Authorities from a town in Yunnan province issued a public apology on Monday after news spread on social media that urban management officials had allegedly beaten and chased a blind homeless man into a pond after he was found begging on a street.
The incident, which reportedly occured in the province's northeast city of Zhaotong on Friday, is one of several recent cases of violence involving urban management officials, or chengguan as they are commonly known throughout the country.
A video posted on microblogging site Tencent on Sunday, showed a man kneeling in a manmade pond screaming that he been kicked and beaten by chengguan, some armed with batons. He said they took away his walking stick as well as some money, Xinhua reported.
The Zhaoyang district publicity department said on Monday they had reason to believe the man had "ulterior motives", injuring himself deliberately and then jumping into the pond, all in an effort to “tarnish the image of the city’s chengguan officials”. Witnesses said his face was bruised and bloody.
District officials later backtracked, prompting the vice-mayor to issue a public apology to the man. Although they did not confirm the rumours, they said six chengguan had been suspended pending an investigation.
Chengguan, whose jobs involve regulating street-hawking and clamping down on those without licences, are low-level, paramilitary-like security officials. They operate separately from the police and are frequently called "government thugs" by street vendors and others.
Earlier this month, netizens were up in arms after photographs of a Guangzhou street vendor being jostled and treated roughly by chengguan in front of her young daughter, surfaced on social media.
A chengguan was also attacked by a knife-wielding vendor on a busy Guangzhou street last Sunday and was hospitalised with severe injuries.