Despite its teeming population, the rise of consumerism in contemporary China has lagged behind the West. In seeking to explain this phenomenon, it is plausible to hypothesise that a necessary precondition for the growth of any movement advocating greater protection for the rights of consumers is a market in which the interests of traders and consumers compete. Modern China — founded on the basis of a planned economy — initially allowed no role for the concept and function of a free market. Yet, over time, political change in China has led to economic and legal reform. In particular, China has restructured its legal framework by embracing western principles, albeit modified with Chinese characteristics, in order to enhance economic growth and international trade. In the result, the position and influence of Chinese consumers has strengthened, and specific legal safeguards are now afforded to them. Viewed through the lens of a legislative enactment that is critically important to consumer interests in China, the Product Quality Law, this paper examines the social, economic, political and legal factors driving this change, and considers whether the promotion of consumer rights is the underlying objective of this law or simply a derivative benefit.