In a commercial street in Shenyang, store-owners closed up shop after hearing a rumour about inspections.
In Shenyang, in China’s Lioaning province, it has been difficult to find any shops open for business for the last three weeks. A simple rumour about a purported operation to inspect small businesses — carrying the risk of thousands of yuan in fines for infractions — has caused many shops to close up for the time being.
In Shenyang, a city of eight million in China's north-east, the commercial districts contain row after row of shuttered shops. As the city prepares to host the National Games
in 2013, local authorities had in January expressed a desire to crack down on sellers of counterfeit goods. Inspections were supposed to take place from June 15 to August 15. Three weeks ago, a rumour starting spreading among shop-owners that the authorities would impose fines that would be prohibitively expensive and unwarranted.
On Chinese social networking site Weibo
, for instance, a commentator who claims to be a shop-owner in Shenyang posted a long anonymous letter in which he lays out the ways in which the authorities have hassled shop-owners over the past few weeks. “They stop people and give them fines. All shops, without any exception, have been fined. (…) It doesn't matter if your business is above board. If they come see you, they will invent all kinds of excuses: outdated health equipment, or inadequate fire alarms, for instance, and they will lock you up until you pay a fine, which can go from 10,000 yuan [1,280 euros] to 500,000 yuan [64,000 euros].”
This letter was shared over 60,000 times. When contacted by FRANCE 24, the blogger did not want to provide more information about his sources. Shop-owners contacted by phone confirmed that they had closed their shops for several days out of fear of the high penalties they could incur.
A stroll through Shenyang where all the shops are closed. Video posted on August 6.
Local authorities responded on August 7 through Weibo, claiming that the shopkeepers were reacting to “groundless rumours” and explaining that “the relevant department [that carries out inspections] had not launched any particular inspection campaign nor imposed heavy fines.”