Even while bashing the institution of urban management and enforcement — so neatly summed up in one word, chengguan — we acknowledge that the officers tasked with urban bureaucracy — keeping street peddlers X meters away from the curb, making sure businesses have proper licenses, etc. — do unenviable and difficult work. Keeping in mind that every time we see a video of chengguan beating the snot out of someone, the chengguan have their side of the story, too (and their side of the story probably has another side as well), let’s examine one particular case from a few weeks ago in Yan’an, Shaanxi province, featuring a chengguan jumping on the face of a bike shop owner who was wrestled to the ground.
The info below comes from the CCTV show Focus (焦点访谈), video embedded above.
On May 31, chengguan visited a bike shop in Yan’an twice. The leader of the chengguan pack, Zhang Qi, explained that his team went to the scene because the shop-owner’s bikes were blocking the sidewalk, on which it was illegal to sell or display wares. Apparently the store ignored formal notices, issued in April and May, to stop doing this.
Newly released footage show the chengguan and shop owner talking amicably (relatively) for a minute. According to Zhang Qi, however, the owner was already beginning to provoke the chengguan.
The shop owner, Liu Guofeng (interviewed from his hospital bed, because he was the one who got stomped), said he tried to explain that the bike didn’t belong to him and wasn’t for sale, only to be told, “I don’t care about that.”
With Liu unwilling to move the bike and Zhang’s crew unable to produce warrants to take further action, there was an impasse, which both sides tried to break through by raising their voices.
Zhang ordered his chengguan to seize the bikes on the street, at which point, a female chengguan in yellow, Zheng Yuanyuan, began to spar with Liu.
A customer identified as Xiao Zhang said Zheng was particularly nasty in her insults, and that because she was not wearing a uniform, no one knew why she was there, much less recognized her as an authority figure.
Another customer, Xiao Gao, said she threatened the owners: “You want to stay in business?” The owner began cursing her.
Three bikes were confiscated and chengguan left. Fifteen minutes later, they returned.
Xiao Gao and Xiao Zhang apparently took their bikes out to perform maintenance. But chengguan, seeing bikes outside, thought the men were intentionally being defiant. Zhang Qi admits to giving the order.
“I thought they were provoking us,” he said.
“This is my bike, not the store’s,” Xiao Zhang appealed, to no avail. A tussle ensued. When he saw a chengguan officer smash his bike to the ground, he lost his temper.
The shop owner eventually came out and confronted the yellow-shirted female chengguan. They shoved each other and exchanged insults. One in particular – “bandit” – got the chengguan really riled up. Liu, who said he actually didn’t want a physical confrontation, found himself wrestled to the ground, and then this happened:
The woman, Zheng, was later slapped hard on the face. (Liu admits to doing it.) When police showed up, both Zheng and Liu pulled a soccer move and laid on the ground, as if dead.
The news show Focus goes on to explain that there are three squads of chengguan under the Fenghuang (Phoenix) team. Each has two formal officers and six assistants (xieguan), many who are actually temporary workers.
The xieguan reportedly only get paid 1,000 yuan per month, less than even restaurant servers. As a result, those who apply to be xieguan are usually uneducated, and they’re sent to the street without much formal training.
The Focus journalist implies, subtly, that since the wage is set by the government, the system may be at fault.
When asked whether these temps are observers or assistants, a chengguan supervisor, Duan Yuting, stresses that they are assistants. What that means is, essentially, they’re enforcers. After a decision has been made, it’s the xieguan who get sent in to do the dirty work.
They don’t, however, have the authority to start fighting, Duan said.
“Do you have a clear understanding of what xieguan can and can’t do?” the journalist asks Zhang Qi.
“No,” he replies.
“But in the heat of the moment, these lines got blurred?”
Duan is then shown acknowledging that conflicts may — and do — happen in the heat of the moment.
In 2007, the Shaanxi government recognized that xieguan could be involved in exactly these type of uncomfortable situations. But since then, the xieguan force has actually expanded.
Zheng Yuanyuan, the woman in yellow, is introduced around the 11:30 mark, accepting an interview in the hospital (we wonder if it’s the same one where Liu was staying). With only one year of formal education, she accepted a position as a xieguan at the age of 18. After only a week of training, she was on the streets doing chengguan work.
Hard work, it turned out. Some peddlers, no matter how much one reasons with them, just aren’t willing to subject themselves to restrictions. Four years ago, Zheng was involved in a particularly nasty spat, and was injured both physically (on the face) and emotionally.
She admits to having a short temper, but life on the street is hard, so she learned how to act tough — a facade that is broken when she eventually breaks down and cries on camera.
Duan admits that chengguan often find themselves confrontations.
“On one hand, perhaps supervision of chengguan needs to improve,” he said. “It needs to continually improve.”
He added, echoing a sentiment we’ve heard before, “It could also be that the people in our profession and common people don’t truly understand city management, trust our obligations.”
So what’s the root cause? asks the Focus studio host. Can the chengguan model be compatible with society’s needs? She concludes that cities need regulation, but regulators need to maintain standards and civility.
How to achieve this? The question remains unanswered.