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 If they come see you, they will invent all kinds of excuses: outdated health equipment, or inadequate fire alarms, for instance, and they will lock you up until you pay a fine, which can go from 10,000 yuan [1,280 euros] to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.”

“Shopkeepers are convinced that the local government lacks the funds to organize the 2013 National Games”

Xu Xuan is a resident of Shenyang who commented on social networking sites about the closure of shops in his city.
Shopkeepers are convinced that the local government lacks the funds to organize the 2013 National Games, and so that it is seeking to increase revenue by any means possible. [In preparation for the games, the city of Shenyang is planning to increase its revenue by 15% relative to last year]. But personally, I think that the authorities already have many other ways to take money from people without doing it in such a direct way and in particular without declaring open season on shopkeepers. That's why these stories of exorbitant fines don't seem very realistic to me.
That said, inspections do happen several times a year, and each time shopkeepers become worried, because it is true that the police takes advantage of the situation to get some more money. However, it's the first time that so many shops are closing at the same time. Whether it is a rumour or not, I think it is very revealing about how people perceive the authorities here. They clearly do not trust them.
According to Chinese law, fines cannot exceed 200 yuan (25 euros) per person and 1,000 yuan (128 euro) per small business. If certain shopkeepers are worried about abuses of power, they can always file a claim, and they could even win.
“Closed for vacation.”

Pictures posted on social networking sites and shared online on the Ministry of Tofu's website.