An urban management official arrested for moonlighting as a street vendor at the weekend was actually an “undercover agent” on assignment, authorities from Wuhan, China's Hubei province, said on Monday.
The official, or chengguan as they are more commonly known, was arrested after he was caught selling ceramic mugs on a sidewalk in the Wuhan's Hongshan district on Sunday.
Hongshan's Urban Management Bureau later confirmed the 33-year-old officer, surnamed Gui, had been its employee at the time but was in the middle of an “experimental” undercover assignment that involved infiltrating the street vendor circles, the Chutian Metropolis Daily reported on Monday
Chengguan, whose jobs are to clamp down on unlicensed street hawking, are banned from operating street stands. They have a reputation for occasionally resorting to violence.
Pictures of the chengguan in his uniform by day and as a street hawker by night began circulating online on Sunday, sparking heated discussion among netizens about the notoriety of chengguan across the country.
But some netizens also expressed sympathy for the officers, whom they suspected had to take up a second job just to make ends meet.
The undercover operation, intended to last two weeks and planned more than a month in advance, was carried out in response to rumours spreading online that other chengguan officers had been working as street vendors, authorities said.
Chengguan are low-level, paramilitary-like security officials. They operate separately from the police and are frequently called "government thugs" by street vendors and others.
Public anger was stoked earlier this month when a group of chengguan, including some who were just “temporary employees”, beat up a bike store owner who they claimed was obstructing a road. A video of the incident went viral online.