The notorious urban enforcers have a history of violence. When they beat a street egg vendor in Neijiang, public fury followed, and the authorities had to back off.
by He Biya
Can law enforcement officers in China abuse citizens as much as they want? Yes, in general, but now citizens have started to protest. Social media may make their protests known nationwide, and sometimes the CCP authorities are compelled to investigate and apologize—although it is well possible that, once the incident is forgotten, those who denounced it rather than the abusive agents would be punished.
“Chengguan” (城管) agents are part of the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureaus that exist in Chinese cities to take care of street crime. The agents are not technically part of the police but are authorized to repress petty crime and even administrative violations with a considerable amount of violence. There have been several incidents where chengguan agents have beaten their victims to death.
On June 13, chengguan agents in the Dongxing district of the prefecture-level city of Neijiang, Sichuan province, approached several street vendors and told them their stalls were outside of the designated areas and they should relocate there. A man called Zhong, who was selling eggs, started a discussion and was badly beaten by six chengguan agents.
Many gathered in protest, dozens of protesters became hundreds and thousands, and the regular police had to intervene and disperse the crowd.
What was different from similar incidents is that somebody filmed the scene and posted it on Weibo. The video was, of course, cancelled but had been reposted by thousands of netizens and before all social media were “cleaned” it had been seen by hundreds of thousands of Chinese.
This compelled the CCP to back off. On June 14, a press release was published stating that “the Dongxing District Committee and District Government attach great importance to the incident and have immediately established a joint investigation team composed of public security, judicial, and disciplinary inspection departments.” Citizens were assured that “Following the incident, the six mobile patrol members were immediately suspended from duty and required to cooperate with the investigation. Currently, the relevant investigation work is being further carried out, and subsequent actions will be taken in accordance with the investigation results and in compliance with regulations and disciplinary measures.”
What will happen next is anybody’s guess. Probably the violent chengguan agents will quietly return to work, perhaps in another district, and there will be ways to punish the egg vendor and his friends.
However, on a small, local scale the incident confirmed, after the Zero COVID protests and national scandals such as the “chained mother of eight,” that Chinese citizens are no longer willing to always passively tolerate the CCP violence. To be clear, it would be wishful thinking to expect that these micro protests may escalate into massive riots threatening the regime. But they are small signs that something is moving.