Dumplings for Sale

That’s Shanghai has published an extended version of sociologist Tricia Wang’s blog post from December, ‘Street Vendor Life in China’. The article describes in greater depth a family of street food vendors and their the struggle to build a business in the face of a long list of obstacles: relentless 18-hour days, poor access to water, cramped living conditions, marginalisation of rural migrants, corruption and the threat of violence.

It’s 4am. Children’s footsteps patter outside, water pours from a faucet, pots are pulled out. I overhear Li Jie. “We barely have enough to buy meat for tonight’s dinner. I hope we have return customers today.”

I’ve been living with Li Jie and her family for a few days. She is one of the 200-300 million rural people who have made their way to cities in the hope… I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Usually newspapers finish it with “in the hope of a better life” or “in the hope of securing a job.” Maybe I can finish it by the time I tell you about a day in Li Jie’s life ….

I met Li Jie four years ago. She is 43 and belongs to the Miao ethnic group. She was always outside the same subway stop selling hand-sewn clothes and purses made in her village. She had her 2-year-old son tied to her back and all her wares were laid out on a large sheet she could roll up at any second if she needed to run. In between selling, she had to breast feed her son and take him to pee and poop in a garbage can nearby.

Despite the grim picture painted by the article, only a relatively short section was removed by the State Council Information Office. Wang posted the censored passage separately on her blog:

Officially know as City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau (城市管理行政执法局), it is not really clear what the chengguan are supposed to do. But what they are known for doing is making migrants’ live miserable in cities across China. There are many stories of chengguan beating vendors, smashing their products or food, and taking bribes. It is also common to hear about chengguan killing street vendors …. [contd.]

In another post at That’s Shanghai, Wang explains her work on the use—and non-use—of technology in China and Mexico. For more examples, see ‘Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users‘ and ‘How I Was Treated on the Subway While Doing Fieldwork as a Migrant Worker‘, via CDT.

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