Home / China / Opinion Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Time to end the urban cat-and-mouse game
Adjust font size:

The draft Ordinance on Individual Industrial and Commercial Households, issued by the State Council Legislative Affairs Office recently to seek public opinion, may bring back the good old days of prosperous private business.

If the ordinance grants street vendors their rightful status to conduct business, it would finally help resolve the years-long dispute between street vendors and Chengguan (urban management) officers, who shoo them away or detain them to maintain order.

Though vendors were banned from selling their wares on pavements years ago, they have been playing hide and seek with Chengguan officers because they have to earn a living to feed their families. This cat-and-mouse game of survival has seen street vendors clash with Chengguan officers many a time in many a city. At times, this appears to tear a tiny but important part of our social fabric.

Worse, such a contradiction could corrode our treasured social philosophy of granting everybody, regardless of his/her economic and social status, equal freedom to operate lawful business. This freedom came 30 years ago when people were encouraged by the government to engage in small-time and/or small-scale trade. Social economy, which till then had been based on State-owned enterprises, burst forth with all its vitality and individual prosperity.

Experience shows culture flourishes, personal life is enriched and political reforms are introduced simultaneously with individual economic prosperity. The periods when the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties ruled can be cited as examples to prove the point.

For ages, scholars have considered a thriving individual economy to be an important means of improving China's political, cultural and economic systems.

In other words, the more actively individuals are involved in economic operations, the more they will be aware of their personal rights and political participation. In fact, individual livelihood and prosperity depends on how social tolerance and freedom is applied in society.

But if things go wrong - as seen in the banning of street vendors - and our individual commercial vitality is compromised, there is every reason to worry. It could also mean that our social tolerance and freedom has been undermined.

The way a government deals with street vendors reflects, to some extent, its attitude in dealing with individuals in all areas of social life. And to determine whether individuals have been granted freedom in social life, we just have to look at a government's governing principle and see how it balances between state power and personal rights.

That's why, like many other people, I was happy to know that the draft ordinance had been issued to seek public opinion on granting legal status to street vendors because it re-emphasizes the importance of individual economy.

The sooner the ordinance is implemented the sooner will the bitterness of the disadvantaged vendors evaporate, and the sooner we can rid ourselves of our shameful social contradictions, highlighted so starkly in the hide-and-seek game the street vendors play with the Chengguan officers.

The author is a Beijing-based commentator.

(China Daily August 19, 2009)

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read Bookmark and Share
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- Hackers 'spice up' chengguan site
- If Chengguan officers exist in 12th century