BEIJING (AP) — Commercial life in a city in northern China was returning to normal Thursday after a mass business shutdown sparked by fears that police were about to launch a blitz of health, safety and anti-piracy inspections aimed at filling city coffers with fine payments.
The huge number of shuttered restaurants and stores left Shenyang feeling like a ghost town earlier this week and underscored public cynicism over China's sporadic health and safety enforcement and anger over official corruption.
The official China Daily newspaper reported Wednesday that rumors had been swirling for a month that police were about to launch the fine-writing campaign. It said the mass shutdown had left residents grumbling that they had no place to shop for essentials.
The panic forced the Shenyang government to post notices on its official microblog site late Tuesday telling businesses that rumors of high fines and surprise inspections were false and urging them to reopen.
Caixin Online, another Chinese publication, reported that the alleged campaign was said to be aimed at padding the city budget in preparation for hosting the National Games next year. It said Shenyang needed to boost its budgetary revenue by 15 percent from last year — a challenge considering China's slowing economic growth.
Caixin quoted a restaurant owner as saying people believed they could face a 10,000 yuan ($1,600) fine if inspectors found flies in their shops. The Global Times newspaper reported that rumors were circulating online about 5,000 yuan ($800) fines for Shenyang restaurants that gave out single-use wooden chopsticks without a lumber license.
An employee who answered the phone at the Mengliya Spa in Shenyang's Heping district said they had just reopened after three days.
"We closed for three days beginning Monday," said the woman who would only give her surname Jiang. "They were cracking down on counterfeit goods. We heard they stopped the campaign, so we reopened."
The Laocheng Yiguo Restaurant also closed its doors as a precaution Tuesday, said a female employee surnamed Wei. She said they reopened after seeing an official notice denying any abnormal inspections in the Shenyang Evening News.