But production almost halted in mid-December, as local authorities switched off the lights.
Ma Hero, who works for a manufacturer of paper decorations for Christmas and New Year, said his factory is struggling to meet demand because they are only allowed to work half a day. He said, “We have a lot of requests, but we don’t have enough time to issue them.”
Officials in China’s Zhejiang Province are racing to meet five-year energy consumption targets set by the central government that are due to end on Dec. 31. Earlier this month, local directives instructed companies to turn off elevators below the third floor and only use heating when outside temperatures drop below 3 ° C (37 ° F).
There is no shortage of electricity [in Zhejiang]. Zhao Qinxin, secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission, said on Monday that some places in the province have themselves adopted measures to restrict electricity use to save energy and reduce emissions.
The drive to cut energy use has disrupted millions of lives. In Yiwu, a city of one million people, heating in offices, shopping malls, schools and hospitals has been switched off, despite daytime temperatures hitting around 10 ° C (50 ° F).
The sudden cut in electricity consumption in Zhejiang Province highlights the strength and dangers of the Chinese political system. While the Communist Party can make ambitious promises to cut carbon emissions, vigorous implementation of the goals could be at the expense of the people who are supposed to ultimately benefit from them.
‘A difficult year’
Some accused the Yiwu government of sacrificing public safety to tick a square on a political report card.
In the wake of the internet backlash, officials have restored some of the limelight. “The lights were turned off for only a few days,” the government hotline operator told CNN on Wednesday. “Most of them are now on.”
However, other restrictions remain. Yin Mingfei, a coffee shop manager in a shopping mall in the city’s central business district, said the heating had been turned off for about two weeks, and the electronic billboards and escalators did not work.
Factories and workshops in the city, whose businesses have already suffered from the coronavirus pandemic, earlier this year, were ordered to reduce or halt production as orders poured in.
December was the busiest time of the year for Liu Lei, who ran a small workshop with his wife in a suburb of Yiwu making red envelopes for the Lunar New Year. But he was ordered to work after two days, two days off until the end of the year To save energy.
“Of course the effect [on my business] enormous. Liu said requests are rushing to get red envelopes, but there is no way I can provide enough. So I had to turn down some requests.
Goal oriented political culture
A similar stampede has occurred in the past – on a much larger scale and for several more months. In 2010, the last year of China’s eleventh five-year plan, Zhejiang Province and more than six other provinces took measures to restrict electricity use.
“This is common in China. It is the result of a goal-oriented political culture,” said Trey McCarver, a partner at the Beijing-based consultancy Trivium.
Without democratic elections, most Chinese officials climb the political career ladder in a performance-based rating system, in which goals for economic growth, social stability, and increasingly environmental protection play an important role in their chances of promotion.
Under Xi’s authoritarian rule, local officials are under greater pressure – liquidated by the central government – to achieve Beijing policy goals, such as those set out in the country’s five-year plans.
The Five-Year Plans are a legacy of the command economy of China during the Maoist era. These high-level policy blueprints define the goals of the country’s social and economic development for the upcoming period. It covers the thirteenth five-year plan from 2016 to 2020.
The province is only allowed to consume 23.8 million tons of coal equivalent Higher than 2015 levels by 2020, but there are indications it was being used too much.
Chancellor MacArver said the problem with goals is that there is often more than one goal that officials meet and they are not always complementary. “The reason there is a struggle to achieve these goals here in the end is because local officials have mainly focused on other goals so far,” such as GDP growth, employment and government revenues, he said.
Analysts said the coronavirus lockdown initially helped meet emissions targets, but the rush to revive the economy halted it. Li Shuo, chief climate policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia, said that China’s rapid economic recovery from the epidemic has relied heavily on energy-intensive heavy industries.
For Yiwu manufacturers, there was also a rebound in production following the surge in orders after the summer. But that proved short-lived.
Ma, who makes and sells holiday decorations, said it has been an especially difficult year to operate, first due to the pandemic and electricity restrictions now.
“We used to be generating in excess of 1 million yuan ($ 150,000) in revenue, but with all the turmoil this year, we don’t really know what we can achieve,” he said.