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China’s Chengguan need a beating makeover

Popularity 2Viewed 6195 times 2013-7-26 14:11 |System category:News| China, chengguan, police

They are, rightly or wrongly, the most reviled group of workers in China.

Hated by street vendors, despised by many and often maligned in the media, China’s low-level urban management officers, chengguan, get a high level of bad PR.

The conflict has existed for years, but recently the people in charge of those who control the street vendors, hawkers, shoe shiners and illegal cabs have begun attempting an image makeover.

It was revealed that new chengguan recruits hired by authorities in Changzhou in Jiangsu province hold master’s degrees.

You would think, great news, they’ve hired fuzz with intelligence. But oh no, the news backfired with an avalanche of online buzz deriding the department for wasting highly trained graduates for such menial work.

They can’t win. And to be fair, never will.

It has to be one of the most hated jobs in China, and there’s no denying working in such an unhappy work environment for long hours with low pay while enduring the mental pressure of rampant public contempt must make these men and women cherish going to work every day.

And it’s not as if the some of the people’s fear and loathing is unjustified. They have attempted some “intelligent” methods recently.

Last year, a group of around 10 chengguan in Nanjing decided they would try to drive away street vendors by just silently glaring at them. A photo capturing the almost sci-fi attempt at policing went viral, drawing several thousand responses on Sina Weibo in just one day.

Just last month, Yao Aiting, who had only been an urban management officer for a year, is now regretting her career choice after being hospitalized in a fight.

There have also been much more serious incidents that have reinforced the public’s hatred for uniformed officers. The latest being the death of watermelon seller that is under investigation while his wife remains in a coma. Then there’s the police officer who claims he was beaten by a chengguan while responding to a report they were beating street vendors. It would be hilarious if was not so tragic and deplorable.   

Every year there is a story that captures the public’s attention that accelerates people’s repugnance. Murder, beatings, riots, corruption, and abuse – the list is long and reads like a roll call of shame. 

What is required is more than just a few graduates and a few simple PR moves by some media-savvy provinces in China.  Root and branch reform of the urban management organizations across China is long overdue if not time to shut it down and start a new organization just has happened with the rail industry.  

The irony is most of the City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau employees are from the grassroots of society, so employing a bunch of academic virtuosos would never do much to improve the people’s perception. 

But one micro-blogging chengguan has done more to improve the organizations image than any of the world’s best spin doctors could ever do. 

Song Zhigang has been cursed by people as a “robber”, threatened with a knife, mocked, and teased by his friends for working as a chengguan in the Haidian district in Beijing

Song, frustrated by his job’s bad image, started a blog online to "tell the true story of chengguan". The response was phenomenal, with millions of hits, and now he has published a book Here Comes the Chengguan.

He said: "Today I still hold the dream of being an artist. However, we have to work to survive and it is only a dream," he said.

One man alone is helping change the face of a force with a reputation sunk lower than a shipwreck.

Others must follow his example and not only help change the way the system works but also rebuild trust in honest people like Song, who are just trying to survive – a bit like the street vendors.


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report voice_cd 2013-7-29 10:45
This has been recommended to the front page. Thanks for writing.

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Lee Hannon is a journalist with China Daily website


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