Crowds Awaiting iPhone 4S Force Delay In China, Riot

The Chinese desperately want the iPhone 4S. But the large, unruly crowd that gathered to get it at Apple’s Beijing store forced police to shut the release down, leading to a riot.

If you think that westerners behave a bit obsessively about Apple gadgets, it’s nothing in comparison to  the Chinese. Thirsting for perhaps what is now the crown jewel of pop western culture, a massive crowd queued up outside of Apple’s Beijing superstore on Friday, anticipating the official release of the iPhone 4S in China. Police decided to cancel the iPhone 4S’s release event, however, when it was determined that the crowd had grown too large to manage. The situation broke down from there, with customers hurling eggs and rebuking Apple employees as the police struggled to disperse the crowd.

Given the tension that many eager customers endured throughout the 2011 Summer, waiting in vain for the now mythic iPhone 5, it isn’t difficult to imagine how this situation could have brought would-be Chinese iPhone 4S users to the brink. But truth be told, the Chinese have a long track record of extreme behavior when it comes to Apple products, to the point where one wonders if it is quickly becoming a cultural pastime in China to behave badly in the name of a new Apple release.

Last year, the scene outside of Apple’s Beijing store was curiously similar: on the day that the iPad 2 was to be launched, a near riot was sparked when a scalper budged in line. The ensuing melee injured four and shattered one of the Apple store’s glass doors.

Just think: someone went flying through a glass window in Beijing over an iPad 2.

But China’s brinksmanship when it comes to all things Apple even extends into the macabre: there have been multiple suicides and questionable deaths at Apple’s primary components manufacturer, Foxconn, over the years. One of the most bizarre twists was when Foxconn workers — who, to wit, were working on Xboxes and not iPhones — threatened a mass suicide over a string of layoffs and pay cuts. The Washington Post reports it best: “In May 2011, Foxconn was accused of making its workers sign no-suicide contracts, and Apple issued a statement promising to improve the lives of Foxconn workers. The mass suicide was averted after Foxconn met some of the worker’s demands, but the PR damage had already been done.”

It remains to be seen when Apple will attempt another launch of the iPhone 4S in Beijing, though this story only underscores the difficulties that Apple has faced in trying to wield the lucrative yet unpredictable nature of contemporary China.

By Michael Nace


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