Street vendors run


Twenty-two-year old Chai Haitao grabbed the handlebars, jumped onto the saddle, stepped on the pedals. Eyes straight ahead, he turned on the switch.

In a second, Chai disappeared in the distance.

He was just one of a dozen tricyclists in this unusual race. They ran not for medals, but for the tomatoes and apples in their vehicles; they competed not against each other, but against a group of government officers.

They were street vendors, trying to escape from patrolling chengguan, the urban administrative officers.

Such Tom and Jerry game is put on the stage here and there in Beijing every day. According to a 2010 study by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement, more than 600,000 vendors are now peddling in the city. They are a source of inexpensive and convenient goods for local residents. All of them, however, are illegal traders because they don’t have the business license.

They become the target of chengguan, para-police officers tasked with enforcing non-criminal urban administrative codes. Like vigilant antelopes, the street vendors are alert to every chengguan lurking around. Escaping is a spontaneous reaction while catching only a glimpse of chengguan. In the eye of the public, the two groups are bitter foes against each other.

 A day of rush and run

Two patrol cars with signs of “Chengguan Law Enforcement” and “Haidian Comprehensive Administration”, followed by a police car, a minivan, and two blue pickups, strolled along the street. They were far behind those vendors, who had already fled to another street.

This was Chai Haitao’s fifth escape in a single morning. For him, the daily chasing and running was more exciting than risky. “Being chased by chengguan is more exciting than bungee jumping,” said Chai, a vegetable vendor in Zizhuyuan Sub-district, Haidian District of Beijing,

Chai came from the countryside of Shangqiu City, Henan Province in central China. After dropping out of school in 2004, Chai came to Beijing. “Study at school is futile, because you still have to find a job in the end,” said Chai. He seemed to have followed the trend in his village, where most of the youngsters only finish their middle school education and become migrant workers in coastal areas like Zhejiang Province. Chai came to Beijing, because his parents have been working here since 1989, first as construction workers, then as vegetable vendors. Chai’s sister, two years older than him, was also a vegetable vendor.

About 5.6 feet in height, 180 pounds in weight, Chai looked stout. He wore a tight black polo T-shirt with noticeable stains on the front, a pair of dark gray suit pants —- the unstitched pant cuffs were rolled up, and a pair of sandals. Long time exposure to the summer sun had tanned him to the toes. With a tuft of hair upright on the top of the head, Chai’s hair reminded one of David Beckham during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when Beckham wore the Mohawk hairstyle. The difference was that Beckham’s style came from delicate trimming, while Chai’s resulted from no combing at all.

He was too busy to care about his apparel.

Chai started working as early as three o’clock in the morning. He drove his minivan to purchase vegetable in Xinfadi Agricultural Products Wholesale Market, the largest of such markets in Beijing.

After more than half an hour of driving, Chai arrived at the market. During the following one hour or so, he purchased vegetable based on business of the day before. The quantity of tomatoes, the types of green soybeans, all these were taken into consideration. “There is knowledge in purchasing, too,” Chai said. When he was still a green hand, Chai had been cheated by a wholesaler who put some weathered cucumbers beneath fresh ones in the basket.

Back from Xinfadi, Chai headed directly to Zizhu Park near Weigongcun Community. Between 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., over a hundred residents nearby went to the park for morning exercise. Most of them were elder people. They would like to buy some vegetable for the day on their way back, so more than 30 street vendors gathered around the Northern Gate of the park every day, thronging almost half of the two-lane road in front of the park.

Chai’s parents had occupied three positions for their vehicles with pieces of cloth. Chai arrived. They then loaded the vehicles with vegetable purchased. Usually Chai and his mother rode two electric tricycles whose carriages were approximately 1.5 square meters large, and his father rode a smaller pedal tricycle.

While Chai’s family was busy in loading, some customers were attracted by the fresh cucumbers and tomatoes still with dewdrops on. The customer carefully selected several tomatoes. Chai weighed them in a second. The first business of the day was done. So far, so good, Chai said.

Minutes later Chai received a call. “Chengguan are coming!” his cousin said on the phone. Like a bomb exploding on the field, this message set every vendor on alert. Despite of the bargaining customers, the unpaid money, and the corns to be weighed on the scale, most of the vendors swiftly rode on their vehicles. In a blink of time, they were gone, leaving the customers in total confusion.

Chai’s cousin made a wrong judgment. The patrol did set off, but it was not heading towards the Zizhu Park.

The all-clear was sounded. Chai and other vendors returned. The bargaining continued. The money was paid. The corns were weighed. Business went on safely for nearly an hour.

It was 7:30 a.m. Vendors began to transfer to other locations. Chai’s father collected the corn silks for making herbal tea. Then he dumped the corn bracts and some withered cabbage leaves directly on the roadway.

Chai rode to a street across the Northern and the Southern Weigong Communities of Zizhu Sub-district. Near the intersection of the street and another road he stopped his vehicle on the roadside. A dozen of vendors there sold vegetables, fruits, and breakfast like steamed buns. If everything went well, that was, no chengguan patrol, they would stay there till noon.

Restaurants, barber shops, inns, supermarket, and bank lining both sides, the 400-meter long street functioned as a small commercial zone of the two communities as well as three adjacent universities.

Though Chai had been working nonstop for more than four hours, most shops on the street were not open for business yet. Chai had to seize every minute because the value of his commodities decreases as every minute passed.

Early risers in the communities, mainly the elder, were the vendors’ customers. Chai had some frequent customers and he knew exactly their preference. Seeing a grandpa walking towards him, Chai greeted him,

“Grandpa, want some green soybeans?”

“Yes. I want 0.5 kilogram.”

“OK. How about some pakchoi? Look! How fresh they are.”

“They look nice. I’ll take some.”

“The soybeans take three yuan (US$ 0.5). The pakchoi take two (US$ 0.3), five yuan (US$ 0.8) altogether. Here you are.”

Before the grandpa took out his wallet, Chai had finished the math and handed over the vegetable.

For the elder people, street vendors make their life more convenient. “We old people put price and convenience in priority,” said 86-year old grandma Liu, “Vegetable sold by the vendors is much cheaper than those in the market and I don’t need to line up in the cashier.”

More and more people were coming to the street, on their way to work or to school. The shops opened for business one after another. Bikes, motorcycles, cars, and freight vans were coming and going. The five-meter wide street became crowded. Chai and other vendors had to move their vehicles closer to the sidewalk, not to block the traffic.

Chai’s cousin, Huang, brought him the breakfast —- fried dough pastries. Huang, 20, came to Beijing a month ago. A freshman in this trade, Huang didn’t have his own vehicle. He followed his parents, who were also vegetable vendors.

One of the features of the street vendors is that traders dealing in the same kind of goods form kin and native place networks. They do not scatter themselves to avoid competition, but collect in the same area, so that customers know where to find them, and so that they can form a guild against injustice and chengguan. Every day more than twenty vegetable and fruit vendors gather on this street, most of them from Henan Province.

Not long after Chai finished his breakfast, he noticed a buzz of anxiety among fellow vendors. “Are they coming?” Chai asked the vendor beside him. “Someone says they are coming,” the vendor replied. His hands on the handlebars already, Chai craned his neck, looking around with vigilance. The buzz became louder and louder. “Go! Go! Go!” shouted some vendors. They rode on their tricycles, ready to escape. Not hesitating anymore, Chai joined them, clearing a way for himself by shouting vigorously.

Ten minutes past, chengguan didn’t come. Only a police car passed. Seeing the frightened vendors, two policemen in the car shook their heads and smiled to each other subtly.

Such false alarms sound frequently. The street vendors may be alerted to escape four times or more during one morning, with only one of them the real runaway from chengguan. But they are so sensitive to chengguan that any sign related to administrative officials would set them into panic.

To escape in time while the chengguan come inspecting, Chai kept standing beside his vehicle the whole morning. He also adjusted the position of his vehicle now and then, making sure that he had an emergency exit.

Back to the street, vendors talked with each other about the false alarm. Jokingly they blamed the ones who gave the wrong information. Chai didn’t join the conversations. He was reading digital novels on his Nokia phone, getting a moment of leisure. For him, fictions seemed to be a getaway from the bustling real world.

Born in the 1990s, Chai shared the traits of his generation: keeping a perfectly cool face whenever possible; being fascinated with social networks like QQ, an instant messaging tool; pursuing self-satisfaction. In 2008 Chai found a job in an interior design studio, but he resigned one month later for lack of freedom. However, a much earlier touch with the society than his peers made him more cynical. He seldom watched TV news because “most news reported was fabricated”. When he was still a junior student, Chai dreamed of being a soldier, but his weight disqualified him from being one. “Ideals are just too beautiful,” Chai said, “I love being quite, but in the end I become a street vendor.” Unlike other vendors, Chai seldom cried his wares. He also charged much higher prices when the customers were overly choosy, so as to save himself from the ensuing bargaining.

At noon, Chai rode his tricycle back home for lunch.

Doing business on the same street, the vendors also dwell in congregation: a housing compound embedded in a number of preexisting residential buildings near Beijing Foreign Studies University, close to Southern Weigong Community. It is a row of knocked-together huts constructed of asbestos tilt roofs like military barracks. Chai and his parents rent two rooms at 1,000 yuan (US$ 158) per month. Seven square meters in size, the room could hardly hold more things other than a double bed and a small desk. The family has to cook outside the room with a hotplate. They share a public toilet with other vendors.

Chai stopped his vehicle in front of the huts. Then he walked in the room, lay down on his bed, not taking off the sandals. “Sometimes I felt so tired that I could even fall asleep while standing on the street,” Chai said.

Most of the vendors would spend their afternoon napping, because few customers would go shopping during that period, and because the chengguan stood sentry on the street till five p.m.

 Illegal vendors

Chai could have got a business license by renting a fixed stall in a market, but he may find that unaffordable, both in money and in regulation.

Xinxin Food Market sits on the street where Chai runs his business. With an area of 800 square meters, the market holds more than thirty stalls and offers each stall owner a warehouse to deposit his freight. To rent a stall in the market, one needs to pay a rent of 800 to 2,500 yuan (US$ 395) per month. Moreover, market administrators have established strict operation regulations, including the rule of fair trade. For vendors like Chai who earns 150 yuan (US$ 24) a day on average, the rent is simply too much, let alone the income tax they need to pay. “Stall owners here have cooperation with nearby restaurants. But those street vendors do not have regular purchasers like that, so they can’t afford the rent,” explained Li Xiuying, one of the market administrators, “And rules in the market are too restrictive to them.”

Credibility of the street vendors is often called into question by customers. “The quality of the goods sold by street vendors is not guaranteed,” said Ms. Ji. Once she bought some beans from a street vendor, but the beans rotted quickly. Later she knew that the vendor had soaked the beans to make them heavier.

Since unlicensed street vendors are free from taxation as well as inspections on sanitation and quality, their business operations break the market rule of fair competition. In 2003, the State Council promulgated the Measures for Investigating, Dealing with and Banning Unlicensed Business Operations, stating that any person engaged in unlicensed business operation is violating laws.

Besides the illegitimacy of street vendors, the business operations of street vendors in Beijing are thought to impair the image of the capital. In 2011, Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform published The Twelfth Five-Year Plan for the National Economic and Social Development of Beijing (2011-2015). The plan set the target of making Beijing a world city with Chinese characteristics. “The low-end business operations like peddling go against Beijing’s identity as a world city,” said Ma Huimin, vice director of Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement.

Chai and other 600,000 street vendors, therefore, should be cleared away.

To Chai, the “clearing away” means running and chasing; to some, it is about life and death.

In 2007, a street vendor in Beijing was sentenced to death for killing an urban administrative officer, or chengguan.

Cui Yingjie, a twenty-three-year old veteran from Fuping County, Hebei Province, came to Beijing in 2004 to make a living. He found a job as security guard in a karaoke box in Zhongguancun, Haidian District, with a salary of 1,100 yuan (US$ 174) a month. After having worked there for four months, however, Cui only got the salary of one month. The boss used the poor business as an excuse for the delay. Unable to make ends meet, Cui decided to find a second job. With 1,000 yuan (US$ 158) borrowed from his colleagues, Cui bought a tricycle and started to sell roasted sausages on a street near the karaoke bar.

On August 11, 2006, Cui was selling roasted sausage as usual when the Haidian chengguan squad came patrolling. Catching Cui on the spot, Li Zhiqiang, vice head of the squad, attempted to confiscate his tricycle. Cui protested the confiscation and a struggle ensued, during which he stabbed Li in the throat with a fruit knife. Li died from his wounds soon after.

“I begged them to leave the tricycle with me. They could take everything but the new tricycle, because it was bought with the money I borrowed the day before,” Cui said while on trial, “My heart broke when I saw the chengguan confiscating the tricycle.”

Cui was convicted of willful murder and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in April 2007.

Li Zhiqiang was entitled martyr by the Beijing municipal government. His squad, the Haidian Squad of Haidian District Detachment of City Administration and Supervision, was later named after him: Zhiqiang Squad.

“I felt very, very sad,” said He Xiao, who is the vice head of Haidian Squad and used to be Li Zhiqiang’s colleague. The month following Li’s funeral, He watched the video shot on the scene of the accident time and time again to find out every detail leading to Li’s death. For him, it’s “a kind of torture”. “As a chengguan, never had I thought of being killed by a street vendor someday. Never,” said He with a solemn tone.

 Chengguan: infamous and embarrassing

Cui Yingjie’s case highlighted the simmering antagonistic relationship between chengguan and street vendors. A Google search for Chinese-language references to chengguan produces literally millions of entries for “chengguan beat people” as well as “chengguan was beaten”. Game developers even designed an online game Street Vendors vs. Chengguan, similar to the Plants vs. Zombies.

According to a report on Beijing urban administration law enforcement forces by Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, there were altogether 198 cases between 2008 and 2010 in which chengguan encountered violent resistance from the subjects and got injured, and 79.8% of the subjects were street vendors.

Though the official names of the urban administrative forces vary in different cities, people use the Chinese word chengguan as shorthand for them.

Chengguan first appeared in the early 1980s, when the Cultural Revolution just ended and the process of urbanization began. To bring the city environment back to order, local governments set up the municipal supervision office, monitoring everything from unlicensed street vendors to unauthorized construction. Since then, the system of chengguan has gone through many reforms, but its law-enforcing power remained divided among bureaus like the Municipal Bureau of Industry and Commerce, and the Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection.

The most important reform came in 1996, when the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administrative Penalty was promulgated. The law set up the system of relatively centralized power of administrative penalties. Under the system, municipal governments may centralize some of the government bureaus’ authorities of administrative penalties on the chengguan.

Later with the further development of urbanization, the duties of chengguan continued to expand. Take Beijing for example, when the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement was established in 1997, it performed only five duties like environmental protection and removing unlicensed street vendors. But now, it performs 311 duties in thirteen administrative fields.

While the power of chengguan is expanding, there is no overarching national regulatory framework laying out the permissible scope of its duties, no uniform training requirements or code of conduct. As a result, chengguan in some cities abused their power and applied high-handedness while carrying out their duties. In large cities like Beijing, the number of chengguan falls short and safety guards are employed by the government to assist the law enforcement. Since they are not civil servants, these safety guards are free from codes regulating the civil servants and may use abusive force in the course of law enforcement, which led to abysmal reputation of chengguan on the whole.

In 2004, extracts from Beijing’s Manual for Chengguan Operations were posted on the Internet. One of the most controversial passages reads, “In dealing with the subject, take care to leave no blood on the face, no wounds on the body and no witnesses in the vicinity.” The handbook made a splash online. Though an official of Beijing chengguan explained that the book hadn’t been distributed among chengguan officers “because of the improper content”, Internet users were astonished by the hard-lined instructions which they thought were explicit violence and oppression on ordinary people. Mao Shoulong, a professor of Public Administration at Renmin University, denounced the book. “Those chengguan who are using this book should be driven out of the unit. Instead of using violence, chengguan should learn how to serve the street vendors,” said Mao. In his opinion, the application of violence was related to the relatively low official status of chengguan. “Sometimes chengguan were dispatched to carry out duties beyond their power. They had to enforce the law violently,” said Mao.

Due to the increasing resentment of chengguan, majority of the public takes side with the street vendors in the conflicts between chengguan and street vendors. When chengguan Li Zhiqiang was killed by Cui Yingjie in 2006, some Internet users thought Li deserved it. In 2010, Sina, China’s major web portal, conducted an online survey on public opinion of chengguan and street vendors. About 88% of the 8,217 respondents thought that the law enforcement manner of chengguan was inhuman, while 75.3% of them held a sympathetic attitude towards the street vendors. The public also calls for reform. Propositions range from more stringent law on chengguan operations and conduct, to outright abolition of the units and transfer of their duties to China Public Security Bureau, the police.

In response to the overwhelming public criticism, chengguan in some cities find various ways to change their stereotyped image. One distinct example is the chengguan in cities of Nanjing and Wuhan. Instead of driving away the unlicensed vendors by force, those chengguan used their eyes, attempting to deter the vendors by staring at them.

Back to 2006, after Li Zhiqiang’s was killed by Cui Yingjie, Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement equipped chengguan officers with protective vests, gloves, and helmets against cutting. It also required every chengguan on duty to carry a mini video recorder to record the whole process of law enforcement. At the same time, a system of daily performance evaluation was set up to supervise the conduct of every chengguan. In 2010, the bureau brought up a new administrative idea, emphasizing the service-oriented nature of the chengguan. And in early 2011, it issued the Beijing chengguan motto —- “Of the People, Love the People”.

Besides the high-level efforts of changing chengguan’s image, a chengguan at primary level tries to present a more comprehensive picture of chengguan’s life to the public.

“As long as I could become a civil servant, I would accept any job including cleaning the toilet. But I didn’t expect to be reduced to chengguan,” wrote Song Zhigang in his book Chengguan are Coming.

Song, 26, is a chengguan in Haidian Squad. After graduating from a police training school in Henan Province, Song took part in the Beijing Civil Servant Examination in 2008, but he’d never thought of being assigned to the job of chengguan. “I used to hate those chengguan who confiscate the street vendors’ vehicles,” Song said, “But refusing a job for this reason was irrational.”

It took Song some time to adjust at a job he hated. In the beginning, when he patrolled with some veteran chengguan, Song felt so embarrassed facing the street vendors that he could not go and confiscate their things. After having dealt with more street vendors, however, Song found not all of them deserving sympathy. Once, Song and his colleagues were confiscating the carriage of a street vendor selling egg pastries, when suddenly the vendor dashed against Song, shouting, “The chengguan is bullying me!” The plot infuriated Song. “Honestly speaking, I even wanted to kill her at that moment,” wrote Song in the book.

Song also became subject to ridicule from his friends, who thought chengguan the synonymy of villains that seize others’ property forcefully. At gatherings with former classmates, Song’s job was always mocked at. He wrote in his book that his friends who used to be good buddies now regarded him as enemy in the class struggle.

More discouraging comments came from the public. Once, when Song and his colleague were removing an unlicensed stall on roadside, a grandma among the onlookers came and finger-pointed at him, condemning him as “corrupted official who would rot in hell”. A young boy just graduated from university, Song had never expected being cursed to death. He said, “Sometimes I think the chengguan job with a salary of 2,000 yuan (US$ 316) per month is most difficult in the world.”

Gradually Song realized that although chengguan in real life was dispatched to solve all kinds of thorny problems and encountered various difficulties, chengguan in the public’s eye was merely a gang of villains. There was a gap between these two versions of chengguan story.

In 2010, Song began to post a series of articles entitled “A Chengguan’s Diary” on Tianya Club, one of the most visited Internet forums in China. In these articles, Song narrated his daily experiences as a chengguan with humorous as well as satirical language, intending to give the public more perspectives to the chengguan story.

In one article Song expressed his fear as a chengguan. Song became a chengguan of Haidian Squad in 2008, two years after Li Zhiqiang was killed. Every year, officers in the squad would visit Li’s family. However, after his first visit, Song stopped going anymore. In the article he wrote, “I stopped visiting Li’s family because I was afraid. Seeing his sorrowful family weakened my courage. I couldn’t help thinking about my own family: what if I was killed some day? ” Not hurt, not cursed, that’s Song’s definition of a happy life as a chengguan.

Later, a staff of a publishing house invited Song to write a book on chengguan. Based on his articles online, Song wrote Chengguan are Coming. On the cover of the book a line reads, “Save Chinese chengguan from the torrent of anger.” This book drew large attention from the public. He was interviewed by more than forty media, including CCTV, China’s state-run broadcaster.

Song’s confession as a chengguan misunderstood by the public revealed the embarrassing position of chengguan.

“Almost all the bureaus, large or small, transfer their task of law enforcement to chengguan,” said Dai Jun, head of Information Office of Haidian District Detachment of City Administration and Supervision, “So chengguan becomes the subject to all the public resentment.”

Professor Xiong Wenzhao agreed with Dai. “The problems handled by chengguan are hot potatoes in other bureaus’ eye,” Xiong said, “As law enforcing officers, chengguan are in the frontline of social problems.” A professor of Administrative Law at Minzu University, Xiong was the legal consultant of Beijing chengguan in 2008. To improve the image of chengguan, Xiong proposed to set up a guidance department in the central government, so that chengguan nationwide could have unified codes of conduct.

 To ban or not to ban

Under the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administrative Penalty, chengguan’s power is limited to give disciplinary warning to the subject, to fine the subject, and to temporarily confiscate the business tools of the subject. Therefore, a vendor fined today may peddle again tomorrow.

“The street vendors run away when we come patrolling, but they will return as soon as we leave,” said Yang Jie, a twenty-eight-year old chengguan in Zizhuyuan Squad of Haidian District Detachment of City Administration and Supervision. Yang’s squad was in charge of the urban administrative work of communities where Chai Haitao peddles. Ironically, the office building of the squad was no more than two hundred meters away from the housing compounds of Chai and other street vendors, which enabled the vendors to have a close watch on the daily routine of chengguan. Once a vendor spied out any move of chengguan, he would inform other vendors right away. “It’s a guerrilla war. The street vendors have to learn to run and to play tricks to survive. It’s a battle of wisdom and courage,” said Yang.

Antagonistic relationship and lack of communication between the two groups tend to be the hotbed of corruption and gang-like organizations. According to Chai’s father, every month they pay 1,500 yuan to a gang organization as protection fee. In return, the organization would help them get back their vehicles confiscated by chengguan, so they don’t need to pay the fine. Jiang Guojun, a breakfast vendor in the community, seeks protection from a club near the community. During festivals, Jiang would visit boss of the club and give him some gifts. But chengguan denied the phenomenon of protection fee. Tang Yuanbao, vice head of Zizhuyuan Squad, said he had never encountered such a case. “These are rumors. We chengguan enforce the law abiding by the rules,” said Tang.

In the eye of Wu Qing, a deputy to the Beijing People’s Congress from 1984 to 2011, the conflict between chengguan and street vendors was only a reflection of deeper social problems. In 2007, she tried to organize a negotiation between chengguan and street vendors in the Weigong Communities. The street vendors promised to discipline themselves, including doing business within an area and dealing with the rubbish after the business was closed. And chengguan would allow them to run business. But Wu’s efforts failed in 2010 when the Beijing municipal government set more restrictive rules on the environment.

“The fundamental problem is the illegitimacy of the street vendors,” said Wu Qing, “They were denied of the right to life.” Based on her contact with the vendors, Wu said most of them were farmers from other provinces. With their land expropriated by enterprises for commercial purposes, they came to Beijing to seek a living.

The Sixth National Population Census in 2010 showed that the floating population in Beijing was increasing every year at a rate of 10.6%. According to the Beijing Statistical Yearbook 2011 issued by Beijing Municipal Bureau of Statistics, the population of Beijing in 2011 was 20.18 million, with 8.25 million were floating population —- every two in five were migrants.

Some of the migrants received little education and had no professional skills, so they chose the job as street vendors. According to the 2010 study by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement, most of the 600,000 street vendors peddling in Beijing were rural migrants.

“The business operation of street vendor requires relatively less startup capital and skills. It also sets no limitation on gender and age,” said He Bing, a law professor at China University of Political Science and Law. An advocate of the legalization of street vendor business, He thought the street vendors helped the employment of the large amount migrants pouring in Beijing.

Meanwhile, the street vendors meet the need of the citizens with lower income. “The income gap among Beijing citizens remains large, and not every household affords to shop in supermarkets,” said Feng Xiaoying, a social problems researcher in Beijing Academy of Social Science. In 2011, the lowest average disposable income of Beijing residents was 1,252 yuan (US$ 198) per month, while the highest was 5,274 yuan (US$ 834) per month. Feng opposed banning street vendors at one stroke.

While the residents’ opinions on street vendors were divided, most of them believe the street vendors shouldn’t be banned. “The government should provide the vendors with a space to run their business, because it’s related to the daily life of we citizens. As customers, spending less is the priority,” said seventy-six-year old Tian Jingmiao, a retired worker living in the community.

Feng also cited the lack of residents-friendly infrastructures as a reason for the existence of street vendors. She said the development of real estate had seized the space which should be used for building residents-friendly infrastructures like food markets. According to Tang Kaichun, head of the Zizhuyuan Sub-district Community Service Center, there were only seventeen residents-friendly vegetable stores in its twenty-four communities, which was far from being enough.

 Keep running

In 2011, the State Council promulgated the Regulations of Self-employed Business, ruling that local governments shall determine the policy on traders without a fixed location for business operation based on the situation of the city. Against this background, Beijing chengguan brought up the policy called Dredging and Blocking in 2011. It divided the city into three types of zones: main roads in districts and political-sensitive places like Tiananmen Square, where the street vendors shall be banned; non-main roads, where the congestion of street vendors shall be prevented; streets cross communities, where the street vendors shall be allowed to run business within periods of time. The street on which Chai peddles is in the third case.

For Chai, whatever the policy is, the Tom and Jerry relationship is doomed. “Chengguan are doing their work, and I am doing mine. We are bound to hate each other,” Chai said, “I can’t fight with them, but I can ward them off.”

After the nap, Chai and other vendors went back to the street around 5 p.m. They were joined by more peddlers from other parts of the city, selling goods of every conceivable kind: daily-used product like needles, foods like roasted sweet potatoes, handcrafts like crystal adornments, and second-hand clothes. The street was narrowed every few meters by their stalls —- in the forms of a tricycle, a barrow, and even a piece of sheet. When two cars from opposite directions met, they almost jammed the street, dozens of bikes and motorbikes unable to get through. A vendor then volunteered to be a traffic coordinator.

Chai didn’t care about the traffic. Since the chengguan would come patrolling in two hours, he tried selling out his goods within the limited time. He lowered the price of some vegetable and started to cry his wares.

By seven o’clock in the evening, Chai covered the unsold vegetable with a piece of cloth and rode back home. Another day of rush and run ended.


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