Over the years that we lived in China, I ran into my fair share of the chengguan, otherwise known as the street police. The Chengguan are a unique Chinese institution: something less than a police officer, but more powerful than an average person. These urban management officers are hired by municipal governments to carry out undesirable tasks (Definition from TeaLeafNation article) My interaction with them was limited to seeing them coming through the various markets to harass store owners. When a uniform was spotted, a murmur would move through the lines of stalls and many would completely shut up shop as they passed through, rather than deal with their abuse.
With the ease of photos and the internet now, there are many new stories coming to light of abuse and even death caused by these chengguan, especially those whose power has gone to their heads. In 2013, a 56-year-old farmer named Deng Zhengjia brought his watermelons to a nearby city. When the chengguan confronted him about selling on the street, they took some of his watermelons and ordered him to move to an approved stall. He and his wife obeyed, but when the chengguan came around again, this time they took more than watermelons, they took his life. All because he dared to question their authority and begged them to leave him be. Fortunately, his wife was there and was able to be with him as he took his last breath.
Suspicously when his daughter took to Weibo, the Chinese twitter, about what happened to her father, her posts were soon deleted and replaced with a statement that the government had acted fairly in the situation. Censorship along with abuse and murder! When the people tried to get the chengguan to take responsibility by guarding the body for an autopsy, they were soon beaten down too.
Another instance of the chengguan acting inappropriately is when they rounded up all the beggars at a festival and put them in portable jail cells along the sidewalk.
The photos that accompanied the story are heart-breaking, and were the catalyst for Lily’s story in my novel, Bitter Winds. Lily is blind, and when she is mistakenly taken for a beggar, the chengguan interrupt her life. Her sister, Ivy, must find a way to free her from the grasp of corrupt officials. The two become desperate to each help the other, and the bonds of sisterhood cannot be broken as they work to be reunited.
Read more about Lily and Ivy and their fight for freedom in Bitter Winds, available here at Amazon.
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