Chinese Authorities’ Call for Consumers to Replace Old Appliances With New Ones Backfires

Chinese Authorities’ Call for Consumers to Replace Old Appliances With New Ones Backfires
Robotic arms made by industrial robot manufacturer KUKA at its factory owned by Chinese home appliances giant Midea Group in Foshan, in China's southern Guangdong Province, on July 7, 2022. (Jade Gao/AFP via Getty Images)
News Analysis

With the Chinese economy faltering and domestic demand weakening, the authorities are implementing a policy of replacing old appliances with new ones, causing uproar among netizens.

The proposal was initially discussed at the meetings of the Central Economic and Financial Commission and the Standing Committee of the State Council held on Feb. 23 prior to the “Two Sessions,” the annual meetings of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).  

Authorities proposed stimulating consumer demand and spending through an “old for new” program for appliances and other big-ticket household items.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who attended the meetings, said the proposed program is crucial to promoting high-quality product development and advocated launching a wave of major equipment upgrades and replacements.

During the meetings, authorities stated that the “old for new” initiative would aggressively promote investment and consumption. It also encouraged the “old for new” exchange of durable goods, including automobiles and home appliances.

Then, on April 15, China Household Electrical Appliances Association (CHEAA) Executive Director Jiang Feng published an article in Chinese state media addressing so-called common misconceptions about home appliances. He pointed out that many consumers believe appliances should only be replaced if they are broken and cannot be repaired and that some view replacing functional appliances as a waste of money.

The article cited CHEAA’s official document, “The Safe Lifespan of Home Appliances,” published in January 2020, which states that just like food, appliances have a “shelf life.” For example, refrigerators and air conditioners can last 10 years, while washing machines, water heaters, and range hoods typically last eight years.

It warned that appliances that have exceeded their service life pose safety risks—such as electrical leakage, gas leaks, fires, and mechanical malfunctions—and are less energy efficient, while new appliances offer numerous benefits, including better energy efficiency and improved performance.

Public Indignation

Mr. Jiang’s remark has triggered a backlash on social media.

One consumer commented, “In the past, durability was what you bragged about in your advertisement, emphasizing that it would last for decades.”

A netizen posted: “If you can’t sell your home appliances, you can just say so. Why talk in a roundabout way to rob people of their money?”

Another pointed out that people don’t buy new appliances because they can’t afford them or don’t want to spend the money. “The fundamental reason people don’t want to spend money or don’t dare to spend money is that they are not confident about the economic outlook,” he wrote.

“Can we upgrade the [old] water pipes, sewer pipes, heating pipes, natural gas pipes, and electrical wiring [instead of old appliances]?” asked a netizen, referring to public utility services that he said need replacement.

One comment was widely shared on social media: “When I lost my job, no one cared about my situation. When I’m sick and don’t have enough money to go to the doctor, no one really cares. When I have no income and live in poverty, no one cares. When I have no permanent residence and live a nomadic life, no one cares. When I don’t have enough money to feed myself, no one cares ... But when I’ve had my household appliances for a long time and haven’t replaced them with new ones, someone worries about my safety ... Is this just a joke?”