The death of watermelon vendor Deng Zhengjia after a fatal beating at the hands of chengguan urban management officials in Hunan province last month rekindled long-held public anger at these ambiguously empowered local authorities. After outlining the status of chengguan—just one of the party’s extra-legal methods for maintaining social stability—for the China Realtime Report, legal scholar Stanley Lubman explains the need for more clearcut, central laws to directly govern the actions of these “urban para-police”:
The chengguan are completely under the control of local governments, making them an exception to the otherwise nationwide practice of dual leadership by local and central governments. A commentary by Chinese law professor Wang Yong highlights an extraordinary departure from any semblance of legality: Many of the chengguan’s powers “remain unexplained” by existing laws, such as “the legal basis of urban administration enforcement and uniform procedures, the division of powers with other departments…and so on.” The author reports that in November 2012, representatives of 44 cities called for “the establishment of a central government department to report to” and for the adoption of more laws and regulations to standardize the nation’s urban management.
[…]Absent more clarity from Beijing, chengguan illegalities will surely keep riling the public. Last month, a 34-year-old man who had been severely beaten by para-police in 2005 for operating an illegal taxi business in Guangdong detonated a bomb in Beijing’s Capital International Airport and suffered severe injury. He had lost the case he had brought to court and after eight years of petitioning surrendered to despair. Veteran China journalist Frank Ching argues that the chengguan “reflected the uncaring attitude of the powerful toward society’s weakest and most vulnerable members.”
In order to avoid escalating confrontation between these agents of the party-state and China’s underclass, the central government needs to provide greater legal definition of chengguan powers and their limits. Maintaining social harmony requires legality, not repression. [Source]