Over 6,000 disgruntled seniors refused to leave the Great Hall of the People Saturday for 14 hours after a planned choral competition descended into chaos.
Participants accused the organizers, Shengshi Huange, which claims an affiliation to the Ministry of Culture, of failing to provide them with promised services and demanded compensation.
More than 200 teams of seniors had traveled from all over the nation to take part in The Second Session of the Chinese Middle- and Old-Aged Art Performance, a song and dance competition, allegedly to be performed in front of China's leaders.
Dai Cheng, director of Changzhou Chorus from Jiangsu Province, said three of his choir fainted and one with liver cancer was rushed to hospital during the turmoil, which lasted from Saturday afternoon to 5 am Sunday.
"We only had water, and our demand for food was turned down because the organizer said food can't be brought into the Great Hall," said Dai, whose chorus has 130 members aged from 70-80.
"We came to perform for our national leaders. I've spent lots of time and energy preparing for this," said Dai.
Beijing-based Shengshi Huange, a cultural event organizer for seniors, had charged each participant 2,000 yuan ($321), which included accommodation, entrance to the Great Hall, and a sightseeing tour of Beijing.
It was when the tour failed to materialize that things turned ugly, said Dai.
"We got up at 5 am Saturday, but were kept waiting in the hotel until lunchtime before going to the Great Hall," said Dai.
When his choir arrived, they found many other groups were arguing with representatives of Shengshi about a refund for the non-existing tour and other grievances, including complaints about the hotels and food, said Dai.
"The feeling of being cheated over the tour and dissatisfaction with the food and accommodation were the main causes of the incident," said Dai.
Those in the hall were finally refunded the 2,000 yuan at 5 am, said Dai. Although his team has returned home, Dai has stayed in Beijing to fight for a refund of travel fees and money for mental trauma.
A woman surnamed Liu, who was invited by Changzhou Chorus to watch the event, said the participants' fury was justified. Liu first posted on her Sina microblog of a "farce" at the Great Hall on Saturday evening, alleging a company had used the name of the Ministry of Culture to cheat these groups.
"The event was scheduled in the dining hall, not the concert hall. It's not big enough as some groups have over 130 people," she told the Global Times.
"They all came hoping to see our national leaders, as promised by the organizer. You can imagine how excited these people were, so they were very disappointed when they found out they couldn't see them," said Liu.
Zhong Qishun said she came with a dance team from Kuitun, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, and the team had received financial backing from the local government to attend.
"But we can't see the leaders this time, we have no face to go back home now," said Zhong, adding she was convinced Shengshi Huange was connected to the Ministry of Culture.
Both Zhong and Dai said that in their invitation letter from Shengshi, the official seal of the Arts Service Center with the China Ministry of Culture and its title can be seen.
An anonymous member of staff from the Great Hall told the Global Times Sunday that he was unclear about the events on Saturday night.
But he said that they will not check a company's credentials even if it arranges a performance in the Great Hall.
"We only need an official letter from the Ministry of Culture or the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee to authorize a company to host a performance here," he said.
Representatives of Shengshi Huange refused to talk about the chaos at the Great Hall, while the Ministry of Culture could not be reached Sunday.