• Thu
  • Sep 18, 2014
  • Updated: 1:12pm


Chengguan are an urban management force installed in almost every city on mainland China. They mostly clamp down on illegal street vendors but also enforce rules on city sanitation, landscaping and parking. Chengguan officers have been increasingly criticised after some of them used bullying tactics that have resulted in injuries and sometimes death.

CommentInsight & Opinion

Could a Hunan hawker be the one to ignite China's very own Arab Spring?

Can the death of a Chinese watermelon seller trigger the same tidal change that the death of a vegetable vendor in Tunisia did across the Middle East?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 4:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 July, 2013, 8:27am


  • Yes: 66%
  • No: 34%
21 Jul 2013
  • Yes
  • No
Total number of votes recorded: 190

On Wednesday night in Linwu county, Hunan, riot police clashed with hundreds of unarmed protesters. Two days later, photos of men and women in blood-soaked clothes, some crying, some livid with anger, are still among those most shared on Chinese microblogs.

The clash, triggered by the arbitrary and brutal killing of 56-year-old watermelon seller Deng Zhengjia on Wednesday, has caused nationwide outrage that has yet to dissipate into the usual fatalism.

One netizen compared the Hunan watermelon seller’s fate to that of the Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, whose vegetable cart was seized by police in Sidi Bouzid in 2010. In desperation, he set himself on fire. His death triggered the fall of Tunisia’s authoritarian regime of Ben Ali and those in three other countries, so far.

The Global Times in its editorial on Friday rushed to argue that “personal qualities” of several individual chengguan (members of the urban management force) were to be blamed for the deaths. It had “nothing to do with the chengguan system,” it said. “Their method was not mature.”

China’s online community, the closest thing the country has to civil society, hasn’t stopped talking about the watermelon seller. Many have blamed the system, far beyond the chengguan system, for Deng’s death, how the local government handled the situation and how it dealt with the protesters.

The ongoing debate has proven the Beijing-based daily wrong in a way that is deeply uncomfortable to the Communist Party mouthpiece.

The local government issued a statement saying that Deng had “suddenly fallen to the ground and died” not because of some rogue chengguan’s “personal qualities”, neither did these individual shortcomings make authorities seize the body to suppress evidence of the murder.

No single chengguan’s “personal qualities” could have convinced newspapermen in Beijing to write an apologetic editorial.

The death of a street peddler is no solitary incident, neither is the denial of a murder by thugs in uniforms or the disappearance of a victim’s body.

There is a “logic behind snatching corpses”, Sohu writes in a special page dedicated to the problem: authorities have previously tried to make sure these aren’t used by the victims’ relatives as “evidence and a bargaining chip”.

“Look here, chengguan just beat another one to death” is the eerie title of Sohu’s dedicated website. One incomplete list in a widely-shared infographic, which has since been censored from microblogs, documented eight such cases over the past four years.

What enraged many who commented was that farmer Deng, as far records show, had not engaged in politics or challenged local powers in any way, except for his wish to make a normal living.

Many accept that the way to ensure a normal life in China is to be politically silent. But the injustice of arbitrary attacks on citizens who just seek to make a living and the system’s failure to correct itself are provoking anger.

“This farmer called Deng Zhengjia lives on a mountain,” liberal writer Li Chengpeng wrote in a microblog post that was the most widely shared post on Sina Weibo on Thursday night.

“He wants his melons to be a little bit sweeter, just to make a little bit more, he tries to sell them fast, so that he can rush home for dinner. That is his Chinese Dream,” he wrote in the post that as of Friday has been shared more than 142,000 times.

Li referred to President Xi Jinping’s new slogan, the Chinese Dream, which Xi first used in November. Party intellectuals have rushed to define the slogan as a new social contract that binds China together in ways different from the American equivalent or mere “stability maintenance”.

“You better start protecting a watermelon farmer’s dream,” writes Li Chengpeng. “Then we can sit down and talk about what that Chinese Dream is.”


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This article is now closed to comments

Dai Muff
As the People''s Revolution and the Soviet Revolution and, yes, Arab Spring, showed us, people rebel when the lives they are living make risking their lives seem a preferable alternative. If rulers don't want revolution, treat the people better. It's hilarious to see pro-Beijing commentators quietly ignoring this fact, when it's the reason for the existence of the CCP in the first place.
Based on how the Arab Spring is unfolding in the Arab world, I wouldn't wish the Arab Spring on anybody else! The Arab world fell for the American propaganda. Hopefully, nobody else will fall for that nonsense.
besides from Lybia, I dont see the American meddling, it serve them no interest to see their Allies in Egypt being removed from power.
The Americans were as surprised as anyone by the emergence of the Arab Spring and its aftermath. It was truly an Arab spring, not an American one. Will there be a China Spring? Yes or no, like the Arab one, it will be up to the Chinese citizenry, not outsiders.
Welcome to the so called fakely ranked 7 innovated city Hk above Japan, SK, etc...or HKUST being ranked top school in IT, our IT in Hk is like kindergarten. I wrote to SCMP months ago telling them they have a tech problem in their comment area. Like this one, the "reply" comment never shows in my iPad. And this is in exist for months! Come on HK!
But Hk people just love it and never complaint. Very similar to we are forced to buy sub quality housing at high price here. Most of our corporte website is so bad and non functional. At yet we protest everyday for what? Because we are so complacent.....dead end.
Please no springs, Arab or China... I don't think that's something most people want. Personally I don't like the tabloid-style headline.
those who are responsible should be punished severally, but referring this with the Arab Spring,...well, those arab countries now are facing the reality of their "revolution" and an aching hangover. Egypt is on the brink to civil war, Lybia and Tunesia are struggling and are not far away clashing themselves.
I think one should avoid using the names "Arab Spring" or "Jasmin Revolution" as what came afterwards is chaos and blood.
This is just one of a million stories of inequality in China that slipped through the cracks and reached us in Hong Kong.
The Chengguan wanted to extort money from the watermelon hawker who didn't want to pay; for his disobediance he was beaten to death. Extortion is the communist party's raison d'etre. The removal of the communist party should be the Chinese dream.


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