Chengguan cracksdown on vegetables and chickens, ignores panties

I know everyone wants to talk about North Korea’s nukes and bird flu, but here’s the big news from our neighbourhood today: a legion of chengguan 城管 showed up to crackdown on vegetable gardens and backyard chicken coups, as was warned about in notices stuck on all the gates a few days ago.

My hunch is the neighbourhood management saw an opportunity in the bird flu situation and took it. The story is this was a village ten years ago and the villagers were compensated with apartment square meterage matching that of their village homes, end result being that this neighbuorhood has a higher percentage of peasants than the average urban development.

Anyway, the chengguan were right outside our windows around 11:15 this morning:

I was at work and Jessica took this out the kitchen window. She said about 30 people in all.

They’re cracking down on domestic chicken coups and vegetable gardens like these:

The notice said it was OK to plant trees and flowers, but not vegetables. Panties weren’t mentioned.

I took a quick spin around the neighbourhood before lunch while out getting eggs. There are vegetable gardens all over the place, but I didn’t see evidence of any being disturbed. Maybe they’re saving their bylaw enforcement for after 休息, and this morning was just recon?

More fun with Chengguan:

In case you ever wondered what it’s like to eat BBQ’d silk worm larvae (蚕蛹)

The carapace is tough but flexible. Biting down causes hot mush to burst out into your mouth. Two more chews and two squirts later it’s finally empty. You manage to down the bug guts in two or three swallows, but the outer shell is the challenging part. It takes a lot of chewing, and the thought of sliding it to the back of your mouth in order to swallow makes you wonder if you’ll gag. Your choice: try to swallow all of it quickly in one go and risk gagging, or chew and chew and chew, swallowing little shredded pieces of it at a time, prolonging the experience. You take the second option, feeling each piece of the exoskeleton slime across the back of your tongue and down your throat. Thankfully it doesn’t have much taste. And without legs and wings, it’s easier to eat than that giant cockroach in Thailand.

(蚕蛹) here. I heard separately from friends and students that one of these things has the equivalent protein of three eggs.

We love this sidewalk BBQ place because of the 热闹 atmosphere. The wide sidewalks are usually filled with folding tables and stools and diners. This night we had to walk through the kitchen and eat in the back alley because three chéngguÇŽn were charged with doing nothing but standing on the opposite sidewalk from the afternoon until 12:30am to make sure none of these restaurants put out their tables! I went and complained to them. They were friendly, and said they had to manage that particular road (the restaurant is on the corner of a T-intersection). The other road, literally around the corner in plain view, had tables and stools and the usual illegal street vendors, but these three guys were only watching these particular restaurants on this particular road. All they did was stand there, for hours, looking at the opposite sidewalk. That’s how things work here. They’re the ones that said, Don’t worry, you can eat outside in the back alley.

The blurry, non-flash-or-tripod photo above on the right shows the true colours and lighting and warmth.

To put things in perspective, this place also offers giant (giant!) white snails, bullfrogs, the usual assorted animal organs, and… wait for it… sheep penis on a stick. So all things considered, silk worm larvae are not so far out of one’s comfort zone.

Related stuff:

The Tianjin Chengguan Street Market Game

Watching the street vendors and the chéngguǎn do their little dance at the street market near our apartment provides an interesting anecdote for two crucial Chinese cultural concepts: 人情 and 面子。

There’s a colourful, bustling, crowded and filthy street market near our neighbourhood (see here for more photos), and I suspect its days are numbered.

Every time I go recently in the late afternoon there are chéngguÇŽn (城管:”city management” by-law enforcers) cooperatively hassling the illegal vendors who choke the roads leading to the Jade Spring Road Vegetable Market (玉泉路菜市场). By “cooperatively” I mean it’s a big game. The chéngguÇŽn deliberately and obviously drag their feet. Their van inches around the corner at the far end of one street, giving the vendors plenty of time to yell, bundle up their stuff, and, sometimes laughing, sometimes running, make a show of clearing off. Or they cover up their produce and act like they’re just hanging out… next to closed boxes full of tomatoes. The chéngguÇŽn take their sweet time pulling around, parking, and getting out. Then they saunter up the street, and as soon as they’ve passed by the vendors roll their sacks back out on the pavement and re-stack their cabbages, fish, rabbits, fruit, or whatever. The day I took the following photo, three of the chéngguÇŽn were sitting on the side of the road having tea with a couple vendors who had boxed up their stuff and had it stowed away right there beside them. I would have taken their photo, but we had our daughter with us and they were smiling and making faces at her. In the picture below, a chéngguÇŽn (on the left) ignores a vendor who has obediently folded up her produce in blankets in a pile beside her. She’s just waiting for them to leave so she can uncover her vegetables and start selling again.

I have seen a chéngguÇŽn in this market get a little mean (it was the guy in the picture above, about 30 seconds before I took the picture), and it was when a cucumber seller decided to ignore him and not make a show of clearing off as he approached. That seemed to make this particular chéngguÇŽn a little angry and he lunged for the guy’s wooden vegetable box, which was quickly yanked out of reach by a rope and dragged off down a side street. No attempt to pursue, even though he would have easily had it in about two or three steps.

“Humanity” 人情 and “Face” 面子

I described all this to one of my Chinese coworkers, and he explained it with two terms: 人情 and 面子。 “Human feelings” 人情 is how he explained why the chéngguÇŽn carry out their orders to the absolute bare minimum ‘letter of the law’ degree, and how they can sit down and chat over tea with the same people they’re supposed to be hassling. They recognize a lot of these people, he said, and don’t want to stop them from trying to make a living; they personally couldn’t care less whether there’s a street market here or not. It’s nothing personal. But they have their orders, and the point of orders in China is to do just enough so that you can tell your superiors that you did them. The actual purpose of the order, the ‘spirit of the law’, is entirely beside the point, especially when your superiors are only giving you the order because their superiors gave it to them and they want to make their superiors happy because they’re working on a promotion.

The other key term he used was “face” 面子。 Why do they bother with the silly charade of bundling up their cabbages in full view of the chéngguÇŽn (who’s walking toward them maybe only a few meters away), and scooting off down an alley only to come back a few minutes later? It gives face to the chéngguÇŽn. It’s an acknowledgment of who’s in charge. ChéngguÇŽn can give these kinds of people all kinds of trouble if they want to; sometimes they can be brutal (see here, here, here and here). Sometimes the vendors fight back. The vendors are almost all illegal migrants near the bottom of society and without legal protection. They’ll yell and run and make a sincere effort to clear off as quickly as possible when they sense that they need to; they aren’t always laughing and you do sense fear sometimes, depending on the circumstances. But at least for now, in our particular street market, all the chéngguÇŽn require is a little “face”, a show of deference, a lack of defiance, tails between legs, and they’re satisfied.

These streets are easily the most lively (热闹) in our area, but with the consistency of the harassment, half-hearted as it appears, I bet it’s only a matter of time before this one goes they same way as the street markets near our old place.

There are more street market photos in the Our Tianjin 2010 photo gallery, which I just now finally finished uploading. So if you’ve seen it before there’s some new stuff (like sheep brains and an explosive dog). You can also see video of what it’s like to try and ride a bike through this market here: Tianjin Street Market Dash video.

Related stuff from the blog:

Related stuff from the web:

Making our neighbourhood more “civilized”

“Establishing a civilized community is everybody’s dream;
creating a beautiful and happy life has your and my contributions.”

jiàn wénmíng shèqū shì dàjiā xīnyuàn, chuàng měihǎo shēnghuó yǒu nǐ wǒ fèngxiàn

This is the new banner that went up in our neighbourhood this week. What it actually means is, “Sidewalk vegetable sellers are officially no longer welcome here.” When this went up, the chéngguÇŽn (城管), which are the low-level bylaw enforcers who deal with things like illegal street vendors, came and kicked out our neighbourhood’s vegetable sellers — a migrant couple from Húnán (湖南) who daily pedal in their vegetables on a three-wheel cart — and the noodle vendors with their push carts. All of them have been daily fixtures inside the front gate of our apartment complex since the day we moved in. Jessica’s buying noodles after a walk in the park in the photo below (vegetables in the background on the left):

The Pros & Cons
We like having these people in our neighbourhood. In a big, dirty, noisy, anonymous, soul-quenching concrete wasteland where you don’t even know the people in your own stairwell, having an informal community center inside the front entrance where people play, gossip, buy breakfast and lunch, etc. really changes the feel of the place. We get to smile and make small talk every time we come and go (and show off L), and the old guys sitting around doing nothing all day get just as big a kick out of it as we do, I think.

But it’s not simply a matter of vain city officials disregarding the poor in a selfish rush to create a sterile urban facade that will advance their careers and prestige (though no doubt that’s a big part of it); there are real downsides to having these vendors around. The chÇŽobǐng (炒饼) lady, whom we call “auntie” (大娘), leaves a pile of eggs shells, cabbage, and other rotting food waste right by the entrance every night. More than once when biking home from work at night I’ve seen and heard big rats scrounging around in it. These vendors are unregulated, and in China that often means things like dìgōuyóu (地沟油), cooking oil that was skimmed off the sewage scooped out of manholes outside of restaurants and resold in used-but-new-looking containers, usually to street vendors but often to restaurants as well. Street vendors also create traffic nightmares in a city where the traffic is already beyond brutal. Tianjin used to be known for its bustling street markets, which was a nice way of saying ridiculously crowded streets that you could barely push your bike through. These days such markets are harder to find, but I videoed a bike ride through one a couple blocks away.

Getting Kicked Out
Here’s the best shot we have of the vegetable selling scene, pre-eviction. It’s hard to see, but there are shelves of vegetables along the wall on the left, behind the chair and cabinet:

And here’s afterward, with their shelves and things torn down:

It doesn’t happen as sinisterly as I could make it sound in the telling; it’s not like there’s a squadron of stone-faced riot police that show up and bully people around. In our neighbourhood it means an unenthusiastic middle-aged guy, who looks just like the other middle-aged guys in our neighborhood aside from his rumpled, ill-fitting, cheap-looking uniform, standing off to the side smoking, almost apologetically telling the vendors they have to go. He’s just the messenger; he has no real power, but the people that sent him do and there’s nothing anyone can do about it except comply. He’s the opposite of intimidating.

That’s how it is here and elsewhere in our area: the vendors don’t get mad at the messengers — they even stand around and chat, taking their time. But that’s not how it is elsewhere, where chéngguÇŽn are often violent and beat the street vendors, in some instances provoking violence in return — not to mention the controversy surrounding the alleged leak of a chéngguÇŽn manual explaining how to use violence to enforce bylaws. In Kunming people are even getting creative in their resistance. No such drama for us, though.

I leave for work on my bike around 8:20am, and on the morning all this happened I passed the chÇŽobǐng lady on my way to the subway. She was pushing her cart down the road after being kicked out that morning. She’s funny because she’s tiny, can’t be more than 5 feet tall or more than 80 or 90 pounds, but she’s a real firecracker. I asked what happened and she animatedly told me that the chéngguÇŽn made her leave. I asked when she could return and she said, “After 9:00.” I double-checked, “You mean you can go back after 9:00? You just have to wait until after 9?” Yep, that was the deal apparently, at least for her and the other push-cart vendors. Maybe there was an inspection coming through. Since then they’ve all been back every morning like normal, except for the vegetable sellers.

Other stuff about street vendors, street markets, and city clean-up:

Behaving yourself… with Tianjin characteristics

The word “propaganda” (宣传 xuān​chuán​) doesn’t carry the same sinister connotations in Chinese. A range of promotional material and activity that we wouldn’t automatically consider insidious in North America would be called “propaganda” in Chinese. (So maybe it’d be most accurate to use the word “propaganda” more broadly like the Chinese do but retain the negative connotations?) Anyway, this April contained a lot of propaganda. Before the gov. started spinning its role in the earthquake relief efforts, an unrelated propaganda campaign was already underway in Tianjin.

I mentioned in before how our teacher warned me about this April’s campaign in Tianjin to enforce previously unenforced laws; she was afraid I’d get a ticket for the way I bike. Our neighbourhood got some colourful new posters detailing the rules in pictures, though the photo at right of our neighbourhood notice board shows how much people seemed to care. Our Chinese teacher’s explanation of how people feel about these little campaigns (“行动“) fits right in with what we’ve seen in our area. After all, they’ve been through this drill before.

According to her, there’s an understanding between the front line guys who have to make a show of implementing these kinds of campaigns and the people who are supposed to alter their behaviour/business activities: play the game, let us put on a show for our bosses so they can report to their bosses, and we’ll continue looking the other way just like we’ve always done once this little xíngdòng blows over.

I won’t bother translating all the text from the posters, but here’s the main parts (left to right, top to bottom). I followed the Chinese grammar as close as I could for fellow language students’ sake. Not the most exciting material, I know, but this is our neighbourhood; all the behaviours mentioned are ubiquitous around here, though some more than others. Besides, you know you’ve always wanted to know how to say “propaganda poster” in Chinese!

“Tianjin City City Administration Regulations” Propaganda Poster 1
tiānjīnshì chéngshì guǎnlǐ guīdìng xuānchuán guàtú

City residents ought to abide by City Administration laws and regulations and behaviour norms, cherish public facilities, protect the public environment, and maintain public order.
shìmín yīngdāng zūnshǒu chéngshì guǎnlǐ fǎlǜ guīdìng hé xíngwéi zhǔzé, àihù gōnggòng shèshī, bǎohù gōnggòng huánjìng, wéihù gōnggòng zhìxù

In public places it is strictly forbidden everywhere to spit phlegm, spit chewing gum, strictly forbidden everywhere to pee or relieve yourself, strictly forbidden to carelessly throw cigarette butts, paper scraps, fruit peels and pits as well as all kinds of other waste material. [Sign: Prohibited everywhere to poo or pee] (Fine: 50å…ƒ/$7.45)
ài gōnggòng chǎngsuǒ yánjìn suídì tǔtán, tǔ kǒuxiāngtáng, yánjìn suíchù biànnì huòzhě luàn dàofèibiàn, yánjìn luànrēng yāndì, zhǐxiè, guāguǒ pí hé yǐjí qítā gèlèi fèiqìwù. [jìnzhǐ suídì dàxiǎobiàn]

It is strictly forbidden from buildings or vehicles to toss out any kind of material.
yánjìn yóu jiànzhùwù huòzhě chēliàng xiàngwài zhì gèlèi wùpǐn

It is strictly forbidden on buildings, construction and other installations or trees, residential passageways and other places to exhibit, post, hang, carve, scribble, any kind of urban eyesore slogans, propaganda articles and other materials.
yánjìn zài jiànzhùwù, gòuzhùwù hé qítā shèshī huòzhě shùmù, jūmín lóudào děngchù bǎifàng, zhāngtiē, kèhuá, túxiě gèzhǒng yǒuàishìróng shì mào de biāoyǔ, xuānchuánpǐn hé qítā wùpǐn

It is strictly forbidden whatsoever for work units and individuals to privately put up disorderly buildings.
yánjìn rènhé dānwèi hé gèrén sī dā luàn gài

It is strictly forbidden on residential buildings outer eaves to add new doors and windows, open windows and alter doors or increase the original door and window dimensions. [Privately owned beauty parlour]
yánjìn zài zhùzhái lóufáng wài yánshàng zēngshè mén chuāng, chāi chuāng gǎi mén huòzhě kuòdà yuányǒu mén chuāng chǐcùn. [sījiā měifà]
(A whole strip of first floor street-facing businesses next to our complex have just filled in their illegal doors half-way and either posted signs saying “Normal business hours, go around” or provided steps for people to step over the recently laid bricks. After the first two three of the campaign, some of the businesses have already knocked most of their brickwork back down.)

It is strictly forbidden to illegally occupy the road, in public locations to display and sell, food and drink, or engage in activities like motor vehicle washing and repairing, etc. [Intersection Jianbing][Sanitary and clean]
yánjìn wéifǎ zhànyòng dàolù, gōnggòng chǎngsuǒ cóngshì bǎimài, cānyǐn, jīdòngchē qīngxǐ hé xiūlǐ děng jīngyíng huódòng. [dàokǒu jiānbing][wèishēng gānjìng]
(Around here this means that all the street cart vendors have started crowding the entrances to neighbourhoods rather than being right out on the street corners.)

It is strictly forbidden on the road and in neighbourhood unappointed places to burn funeral wreaths, paper money and other funeral articles.
yánjìn zài dàolù jí shèqū fēizhǐdìng qūyù nèi fénshāo huāquān, zhǐqián jí qítā sāngzàng yòngpǐn.

It is strictly forbidden for individuals to raise aggressive dogs, big-size dogs. (Penalty: 1000å…ƒ fine and the dog gets confiscated.)
yánjìn gèrén sìyǎng lièxìng quǎn, dàxíng quǎn.

It is strictly forbidden to make use of high-volume broadcast loudspeakers or to produce other high-level noise to interfere with the surrounding residential life; if engaging in household indoor entertainment, renovations, etc., activities, you ought to restrict the time or take effective measures to alleviate noise pollution. (Amen!!!)
yánjìn shǐyòng gāo shēng guǎngbō lǎba huòzhě fāchū qítā gao zàoshēng gānrǎo zhōuwéi jūmín shēnghuó; cóngshì jiātíng shìnèi yúlè, zhuāngxiū děng huódòng, yīngdāng xiànzhì shíjiān huòzhě cǎiqǔ yǒuxiàocuòshī jiǎnqīng zàoyīn wūrǎn.

It is strictly forbidden to illegally occupying city streets. It is strictly forbidden to change the purpose of approved road occupation or move location, expand area or extend occupation time length without approval.
yánjìn wéifǎ zhànyòng chéngshì dàolù. yánjìn wèijīng pīzhǔn gǎibiàn zhàn lù yòngtú huòzhe yídòng wèizhi, kuòdà miànjī, yáncháng shíjiān.

It is strictly forbidden in the first place to illegally damage park green spaces. It is strictly forbidden after occupying park green spaces to delay in rehabilitating.
yánjìn wéifǎ zhàn yà, pòhuài yuánlín lǜdì. yánjìn zhànyòng yuánlín lǜdì fòu chíyán huīfù.
And here’s some other recent sloganeering from near our old neighbourhood:

“Implement the Scientific Development Concept, strive to establish an economically strong district, cultured greater area and an ecologically suitable-for-dwelling city. (A Binshui Nanli Neighbourhood Committee announcement)”
luòshí kēxué fāzhǎn guān, nǔlì jìnshè jīngjì qiáng qū, wénhuà dà qū hé shēngtài yí jū chéngqū. (bīnshuǐnánlǐ jūwěihuì xuān)

“Support the motherland, love Tianjin, behave like civilized Hexi district people!”
zàn zǔguó, ài tiānjīn, zuò wénmíng héxīrén

For an interesting, unflinching window into contemporary China, I’d suggest checking out this large photo collection of translated slogans and photos — some are funny; some are very, very sad. Once you get out of the higher-profile cities on the coast, the slogans become much more… galling.