China: Rising Incomes Lead to More Consumer Activists

As China's economy continues to grow, citizens are getting a crash course in consumer rights, as increasing personal wealth leads to a rise in commercial disputes.  One local property conflict in Beijing illustrates the growing activism of upper middle-class Chinese.

Park 1872 is one of the many high-end residential developments that are springing up all over Beijing.  Beneath the sleek exteriors is a drama familiar to many city dwellers, anger over the exorbitant price for parking. But in China, residents say they have little power to negotiate with the state-owned China Merchants Property development company.

So the disgruntled owners have banded together and hired advocate Shu Kexin to represent them.

“But in China, the public security departments have intervened in this and use their public force to interfere in the activities between the parties involved.  You saw there were so many security personnel who came to frighten ordinary people, when in reality, the people do have the right to do such things,” he said.

The security officials stormed out before the meeting started ,because they objected to the presence of China Central Television journalists, who residents had called in to report on the dispute.

“Twenty years ago, when so many police show up, it was us who would be scared," stated Shu. "Now, as soon as they saw a TV camera here, they are the ones who are afraid.”

Citizen journalism is also playing a role, as consumers use camera phones to document malfeasance, such as a recent incident when owners clashed with plainclothes thugs.  Housewife Shero Cheng, who owns a Park 1872 apartment with her entrepreneur husband, says the conflict has bonded like-minded neighbors.

“We have made friends and our kids have made friends too.  And now, when they want to go play, we can just tell them to go see this or that friend.  We feel like this is a community, not like before, when it was just individuals behind closed doors,” she said.

There is still no resolution to the parking conflict, but owners say they will continue their activism.  The neighborhood policeman acknowledges the owners have a cause, but he also reminded them that their protest tactics must follow the law.  China Merchants Property did not accept VOA's request to tell its side of the dispute.

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