Chinese get heated over capitalism

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SHENZHEN (Reuter) - Clutching wads of cash and dreaming of overnight riches, hundreds of thousands of would-be capitalists from across China engulfed the southern boom town of Shenzhen yesterday for a slim chance of playing its new stock market.

Exasperated police flailed away with electric cattle prods, bamboo canes and leather belts to try to control the huge sweat-soaked crowds that had gathered over two days outside 302 Shenzhen banks and brokerages.

Shortly before 8am, when 5 million stock market lottery tickets went on sale, wails rose outside Shenzhen's Bank of China branch as the crush of bodies churned against a barricade of steel desks blocking the main doors.

Only one in 10 of the 100 yuan (pounds 9.50) coupons going on sale yesterday will be selected by stock market officials, giving the lucky holders the chance to buy stock later this year.

Police said one person died in a crush in the Shenzhen special economic zone's Dongmen district on Saturday night and rumours circulated that a woman had been crushed to death elsewhere on the same day.

Scores of investors overcome by the 35C (95F) heat lay in heaps at every distribution site.

Hawkers were making small fortunes selling bottles of water and soda that people hurled to friends and relatives in the queue.

Local hospitals said many people had sought treatment for heat exhaustion but serious injuries were few.

'If this is what you have to do to get rich in China, then I don't want to get rich,' said Jonathan Chen, 24, a businessman from nearby Canton lured to Shenzhen by the stock fever.

'You could call this issuing stock with Chinese characteristics,' Mr Chen said of the chaos, punning on the patriarch Deng Xiaoping's call for 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. Mr Deng's slogan made possible the bold experiments with capitalism in Shenzhen and elsewhere.

One Shenzhen broker said: 'Nobody wanted this lining-up method but stock market officials prevailed. I hope we don't have to go through this again next year.'

The two-day operation that began yesterday was to sell application forms for 'A' shares, reserved for Chinese citizens, to be issued in the 1992-93 financial year.

Nationwide stock market fever has been fuelled by the meteoric rise in shares issued last year in Shenzhen and another infant bourse in Shanghai. Investors have seen returns of several hundred per cent.

(Photograph omitted)