Peddling for profit? Beijing's street vendors

By Lauren Ratcliffe
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 23, 2011
Adjust font size:

They sit and wait on dusty overpasses and dirty streets. They watch with hungry eyes as pedestrians pass by the blankets they stretched out and covered with trinkets earlier that morning.

These are Beijing's street vendors. Each waits for one of the hundreds of people who pass their stall each day to buy.

In China, street vending is illegal. The majority of the vendors on the streets are operating without permits.

It's the vendors who spread their goods on blankets who are most often illegal. Some, however – usually with large, more permanent stands – register for permits from the government and operate legally.

They choose locations both strategically and for convenience. Carrying large plastic shopping bags, worn thin by heavy use, vendors often set up in well-traveled areas near their homes.

"Since 2006, I've chosen my spot near Huayuan Bridge," said Tang, a worn-looking 39, who declined to give her full name because she sells illegally.

Tang's spot on a pedestrian overpass is one bus stop from her house, she said. She goes there each morning at about 7 after she sends her daughter off to school.

She greets every potential customer with a warm smile. She eagerly shows off the hodge-podge of goods she has assembled: fans, hair ties, nail clippers, stuffed animals and much more.

Tang displays a fan to a customer at her spot on a pedestrian overpass. The fan sold for 12 yuan.

Tang displays a fan to a customer at her spot on a pedestrian overpass. The fan sold for 12 yuan.

Vendors here sell everything from socks and wallets, headphones to electronic cables. All the goods are inexpensive. None cost more than 20 yuan ($3).

Because of the low prices, many vendors only scrape by.

They leave hometowns in other provinces of China in hopes of a better life. Some apply for residency in Beijing to make living simpler, but many don't have the skills or education to work other jobs. They say that sitting in the dust peddling goods is their only option.

Yang, a 30-year-old illegal vendor from Hubei Province, sells small electronics and protective screens for mobile phones. He has been a vendor for a decade.

"I don't have other technical skills," he said. "I only graduated from junior school, and I have no other options."

Despite the odds against them, Yang and Tang say they dream of owning their own businesses.

"I would like to open a store one day," Tang said with a hopeful look in her eye. "But I don't have enough money."

Vendors said they keep an inventory worth about 1,000 yuan ($154.73) on their mats. They try to sell the goods for 30 and 50 percent more.

1   2   3   Next  

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from