Violent Chinese officials criticised
THE USE of violence by city workers known as chengguan — city inspectors, bailiffs and municipal enforcers whose job it is to apply city regulations – is stoking up widespread unrest in China, Human Rights Watch said in a report yesterday.
The report, Beat Him, Take Everything Away, catalogues abuses by the chengguan, or “urban management law enforcement units”, including the beating of street vendors, using violence during forced evictions, and attacking journalists.
The word is often heard as a term of abuse in Chinese for a bully or a violent person.
Some of the 25 testimonies in the report, launched at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club, describe the kind of abuse meted out by the chengguan.
One Beijing street seller described being beaten until her face was swollen, while a kebab seller in the capital spoke of his confusion about why he was assaulted.
“No reason was given. They never told me what crime I had committed. In fact, up to this day, I still do not know if doing this business is legal or not,” he said.
A street vendor in Shenyang in Liaoning province told of how a chengguan official made her husband kneel and kicked him after he illegally sold sausages.
A journalist in Kunming, Yunnan province, said he was beaten by the security officials as he tried to interview a little girl, and that police stood by and watched.
Phelim Kine, author of the report, described the chengguan as a form of “black hole in terms of monitoring, surveillance and discipline”.
Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said the chengguan had earned a reputation for brutality and impunity.
“They are now synonymous for many Chinese citizens with physical violence, illegal detention, and theft,” she said.
They first hit the streets in 1997, and are widely disliked by anyone doing business on the streets.
They operate in about 656 cities across China, and among their roles is to enforce all kinds of non-criminal administrative rules, on areas such as environment, sanitation, traffic and urban management.
They are allowed to impose fines but they are not allowed detain or use excessive force against anyone they suspect of breaking the rules.
In June last year, there were riots in southern China after a pregnant street hawker was abused by a group of chengguan. It led to a three-day standoff.