Boxing legend Mike Tyson provides unlikely platform for anti-chengguan rage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 3:08pm

US boxing legend Mike Tyson became an unlikely star among Chinese internet users overnight by wading into one of the nation’s most intricate political debates.

“Who is the best boxer in China?” he asked in his second ever post on Sina Weibo on Monday, a post that had on Tuesday been shared more than 68,000 times.

The answer he received from thousands was “chengguan”, referring to the controversial civilian force charged with enforcing municipal by-laws such as bans on hawking or illegal construction.

The semi-professional force has gained a reputation for exercising excessive and arbitrary violence as it struggles to deal with increasing urban unemployment. In a survey in July, 87 per cent said they had witnessed clashes between chengguan and street hawkers.

Two years ago, the consultancy Asia Monitor compared the unrest caused by chengguan violence with that of security forces preceding the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

“Chengguan are the best fighters, I don’t think you can beat them”, commented one person on Tyson’s post. “Please come to China be a street peddler, let you know! [sic]”, wrote another.

Tyson, or the person curating the “verified” account, either unaware of the meaning of the word or pretending ignorance, asked, “Who is Chengguan? A tough man? I’ve never heard it,” in a further post, thus generating another 57,000 re-shares.

The 47-year-old former boxer won some 72,000 followers within the first 24 hours after starting his Chinese microblog. On Facebook, he has 3.7 million followers.

Last week, he announced his return to the world of boxing on Thursday as a promoter and president of Iron Mike Productions.

Boxing, banned until 1986 in China, is increasingly gaining popularity. Fans are anticipating the biggest boxing match in Chinese history in Macau this November featuring Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.