Kong Qingquan is reading his morning paper. His attention is drawn to only one story – a story that even China’s state controlled media is struggling to play down.
“Shanghai Composite drops 8.49 per cent. The biggest loss in the past six years.”
Not the snappiest of headlines, but a fair summary of what they are calling China’s “Black Monday”. The following day was more like Tainted Tuesday, as the share slide continued.
Quan began buying shares two years ago and has used all of his savings – some $20,000.
Today the shares he holds are worth 70 percent less than they were in June, when the market began to fall.
“I already put all my savings into the stock market. What I can do now is just waiting for the index to come back. I won’t buy or sell at this stage, just keep watching it,” he told Al Jazeera.
Up until recently the Shanghai Stock market had been the bourse that just kept giving.
Quan runs two stalls in Tongshuangli Market in East Beijing. He makes around $700 a month, but without the money he made from his shares he worries about the future. Even if he wanted to sell what’s left of his share portfolio, he can’t.
Mainland shares are only allowed to rise or fall by 10 percent each day. So all he can do is hope for recovery.
It’s 9:30am, the moment the market opens.
Quan is suddenly distracted as he reaches for his mobile phone to check the opening prices. Yet for a man who has lost so much he remains remarkably sanguine. That’s because he and millions of investors like him have no choice.
This bustling market is a good place to test the economic temperature and ponder whether President Xi Jinxing’s China Dream has had a hole punched in it.
Everyone we spoke to here seemed to be on message. They still believe the dream is very much alive.
“The China Dream is our goal,” says one shopper. “That goal will be definitely achieved. If not, our country will go backwards. People’s lives are still getting better day by day.”
Another tells me, “Most people believe that the China Dream should come true. China is such a big and strong country. Only a few people doubt it.”
They know that their government engineered a recovery before, in 2008, following the global economic downturn. They have faith it will do so again.
But it will probably be too late for Li Xiaohuan. He is getting ready to close the restaurant he only opened a year and a half ago. The dip in takings began two months ago, when the stock market turmoil began. He complains that people aren’t eating out as much as they used to.
“My business is not doing well, mainly because the stock market is falling,” he tells me. “Many companies in this area have gone bankrupt, many regular customers have stopped coming.”
It’s an anxious time. Not everyone wants to talk. Close to Li’s restaurant is a trading house popular with pensioners, many of whom were encouraged by the government to buy shares. But we are not welcome here.
A woman, after learning that I am British, yells at me. “Your Queen, your people are responsible for this.”
Many people blame foreigners for manipulating China’s stock market, even though they are barred from buying or trading shares.
One 87-year-old lady does reluctantly agree to talk to me. “I don’t dare to calculate how much I lost,” she says. “The market keeps falling. Yesterday I lost ten percent and today another ten percent. It is getting worse and worse. I don’t know when this could end.”
Off camera one man tells me “we dare not say the truth”.
The stock market IS a sensitive issue right now. Before we left officials demanded to see our pictures, ordering us to delete images before they returned our identity cards.