The Chinese stock market has lost a third of its value over the last four weeks.
That’s almost £1.9 trillion—roughly equivalent to the value of everything Germany produces in a year.
The Chinese stock exchange is unusual in that individuals and small investors account for 85 percent of its trade.
There is now no social security in China. Health care is increasingly expensive and pensions are low.
So Chinese workers save to try and avoid poverty if they become ill or when they retire.
Their savings are equivalent to 30 percent of China’s GDP.
Bank interest rates are so low that people search for other places to invest their money.
And, until less than a month ago, stocks and shares had increased their value by 150 percent in a year.
The government encouraged people to buy shares, and many investors believed that the government was in control and shares would only go up.
People saw the profits as a gift from president Xi Jinping and called it “Uncle Xi’s bull market”.
As recently as May an editorial in the People’s Daily—the ruling Communist Party’s official paper—predicted the good times were just beginning.
It is still unclear why the bubble began to burst so dramatically on 13 June.
Perhaps some of the larger investors had decided the share prices were as high as they were going to go.
But the result is that up to one in ten adults in China have had their savings wiped out.
Even worse off are those who borrowed to buy shares and now hold a debt they cannot pay back.
This is a political crisis for the ruling elite, which is why it has done everything it can to stop shares falling.
More than 90 percent of Chinese stock had been suspended by the end of 7 July to block further losses, according to the Economist magazine.
The government has also pumped vast sums of money into the system.
It has banned negative talk about the stock exchange from TV and radio.
The real fear for China’s leaders is how this crisis will interact with a rising level of resistance that has grown over the last few years.
Already this year there have nearly been as many strikes as in the whole of 2014, the China Digital Times newspaper reports.
At the end of June up to 40,000 people demonstrated for five days in Jinshan, a suburb of Shanghai, against proposals to build a PX chemical factory.
This protest echoes demonstrations in the cities of Kunming, Dalian and Xiamen.
In each of these earlier cases the local government backed down and withdrew planning permission.
But demonstrations and strikes have not targeted the national government. People strike against multinationals such as Yue Yuen, Foxconn or local companies.
A recent teachers’ strike spread to several cities, but targeted the provincial government.
Even anger at pollution is usually focused on private firms or the local Communist Party bureaucracy.
But the very nature of this crisis means the anger of millions will be directed at the national government in Beijing.
And that has the potential to take the struggle to a whole new level.
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