For those of you reading this outside of China, it’s important to understand that China has probably close to a dozen different kinds of police. There are traffic police, railway police, bus police and countless others. When there is a problem, like when my friend had her i-Pod stolen as she got on a bus, it took 6 phone calls to figure out which police should handle the case (ultimately it was the bus police, even though they didn’t think it was their jurisdiction because she wasn’t fully on the bus when it happened).
Of these police, there is one branch that is the most feared and despised, they are known as the Chengguan (City Management).
While most criticisms of gov’t agencies are only ever whispered behind closed doors to your closest friends, this isn’t the case with the Chengguan. Why? Because in many cases the they are seen as the fun police (at least that is how I see them). Their job is essentially to stop people from selling goods on the side of the road or next to the market.
On my way to work every morning I stop and get breakfast from a small cart across the street from the hospital. These friendly people have even paid for a permit to sell from this spot, yet whenever there are “important” guests in the city the Chengguan chase them away. A few days later when the vendors return it seems that all of the other customers who also missed their breakfasts are muttering about how awful the Chengguan is.
I’m not just writing about this scourge because they interfered with my breakfast (it is a factor though), they are also behind many of China’s recent protests/riots.
Here is a short list of articles from ChinaSMACK.com concerning the Chengguan, make sure to read the comments from the Chinese posters (but they are filled with profanity)
- Controversial Chengguan Handbook Outrages Netizens
- Chengdu Beauties Surround Chengguan Who Beat UpOld Man
- Hui Minority Beats Lanzhou Chengguan Onto Knees Crying (the nature of this story is celebratory)
- Street Peddler Beaten & Paralyzed By Shanghai Chengguan
- Kunming Protest After Chengguan Beats Man to Death
The most recent event involved a pregnant woman from Sichuan who was selling fruit by the side of the road. When the woman refused to pay the “fine” the Chengguan beat her so badly that she miscarried (further coverage from ChinaDigitalTimes.net). This bit is denied by the gov’t, but the fact that so many people believe it would happen speaks volumes about how thuggish these police can be.
The result was several days of some of the worst rioting seen to date in China, which required hundreds of armed police to stop. Dozens of cars were destroyed, and gov’t buildings were set on fire. This type of violence is practically unheard of in China.
These pictures come from a friend on twitter who lives in the area
So far all these reasons, we despise the Chengguan, the one element of the gov’t that can be criticized publicly without repercussion. After all the party needs a group of thugs to enforce its unpopular rules, and by concentrating so many misdeeds into a single organization, they remove themselves from the blame. Perhaps this is the ultimate purpose of the Chengguan, to serve as a scapegoat for societies frustrations, but perhaps some of this anger has already started to shift to those pulling the strings.