As an anthropologist, March 15th has always been one of my favorite holidays in China. It’s International Consumer Rights Day/ 国际消费者权益日, the day when there are tables set up in public for consumers to learn more about their rights, the streets are festooned with red banners encouraging citizens to envision themselves as consumers, and the media is full of gruesome, horrific, tragic stories of consumption gone wrong. For one day everyone in China focuses on the widespread effects of the unregulated greed and economic desperation that fuels shoddy manufacturing, counterfeit products, lies in advertising. All in the name of creating a better kind of Chinese consumption and a Chinese consumer class (if you can call it that) that can exercise rights (if you can call them that) and is actually encouraged to demand that its rights be attended to. These rights are the rights that can be expressed, pressed, and propagated. Meanwhile, other rights are seen as unjustified.
The 315 post opens with the following (rough translation as always):
As 3.15 draws near, the main subject of 2008 3.15 International Consumer Rights Day has already been set, namely, consumption and responsibility. It is the responsibility of our whole society to protect the rights and benefits of consumers, and all concerned parties should together strive to do the work of standing up for consumer rights, improving the consumption environment, and pushing for faster, better economic and social development.
In the past few years the home furnishing market has been hot and there are many impressive signs and billboards with slogans such as “China’s famous brand furnishings,” or “Furniture products exempt from [tax?],” all of which bedazzle consumers. As another Consumer Rights Day arrives, why don’t we all describe our experiences from remodeling and buying furniture in the past year?
Speak out freely, net-friends, use our own strength to protect our rights and interests.
And yet, consumer rights do spill over into other kinds of rights, especially when they are the only rights game in town. One netizen shared the following experience:
It’s another 3.15, and again one thinks of standing up for the rights of the common people. Actually, standing up for commercial rights is relatively easy but there are some kinds of rights that the common people don’t even have anywhere to go to discuss! For instance, Kunshan, Zhou Village officials and the common people have been playing a cat and mouse game. At present our economies are developing quickly and there’s an endless stream of illegal buildings. Zhou Village called for a halt to all private buildings. But if there’s demand there will be illegal building! You would build, they would take it down, and there wasn’t anything more to say about it. But then it turns out that some are out of the ordinary and can’t be taken down! The reason, officials say, is that before a certain date it didn’t count as an illegal building! Then the people build more and they take them down again but there are always those that don’t get taken down and the officials once again say that before such-and-such a date they don’t count as illegal. It’s made it impossible for the local cadres to know what to say to the people. The work can’t be done and there are all these illegal buildings. The officials up above say: get rid of them! The local officials never agreed with the this way of doing things anyhow so they say they’ve got nobody to do it. The officials say: get rid of them! We have money, we’ll call up a truckful of migrant workers and level a couple of small potatos’ buildings.
Those who are in official positions are really disappointing us these days! Those illegal buildings mostly belong to low-income people, and some of the cadres don’t do things in the interest of the people but just according to their own purposes. How can we establish a harmonious society with these kinds of officials?