Street vendors are part of the fabric of Chinese life, and there is no indication that this is going to change. For consumers, they substantially enhance quality of life. For the street vendors themselves, it represents both their livelihood and independence. Easy access to self-employment (in the sense of a 个体户), i.e. the ability to freely sell, trade and provide one’s services, is a basic prerequisite for a functioning free market. Without it, people degenerate into mere human resources who may or may not be needed by government and other large employers in the formal economy. For the most part, this works. For those willing to put up a small amount of capital, small shops can be rented at a low cost and taxation is both limited and fixed. For those unable or unwilling to put up capital, however, street vending – usually unlicensed – is a crucial pressure release valve. Downside: The street vendors must deal with the chengguan.
These chengguan do the opposite. They waste society’s resources and reduce quality of life. In fact, they are without a doubt the most hated representatives of the Chinese government, a fact reaffirmed by the reaction to the recent execution in Shenyang of Xia Junfeng, an abused street vendor who killed his tormentors. Virtually no-one in the blogosphere expressed sympathy with the dead chengguan.