Even by the rough-and-tumble standards of China’s stock market, it was a chaotic 29 minutes.

With share prices going into free fall almost as soon as local exchanges opened, market gurus at Huaxi Securities Co. were at a loss to explain why. One manager of $46-million in Shanghai liquidated all his holdings. Other investors, including a top-performing hedge fund, tried in vain to cash out as circuit breakers brought trading to an abrupt halt.

By 9:59 a.m. local time it was all over – except that it wasn’t. Next came a torrent of calls from angry clients upset by the carnage in a week that’s seen two abbreviated trading sessions and a 12 per cent tumble in the benchmark CSI 300 Index. And it’s only January 7th.

“We are dealing with a flood of angry phone calls from clients complaining about the market plunge and the circuit breaker,” said Wei Wei, an analyst at Huaxi Securities in Shanghai. “We are also feeling at a loss and confused today as we didn’t quite figure out what was going on in the market,” he said.

There’s certainly an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to this week’s selloff, which has radiated across global equity markets and rattled investor confidence in the world’s second-largest economy. It’s not as if China’s growth story is over. True, the yuan is weakening and the economy is decelerating to its slowest annual pace since 1990, but that’s been known for some time. The currency is actually holding up well versus just about everything but the dollar, and analysts are predicting a 6.5 per cent economic expansion this year.

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