It was at first a rumor on the internet, but now most of the major Chinese media websites are reporting. Over the weekend, about 90% of businesses in several major cities in Liaoning province, Northeast China, had shut themselves down, in what appears to be an unorganized general strike against unreasonable government inspections and fines.
The situation seems to be wide spread, affecting nearly all major cities in Liaoning, including the largest city and provincial capitol Shenyang, as well as Liaoyang, Dalian, Fushun, Tieling, Dandong, Anshan, Yingkou. Some web posts claim that rural towns have also been affected, with some townships being completely shutdown.
Of course, under the totalitarian regime, no one admits that this was/is a protest. Everyone has an excuse. Some shop owners are on vacation. Most claim they were just afraid of the snap inspections. But the effect is unmistakable. The city of Shenyang is now a ghost town, with nearly all commercial activities halted.
More after the fold.
Here is my previous diary about this, which included a video shot by someone in Liaoyang over the weekend and posted online:
And here are some photos of the streets of Shenyang:
Those who can read Chinese can read the report by BBC Chinese.
Apparently the shop closing has been going on for at least two weeks. One report that appeared today on a Chinese website enumerated the history of this protest. It says that on July 13, "some of the" shops in northeast Shenyang shut down, but the next day nearly 90% of the shops reopened. Then on July 14, 80% of the northeast market shops shutdown (you have to forgive the logical inconsistencies in these reports. The reporters probably were trying to tell you something by hiding it cleverly), and 95% of the businesses in several wholesale markets shutdown. Most electronics stores have been closed for half a month.
Massive business shutdown started in another city Anshan on July 31. And on August 1 shops in Dandong city also shut themselves down.
The government response is inept and strange. They have mobilized the police to go to the businesses and try to convince the people to open. Here is an announcement by the Bureau of Public Safety:
Basically it pronounces that all businesses must be open by 3pm Sunday, and asked police officers to report back to the headquarters on the progress they make in persuading businesses, but provided no plan for what would happen if the businesses do not open (and of course they didn't).
Some details about people's grievances are getting circulated on Chinese internet. Earlier this year, the local government initiated a campaign to root out counterfeit products. It was a joint action by 8 (or 9, it's not clear how many) government agencies, including tax, health inspection, trade, safety, etc. And here are some of the (unverified) tales told by people:
1. In one case, a retailer selling toothpicks was asked to show that he had a license for cutting down trees. Of course he didn't, and so he was fined 5,000 yuan.
2. Four shop attendants were discovered to not have health certificates, and each were fined 2,000 yuan. That number could well be their two or three months pay.
3. A barber shop was fined 20,000 yuan due to some hair found on a comb.
4. A restaurant had all paperworks ready for the inspection, but was fined 20,000 yuan for a fly found by the inspectors.
5. Another restaurant had all paperworks and was clean, but was fined 20,000 yuan because its stove was too close to the propane tank.
6. Some of the larger supermarkets were fined hundreds of thousand yuan. A steel dealer was fined over a million yuan.
American fast food restaurants such as McDonalds and KFC are not joining in the shutdown, and they are doing brisk business at the moment, since people have nowhere else to go to eat. They cannot even cook at home because vegetable and meat markets are all closed. Many people also do not believe that the shutdown was merely to avoid snap inspections, since apparently even the realters have also shut their businesses.
An unrelated massive business shutdown also occurred one or two weeks ago in eastern Guangdong province in southern China, in the city of Chaoshan. The information is sketchy. There were some vague references to it by some Chinese bloggers, without any detail whatsoever, and then there was a single Chinese newspaper article proclaiming that the actions by local businesses in Chaoshan were not protests but merely to avoid inspections.