Anger spread across China's social media on Wednesday after photographs surfaced of a dramatic altercation between a street vendor and security officials next to a busy Guangzhou expressway.
Photos on Sina Weibo show a female hawker being jostled by urban management enforcers, or chengguan, as her crying child watches, petrified and confused.
The photos, taken by a Southern Metropolis Daily photographer suggest the woman, dressed in a red top, may have resisted arrest after they ordered her to leave.
In one picture, a uniformed officer can be seen grabbing the woman by the back of her neck. She was then restrained with plastic handcuffs and dragged away to a police car.
The woman managed to get free for a moment to embrace her daughter before she was carried away by another security official. A photo showed the toddler clinging to her mother, who had her hands tied behind her back.
According to an article in the Daily, the vendor’s husband rushed to the scene and demanded an explanation. His request was ignored.by Guangzhou’s urban management authorities.
They denied “grabbing” the woman’s neck and said they were only following proper procedures for hawker-control. They said that after the woman refused to leave, she started yelling and even hit them. The officials called the police, according to the article.
Chengguan, whose jobs are to regulate street-hawking and get rid of hawkers without legitimate licences, are low-level, paramilitary-like security officials. They operate seperately from the police. They have been frequently called "government thugs" by some mainlanders..
The incident triggered an outcry across Chinese social media, with many criticising the hawker-control officials for using excessive violence in restraining the woman and even worse, in front of her child.
“Even if the hawker was wrong in the first place, they should at least show her some dignity in front of her child,” one netizen wrote on Sina Weibo.
“Is the image of the city more important than the livelihoods of the people?” another said. "Chengguan are nothing but evil thugs".
Chinese news media also joined the criticisms.
People’s Daily directed a message to the city’s Administrative Committee via its official Weibo account: “Respond as soon as possible, what crime did the hawker commit which was so serious she had to be treated this way in front of her child?”
A Xinhua editorial described the picture as “heartbreaking” and warned of “another Xia Junfeng" - the street hawker convicted of first-degree murder in 2009 after stabbing two chengguan to death. Despite his conviction, Xia drew sympathy from the public as he was believed to have acted in self-defence.