Does Anybody like the Chengguan?

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 concerning the Chengguan, make sure to read the comments from the Chinese posters (but they are filled with profanity)

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 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.

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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.

9 responses to “Does Anybody like the Chengguan?”

  1. Tim Corbin says:

    To answer your question: “No, nobody likes them”. Generally speaking in Qinhuangdao, every time I see them, all they’re do is lying around being as lazy as possible. Must be a great job, be lazy, then be mean, be lazy, then be mean some more. Sarcasm and a small amount of bitterness included for free.

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  3. Joel says:

    “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.”

    That’s an important observation, I think.

    At the congested street market near our apartment we can see the chengguan in action every day if we like. I took some photos and observed the interesting relationship these particular chengguan have with the vendors here: “The Tianjin Chengguan Street Market Game

    It’s a little more nuanced than what is usually reported.

  4. Joel says:

    I just went and complained to a group of chengguan the other night. 16 of us went for sidewalk evening BBQ at a really 热闹 place in our area, but the sidewalks, usually full of folding tables and stools, were empty. I asked the boss what was going on and he pointed across the street at three chengguan just standing there under the trees, facing the row of Muslim restaurants. I went over to complain, and they said they had to 管 that particular road that night until 12:30am. They were just standing there form the after noon ’til midnight, doing nothing but prevent those particular restaurants from putting tables out. It didn’t matter that it was the corner of a T-intersection and that literally right around the corner (and technically on the other road) there was a corner restaurant with tables and customers all over the sidewalk; these guys were only responsible for one particular road. They suggested we just go to the back alley out the other side of the restaurant, which we did: In case you ever wondered what it’s like to eat BBQ’d silk worm larvae (蚕蛹)

  5. […] It is important to keep in mind, that as a percentage of the population, China’s active army is actually fairly small (between Luxembourg and Brazil’s). Also that China borders 14 countries, of which North Korea, Burma, and Afghanistan are unstable; India and Vietnam can be hostile; and traditional foes, South Korea and Japan lay nearby (also the “break away province” of Taiwan). So a large number of China’s forces are located near the borders, and are focused on international threats more than domestic ones (there are other departments for that, like the chengguan). […]

  6. […] Q: What is the situation when an unarmed person is fighting against a group of armed persons? A: The Anti-Japanese war. Wrong! Urban management. (read: Does anybody like the Chengguan?) […]

  7. […] hierarchy, they tend to abuse it. For those of us living in China we see this daily in the way the chengguan beat street merchants, the way local gov’t officials wine and dine on the public dime, and […]

  8. […] workers that democracy is a way to a greater form of stability, one that doesn’t require Chengguan or Weibo censors and could protect their property and wages, will they succeed. Rate this:Share […]

  9. […] the years may provide a clue: Cui Yingjie (崔英杰), a street vendor who killed a brutalizing chengguan in self-defense; Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇), a young woman who stabbed to death an official who […]

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