Chengguan vs street vendors: a never ending story?

“We will crack down on violent resistance in order to protect the legal rights of urban management officers” –chengguan-, said last Friday Li Runhua, Beijing urban management authority chief.

Is really well know the disputes between chengguan (see some pictures of them on google) and the peddlers. Conflict which has existed for years. Sometimes fights which end tragically (see China Daily or Dailymotion). In order to solve thisundesired situation or, at least, reduce it, authorities issued on Friday “three bans” and “four no’s”.

The three bans are: beating, abusing or insulting the other party; taking goods and giving advance notice of any action. The “four no’s” are: forceful temporary seizure of goods; forceful check on vehicles, chasing vehicles and chasing people on foot.

But, who are the chengguan? Also know as City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau, his labour is help authorities in the task of avoid the low-level crime and disorder and deal with hawkers, shoe shiners and illegal cabs, but most of the time with the street vendors.

The chengguan have a reputation for exceed in violence, and “they have been involved in several deaths” (see The Guardian). “Two years ago, during an encounter with some chengguan, one of them grabbed me; I fell down and I broke my leg”, said Wang, a 68 year old peddler, who usually works in Dongzhimen district. “I am not afraid of them, but I always have to try to avoid them”, he added.

We find several stories like the one above in newspapers, chinese blogs or forums. But some chengguan also start to complain because they feel “are unfairly demonized” (see China Labour Bulletin). Authorities also hold that street vendors act sometimes with hardness. “They [street vendors] also use violence agains them [chengguan], so chengguan should be defended”, explained a young Beijing security guard who works at Wangfujing area and does not want to give his name.

Anyway, it is clear that the activity of peddling is even today very significantly in China, with large tradition in such occupation, which is illegal in the country (those that have not registered for permits from the government to operate legally:Article 35 prohibits any individual from occupying urban roads, pedestrian overpasses and other public places to set up stalls. It also limits street commerce to the confines of shops. But those with permits from the Beijing Administration of Industry and Commerce can operate without fear -Beijing City Environmental Health Regulations- see We can find street vendors in Bridges, underpasses, comercial areas, etc. around the city of Beijing.

Most of the peddlers left their provinces and moved to Beijing in order to find a better life. The lack of skills and opportunities push them to choice the peddling as a way to survive in the city. “I didn’t have many options, so I have to work as a street vendor”, said Yao, a 57 year old peddler from Yunnan province who today is working in a underpass at Jianguomen area. When I asked him about the chengguan, he explained that most of them are very agressive. “If a see them, I have to run”, he added looking worried.

The government is working in try to solve the problem. In the meantime, the pressure of the citizens questioning the role of the chengguan is increasing day after day. Media reports and stories from citizens against the urban management officersappear online constantly. Maybe China’s urban management authorities should manage themselves? Whatever the answer, is not a problem easily solved, but we hope the never ending story finally ends.

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Acerca de Biel Calderon

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me” (Steve Jobs) Born in Mallorca, 1983. 18 years later I moved to Madrid to study BA Political Science, 2001-2006. I wanted to be a photographer. In 2007 I graduated MA Asian and Pacific Studies, Barcelona. I wanted to be a photographer. Finally, in 2007 I graduated MA Photojournalism. Since then I have collaborated with digital magazines, NGO’s and newspapers. And I became a photographer. Recently I have been exploring Multimedia Journalism along side my photography in order to test new ways of storytelling. Currently based in Bangkok.
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  1. Pingback: China Speakers Bureau What the censors did not allow – Tricia Wang


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