For employees of the Guangdong No. 2 Construction Company's branch office in Shantou, going to work is an adventure. That's because every weekday morning, they run a gauntlet of angry creditors - most of them elderly - camped on the company's doorstep. The creditors represent 8,000 to 9,000 people from whom Guangdong No. 2 Construction - a company under the Guangdong provincial Government - solicited deposits amounting to 180 million yuan (HK$101 million) in the mid- and late 1990s. Strapped for cash, in part because it was not paid for work on the local Government, Party Committee and People's Congress buildings, Guangdong No. 2 Construction conducted an illegal sideline banking business in which it promised depositors annual interest as high as 20 per cent. That interest was never paid and for the past four years, depositors have been clamouring - without success - to get their principal back as well. 'Guangdong No. 2 Construction had no capital so they had to borrow it. But they haven't given us back our principal or any interest. The company isn't bankrupt. We don't know what happened to our money,' said Chen Zuoxie, 65, a former shipyard technician who entrusted his life savings - 100,000 yuan - to Guangdong No. 2 Construction. 'We need this money to survive,' added Chen Xiude, 61, who until his retirement worked as an interior finisher for Guangdong No. 2 Construction. He and his daughter gave 26,000 yuan to the company. Besides hectoring company officials, Chen Zuoxie, Chen Xiude and their fellow depositors have also taken it upon themselves to redecorate Guangdong No. 2 Construction's office building. The company's ground-floor entrance is covered with graffiti alleging the company has, among other things, 'embezzled our life savings'. Posters, petitions, banners and open letters to the public, company officials and senior Shantou government officials are on display everywhere. According to depositors, a four-year repayment plan was approved by Guangdong No. 2 Construction, the Shantou municipal Government and the Shantou Party Committee on October 16, 1998. But so far, they have received only 18 per cent of what they are owed. On February 19 this year, Guangdong No. 2 Construction proposed a new, six-year repayment scheme. But the depositors on its doorstep say they will not accept it. Many of the depositors' claims are complicated by the fact they lent money to the company through third parties and therefore do not have any receipts. This is because, in a vain attempt to minimise the illegality of its fund-raising operation, Guangdong No. 2 Construction initially raised money from its own workers in what it described as an 'internal borrowing' scheme. The company later encouraged its workers to recruit funds from their friends and families. But to maintain appearances, money recruited from non-employees was funnelled through employee accounts. As a result, Chen Xiude, the former employee of Guangdong No. 2 Construction, has a 'Wage Deposit Book' detailing his deposits and withdrawals. But Chen Zuoxie, the former shipyard technician, has no such book. For evidence of his claim he must rely on the honesty of a friend and ex-company employee through whom he transferred the money. For this and other reasons, including the company's close ties with senior officials in the Shantou and Guangdong governments, lawyers have refused to take the depositors' case, saying a lawsuit would probably fail. Guangdong No. 2 Construction's creditors have made countless appeals to company executives - including general manager Xu Junmin and party secretary Hu Guangxuan - and senior Shantou Government officials. A notice posted outside Guangdong No. 2 Construction's office building dated November 29, 2001, urges depositors to march on Shantou government headquarters every Wednesday. But they say their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Company officials declined to discuss the matter and police briefly detained a reporter when he tried to interview the depositors, sparking a shouting and shoving match between police and depositors. Last week, Shantou mayor Li Chunhong accepted a petition from the depositors and said the Shantou and Guangdong governments were working to resolve the matter. 'A five-year repayment plan has been worked out for the company's depositors,' he said. 'I recently met [general manager Xu Junmin], who said Guangdong No. 2 Construction would pay back some of the money before Chinese New Year. Only a few of the depositors disagree with the plan because they think the repayment period is too long.'