On the day Apple (s AAPL) was set to sell the iPhone 4S for the first time in China, huge crowds gathered outside the Shanghai and Beijing stores and became so unruly Apple had to close the stores and SWAT teams were called in.
We mentioned the long lines on Thursday, and you can see from the pictures that there was likely going to be a supply problem compared to the sheer number of people who showed up to buy phones. It turns out a large percentage of those who showed up were resellers who were paid to stand in line to buy their maximum two iPhones per person in order to “resell the phones right in front of the store at a hefty premium,” according to Chinese gadget blog M.I.C. Gadget.
According to eyewitness reports, fights broke out at Sanlitun among rival gangs of 30 to 50 ‘yellow bulls’ — migrant workers bused in by resellers and promised 120 yuan ($19) and a food allowance to stand in line. After waiting as much as 12 hours in temperatures that fell to -9°C, they were understandably angry when all they got for their trouble was their 10-yuan food allowance.
The Chinese blog M.I.C. Gadget reports that when an unidentified man with a bullhorn announced that the sale had been cancelled, the crowd chanted ‘Open the door!’ and ‘Liars!’ and began pelting the store with eggs.
According to reports, the Beijing store was supposed to open at 7 a.m. After some fights had broken out prior to that, Apple delayed the opening. That made the crowds angrier, and the raw eggs were hurled once the store decided to remain closed and not sell the phones. Pictures from the scene show that SWAT teams were called in to disperse the unruly crowd. Apple then decided to close its four other stores in China for the day.
It is still possible to buy the iPhone 4S in China, just not in a store for the time being. Instead Apple is pointing customers to its online store or carrier partners.
This is not the first time that violence has marred an Apple store event in China. A fight broke out at the same Beijing store when the white iPhone 4 first went on sale in May 2011.