大陆映像✊✊✊ (@o66071443) July 22, 2017
“Shanxinhui members protested outside Yongzhou city government last month. On June 4 this year, Yongzhou public security bureau demanded Shanxinhui to give a “guarantee fee” of RMB 20 million [approximately US$ 2.97 million] as the company was under suspicion of fraud. The company’s director Zhang Tianming rejected the payment. That night, an investigation team from Yongzhou public security bureau arrested eight technical staff members from the company’s data center. A few members of the group were arrested and an over RMB 110 million [approximately US$15 million] investment fund had been suspended.”
Since 2015, a number of online peer-to-peer lending platforms have been cracked down on for involvement in financial scams. During the same period, Shanxinhui’s “charitable financing service” business was taking off quickly.
Shanxinhui’s social media presence is censored by Chinese authorities
Despite quick deletion of posts about Shanxinhui’s charity work, news and photos about the massive protests and critical comments questioning the police crackdown, Shanxinhui’s supporters keep voicing out on different news threads. Below is a selection of the group’s followers’ comments:
On the other hand, supporters of the police action criticized members of Shanxinhui for having been “brainwashed” by the group. Some even labelled the group as a religious cult similar to Falun Gong, which has been outlawed by the communist party since in 1999. Below are a selection of pro-government comments:
For those who neither stand-by Shanxinhui nor the authorities, they were critical of how the incident was handled. A netizen commented on Weibo:
Outside the great firewall, Twitter user @lichengyi pointed out that the the appropriation of patriotism for personal gain has become a rather commonly seen phenomenon in China:
— 李成义lichengyi (@WNFlSurTe5GX82V) July 27, 2017
“Shanxinhui has development into massive protests at Dahongmen in Beijing. No one could imagine that the leader of the Ponzi scheme cheated money in the name of “charity”, “party”, “state” and “people” and all the politically correct rhetoric. For me, those who keep saying that they love the country or those who change the national flag into their leader’s portrait are most likely evil people whose version of patriotism is shortsighted and twisted. The failure of our patriotic education is that we have not taught people how to love the country genuinely.”
This article originally appeared on Global Voices.