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Siemens Sparks Refrigerator Rage
Summary:Last Sunday, an influential Chinese blogger and his supporters went to the front gate of Siemen's (China) headquarters in Beijing and began smashing refrigerators with hammers.


By Gao Chujian (高初建), senior editor and economics commentator
Economic Observer Online
Nov 21, 2011
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article:

Last Sunday, an influential Chinese blogger and his supporters went to the front gate of Siemen's (China) headquarters in Beijing and began smashing refrigerators with hammers.

The lead smasher, Luo Yonghao (罗永浩), who is probably best known for founding an influential website Bullog.cn (牛博网) that supposedly ran into issues of censorship and has since been shut down (and superseded by Bullogger.com), explained that they were attempting to persuade the German multinational electrical goods manufacturer to change its attitude in regard to how they deal with complaints about the quality of their products. The men claimed that Siemens had refused to admit that some of their products had faults and that they had ignored the complaints of consumers, they also demanded a recall of all the refrigerators that they claimed were faulty.

After the protest took place, Siemens quickly issued a statement via their official Sina Weibo account explaining that Siemens had given BSH home appliances (博西家电) the authority to produce, sell and even offer after-sales services for Siemens products in China.

Some online commentators responded to the official statement by noting how the refrigerators were labeled with the Siemens brand and consumers were encouraged to contact the "Siemens hotline," and wondering how the company could try to avoid taking responsibility for the alleged product defects? Other commentators also noted that when it comes to selling fridges, the company was happy to label them as a "Siemens refrigerators," but when problems emerged they mysteriously changed into "BSH fridges."

There are a few reasons why Luo decided to smash his Siemens fridge. Beginning in September, Luo began to complain on his Weibo account about troubles he was having with closing the door on his Siemens fridge. He first thought the problem was an isolated case, but after thousands of consumers responded to his blog claiming that they were also having similar problems, he began to suspect that a large number of this batch of Siemens refrigerators might all have the same problem.

However, according to Luo, Siemens repeatedly avoided his complaints and refused to admit their fridges had any faults.

Due to difficulties reaching an agreement, Siemens inability to provide a solution to Luo's complaint and what Luo interpreted as their lack of sincerity, he decided to take the extreme step of smashing up his fridge in front of the Siemens office in Beijing.

In China, it's often difficult for consumers to solve problems related to product quality through regular channels. There are also many other difficulties associated with the protection of consumer rights.

It's because of these difficulties that some people are forced to engage in "self-harm" (自残), to smash their own goods - this kind of situation has already taken place many times. Before this most recent incident, people already smashed luxury cars like Mercedes Benz.

Can we label such behavior as "protecting your rights through violent means" (暴力维权)?

Can we say that Chinese people are excessively bad tempered (脾气太大)?

Could such behavior shock foreigners?

All these debates are meaningless.

What the frequent occurrence of such incidents exposes is the many loopholes that exist in the current system for supervising the quality of consumer products. The incidents also makes clear the weakness of the existing Consumer Rights Protection Law (消费者权益保障法) and other related regulations, as well as displaying the helplessness of Chinese consumers who have nowhere to turn when their individual rights are violated.

These smashing incidents serve as a way in which consumers can express their anger and opposition towards arrogant manufacturers - a method of venting their pent-up frustration.

But it's not just about anger and frustration - when compared to the complexities of ordering a product recall for a faulty car model, the debate about the quality of a fridge seems pretty trivial; this was also about expressing disdain and contempt towards the manufacturer.

Think about it, how much money are a few fridges worth? Given the money that Han Han (韩寒) - one of China's most famous bloggers - paid to have his fridge trucked from Shanghai to the gate of Siemens headquarters in Beijing is more than enough to purchase a new fridge, why did Luo and his friends go to all the trouble of smashing a few refrigerators in public?

To put it simply, they simply wanted to let everyone know that they thought the Siemens brand was not reliable.

By smashing the fridges, they were also attempting to smash the Siemens brand.

It's no longer the era when the iron-clad warships and cannons produced by Krupp (克虏伯) could make Chinese people tremble in fear and trepidation. In addition, if we're start talking about home appliances such as refrigerators, China's domestic brands such as Haier, Changhong and Midea etc are more than capable when competing with foreign brands.

Given this trend, if Siemens still wants to maintain a presence in the rapidly expanding Chinese market, they should be more polite and prudent (谦恭谨慎), and treat their customers kindly. They should win the trust of consumers by offering high quality products after-sale service.

I don't understand what Siemens was thinking?

Do they really believe that by evading responsibility (推诿躲闪), avoiding the issue and turning a deaf ear, they can deal with the complaints of the long-suffering Chinese consumers?

Unfortunately for Siemens, there were a few consumers who turned to "refrigerator rage" to tell them that this is not how it works.

Who are the main characters in this "refrigerator rage" incident? They are Luo Yonghao, Zuoxiao Zuzhou (左小祖咒) and Feng Tang (冯唐).

If the people in charge of Siemens' public relations office had any wits about them, they should have known what kind of pull these three people (perhaps we should also include Han Han - although he didn't appear at the scene) have with a broad spectrum of Chinese internet users.

Though they probably won't admit themselves to being "opinion leaders" (意见领袖), and although their views and opinions on some issues may not always get unanimous public support, when all three of them took part in this fridge smashing incident, perhaps people were surprised by the amount of damage that their appeal and influence was able to inflict on the Siemens brand.

I've never been in contact with any of these three individuals and i don't know if they're normally concerned about the issue of product quality in relation to Chinese or foreign brands.

However, I can confidently say that if there were no product quality issues with Siemens refrigerators and if the company's arrogant attitude hadn't incensed the public, than these three wouldn't have come together to protest in such a way.

There's an old saying from Confucius that if walk together with two others, at least one of them will be able to teach me something that i didn't know (三人行必有我师), but I don't know whether those foreign companies who have become used to arrogantly dealing with Chinese customers will learn a lesson from the actions of Luo, Zuo and Feng.

Perhaps some people will ask whether it really should be left to the likes of Luo and other famous people like him to raise a fuss about these issues that effect China before people take notice.

But this oversimplifies the issue.

To interpret a phrase from the Chinese classic text Tao-te Ching, behind the words, actions and bearings of each individual there's a kind of "Tao" (道), that when spread widely, could perhaps represent a more common state of mind.

The most stupid mistake which Siemens has made during this trivial controversy involving a fridge door that won't shut properly, is that they underestimated how much Chinese consumers could take and overestimated their own influence as a multinational company.

We can even go so far as to say that, given the intense conflicts going on between China and the West on economic, cultural and other fronts, Siemens really ought to learn a lesson from the rage that it sparked by failing to provide a reasonable explanation to a simple question about fridge doors

The opinions expressed in this commentary are not necessarily those of The Economic Observer or its editors.

Links and Sources:
Sohu: Image
Ku6: Video of incident


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