China's rule enforcers say they're 'misunderstood'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 10:07am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am


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An "urban management official", or chengguan, has probably one of the most unrewarding jobs in China. Short of being police officers, these municipal employees are tasked with enforcing city rules such as bans on hawking or begging. 

Frequent episodes of "excessive" and arbitrary violence against often poverty-striken migrant workers have given chengguan an image as heartless, corrupt enforcers.

Now a chengguan unit in the city of Changzhou, a two hours' drive west of Shanghai, has tried to change its image with a video that has gone viral since it was featured on Monday's Yangtse Evening Post front page.

In the video clip, a 25-year-old chengguan, university graduate Jiang Yifan, speaks about the "misconceptions" around his work.

"You only see my strict words and stern appearance," Jiang says in the clip. "But you don't see my tears and grievances."

"You can disdain our work, but we will show you who makes the city a better place," he says. 

"Chengguan is a profession destined to be controversial. We are bound to be queried and ridiculed on the streets."

"But despite all this, even if it isn't understood, we will courageously march forward. I am a chengguan and I speak for myself."

The video was inspired by and modelled on a recent commercial by Jumei, an online cosmetic retailer.

Jiang told the Southern Metropolis Daily that he made the clip himself with some help from friends. He refuted netizens' accusations that the clip looked "too professional" for a homemade production.  

The size of the chengguan force has ballooned from only 100 when it was founded in 1997 to more than 13,000 in 2011 in Beijing alone.

"It has earned a reputation for excessive force and impunity", Human Rights Watch wrote in a damning report on the force last year. 

Last week, Shanghai-based Dragon TV reported on chengguan beating up a street peddler with wooden battons in Chengdu and then denying it on camera. Last month, a city in Yunnan had to issue an apology after a chengguan was caught on camera beating up a blind, homeless man.

The People's Daily carried a commentary on Tuesday that said chengguan had been "demonised" by society for often persecuting society's weakest, peddlers and street hawkers.

The force, which deals with administrative violations, has been tragically tasked with an impossible job, it said, because the root problem of many migrants' lack of rights in cities hasn't been adressed.