Abuse inflicted on China’s lower class by chengguan has long drawn public outrage. While the dictionary defines these officials as “city management” clerks, the Shanghaiist has (perhaps more accurately) characterized them as “glorified traffic wardens.” The Washington Post thoroughly describes the antagonistic role played by these officials by referring to recent cases of abused street vendors that have sparked protest and online fury:
[…C]hengguan officers have become, in many ways, the face of the government’s authoritarian rule — especially among China’s hundreds of millions of lower-class migrant workers, who are increasingly expressing their anger and disillusionment with protests and violence.
[…]Although the government appears keenly aware of the anger — acknowledging it in speeches, policies and training programs for new officials — it has also seemed hesitant to scale back its use of chengguan officers in particular or their tactics, seeing them as a grass-roots-level bulwark for its massive security apparatus.
[…]Chengguans were created in 1997 as a low-level urban security force separate from police that dealt with noncriminal administrative concerns such as noise control, parking and sanitation.
[…]Unlike police, the city enforcers have no legal authority to detain vendors, but they often do so anyway. Vendors say harassment and beatings are common. Many vendors also report having their goods confiscated and returned only if they pay a seemingly arbitrary price, leading to widespread accusations of corruption.
Over the past month, abusive chengguan have frequently been in the spotlight: photos of a March 6 scuffle between an officer and a fruit vendor in Guangzhou circulated widely on weibo, and last Monday, authorities in Yunnan province offered public apology for the beating of a blind homeless man. Recent counterattacks against chengguan have also been documented: on March 16 an official in Hubei province was bludgeoned to death by an illegal construction worker, and a day later a Guangzhou street vendor stabbed an official seven times.
While some vendors are using violence to guard against chengguan, the Global Times reports from a different angle – the ingenuity being bred by the “cat and mouse game” between street vendor and ambiguously empowered officials:
My favorite fruit guy is Xiao Zhao, whose jerry-rigged little grey van stands out in the crowd. The other vendors sell from the back of motorized flatbed tricycles, but my guy opens the back hatch and slides out a built-in table.
[…] His ingenious contraption, which shows off his good imagination and carpentry skills, is actually an escape mechanism.
[…]The micro-merchants are constantly on the lookout for a white chengguan pickup truck.
As soon as their prowling white truck, with flashing, rooftop emergency lights, is spotted, the vendors erupt in a well-rehearsed fire drill.
The side gate goes up, the umbrella comes down, a tarp is flung over the produce, and they scatter in all directions.