Edited by Wenyang Wu
1. Two Recent Cases of Chengguan Abuses
On July 17th 2013, a 56-year-old watermelon vendor Deng Zhengjia was beaten to death by several ‘Urban Management’ officers, or chengguan, of Linwu County in Hunan Province. News of this tragic story soon spread across Chinese media. On Dec 27th, the Yongxing County People’s Court in Hunan found four chengguan guilty of intentionally injuring Deng and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from three-and-a-half to eleven years. Deng’s family members were not satisfied with the result and they intended to bring an appeal.
According to the witnesses, the conflict started when chengguan tried to confiscate the watermelons and impose a monetary fine on the Dengs for selling fruits outside the designated area. Deng Zhengjia’s wife cursed chengguan and threatened to cause bodily harm. After she got hit, Deng tired to strike back for his wife, a fight then broke out. Deng was beaten by several chengguan and was found dead after they stopped. When local police officers tried to take away the body at midnight, a crowd fought back. It has been reported that several people were injured, and two reporters’ cell phones and video equipments were smashed.
Actually this is not the first chengguan case that has drawn national even international attention in 2013. On May 31st, one of the chengguan jumped and stamped on a bike shop owner’s head in Yan’an City of Shanxi Province. According to the witnesses, the bike shop owner struggled to stand up after the stamping and slapped one chengguan in the face, which led to the second round of beating. This “head stamp” case triggered a heated discussion over the chengguan system. Later Yan’an Chengguan Bureau made a public apology. Two chengguan involved in the beating were put under criminal and administrative detention respectively and the rest were given party discipline punishment.
2. A Brief Introduction of Chengguan
The legal basis is for the creation of chengguan is the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administrative Penalty, passed in March 1996, which empowered provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities to “entrust an organization…with imposing administrative penalties” regarding matters falling outside the realm of criminal law and the authority of the Public Security Bureau (China’s police). Before that, the power to impose administrative penalty fell under different departments of the local government. The centralization of such power was meant to avoid the overlapping of penalty enforcement, corruption, abuse of power, and inefficiency.
In 1997, authorized by the State Council, the first chengguan unit was set up in Beijing Xuanwu district. Five years later, 23 provinces, autonomous regions and 3 municipalities had all set up chengguan forces. Chengguan’s duties are defined by their local government and usually cover many fields. For example, Beijing Municipal Law Enforcing Bureau of Comprehensive Administration carries out power of penalty in 13 fields, including city appearance, administration of urban planning, industrial and commercial administration, public utilities, auto parking, and environmental protection.
There is no “Chengguan Management Law” in China but the Administrative Enforcement Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2012, provides certain standards for chengguan’s law enforcement. One improvement is this law categorizes and limits administrative enforcement measures to “administrative enforcement” and “administrative compulsion”. The former includes fines, removal of obstructions etc and the latter includes, for example, restriction of a citizen’s freedom and seizing of property. Before this law, there were hundreds of enforcement measures without uniform name and standards. Another improvement is this law includes the prioritization of “non-compulsory” enforcement measures and it stipulates a procedure for when and how administrative organs may adopt a compulsory measure.
3. Excessive Violence of Chengguan
One major problem of chenggunan’s law enforcement is excessive violence like the brutally beating took place in the two cases mentioned above. One reason for this is, the individuals targeted by chengguan are usually street vendors, who are migrant workers trying to make a living in the city. In order to support their families, they are willing to take chances with laws and regulations, and also tend to act violently when chengguan take law enforcement measures.
Another reason is the hiring of “temporary assistance officers” and their lack of training. In the “head stamp” case, the two detained chengguan are all temporary assistance officers who actually have no authority to take enforcement measures. During the interview of an assistance officer Zheng Yuanyuan, who also participated in the beating of the “head stamp” case, Zheng said that she is of middle-school-level education and only received one week of training after she was hired as assistance chengguan officer at the age of 18 with month salary around 1000 yuan. Not long after she started her job, she got scratched badly on the face by an unlicensed vendor. She felt very hurt at that time, but no one seemed to care and taught her how to deal with the conflicts with the vendors.
The fact that many chengguan who are involved in violent enforcement are left unpunished also leads to more frequent physical abuses. Most vendors do not know how to protect their legal rights and they believe standing up to chengguan also means standing up to the local government, which is something they try to avoid the most. Unlike the victims in the “watermelon vendor” case which has received national attention, victims in other less severe cases may not have the same opportunity to seek impunity for abuses and receive compensation from the government.
4. Violent Resistance Met by Chengguan
Many news and reports only focus on chengguan’s violent behaviors, but ignore the fact that chengguan are also facing the threat of violence every day. In September 2013, after receiving complaints from local residents about the night market, Xinglong Street Chengguan Unit in Nanjing City tried to ask the unlicensed vendors to move their business. But instead of listening to the warnings, some vendors called up a group of people and started to attack chengguan with woken sticks and wine bottles. Several chengguan were injured and their vehicle was also smashed. In December, when Shanghai chengguan tried to remove the street vendors who were blocking the streets, one chengguan was beaten up and another’s foot was crushed by a vendor’s cart.
These two recent incidents are only some of the mild cases. In September 2011, four Shenzhen chengguan were attacked by knife during the job, which led to one death and three injured. This case soon drew huge attention of the public, people started to realize that chengguan can also be the victims of this system. One chengguan of Zhuhai City said: “They always say chengguan beat people, but actually we are the ones who got beaten up all the times. Many Chengguan Bureaus don’t allow chengguan to fight back or even talk back when conflicts happen, if we break the rule, our medical fees will not be covered and we will also be disciplined.”
Though chengguan officers may face all kinds of violent resistance during their jobs, their works are not approved by the public and people always tend to assume chengguan is the wrongdoer. During an interview of Guangzhou chengguan Li Ming, who was a victim of a brutal beating of vendors, he said something that touched many people: “Chengguan are also humans, they too have conscience.”
5. Recommendations to Improve Chengguan System
First, according to China’s Civil Servant Law and Administrative Penalty Law, only civil servant has the authority to impose centralized administrative penalty. It means the chengguan who are officially hired should at least meet the standards of civil servants. If temporary assistant officers are needed, they should be properly trained and the limits of their powers should be made clear. The salary of chengguan should be raised. In many cities chengguan’s monthly salary are very low, some even lower than the minimum wage standard of the province. This leads to instability and the relatively low quality of chengguan units. Also, the chengguan bureau should provide its officers access to psychological support for law enforcement. According to a survey in 2010, 66.4% of chengguan in Beijing often feel depression and pressure, and 16.1% have psychological health issue over the moderate level.
Second, as for the enforcement, chengguan should strictly follow the due procedure rules of the local government. For example, they have to show their identity certificates, and if fines are made, invoice should be provided. Without such procedures, vendors are more likely to challenge the authority of chengguan. It will also make chengguan forces look unprofessional and undisciplined. Also, the law enforcement should be more transparent. The targets and legal basis of the enforcement, the amount of the penalties, and the whereabouts of the confiscated goods should all be made public. Transparency will make sure chengguan forces are under public supervision and it will also help chengguan build a trust-worthy image.
Third, it’s important to give people access to report abuses and seek impunity. Many chengguan bureaus have already tried to provide a platform for people to report abuses. For example, on Beijing chengguan bureau’s website, you can report abuses under the column of “government information disclosure”. You can also make suggestions and advice, or just write to the head of the bureau directly. As for impunity, one good example is the Shenzheng Chengguan Regulation which was just adopted on Oct 1st 2013. It clearly states that when any of the abuses under the regulation (such as swearing, threatening, beating, damaging personal property etc) takes place, the directly responsible individual and his/her direct superior will be subject to administrative punishment, if the abuses constitute crimes, criminal liability will be imposed. It’s not clear whether this regulation will lead to promised results for the victims and eventually a more civilized chengguan unit.
Though most people in China have a mixed feeling towards chengguan, it’s undeniable that chengguan are handling some of the most trivial but important matters that cover almost every aspect of a resident’s life. China needs time to figure out how to prevent chengguan abuses without restraining its ability to act efficiently. A better chengguan system will help create a more harmonious society and a better image of China.
 Conflict between Chengguan and the Watermelon Vendor (includes reports, videotapes, and interviews from different Chinese media and sina twitters), News Sina (Dec.29, 2013, 02:20 AM), http://news.sina.com.cn/z/hncg2013/.
, Xu Lingyun, The Conflict and Target of Chengguan Administrative Enforcement and Law-based Administration, Social Sciences Review Vol.23 No. 5, at 95(2008).
 “Beat Him, Take Everything Away” Abuses by China’s Chengguan Para-Police, Human Rights Watch Report, May.23, 2012, at 16.
 Xie Heping, Chen Sheng, Tian Xiaohong, The Reason and Negative Effects of Stigmatization of Chengguan, Reform and Opening, April, at 110 (2013).
 He Jingliang, Liu Huaiming, Yan Haijun, On Law Enforcement Power of Chengguan and Street Vendors’ Right to Live, Law and Society, July, at 202 (2012).