Beatings, riots and even death have been the result in the past when Kunming's city management officers have tried to confiscate property from unlicensed street vendors.
But now, in an apparent attempt to stem such events and repair the oft-derided management officers' tarnished image, the department that oversees them has proposed a new curb on confiscations.
The proposed change in policy will in most cases bar city management officers from confiscating unlicensed street vendors's wares on the first offense. Instead, the officers—often referred to by their shorthand Chinese name, chengguan—will only be allowed to issue a written warning.
Chengguan confiscating carts and merchandise from unlicensed vendors is a common source of commotion on city streets, with local citizens and media tending to side against the chengguan, who are often perceived as thuggish.
In 2005 a vendor stabbed a chengguan officer to death while the officer was trying to confiscate the vendor's tangerine cart. This was followed last year by chengguan officers beating a man and leaving him lying bloodied on the street.
In March of this year, a small riot broke out and an angry crowd set fire to law enforcement vehicles after chengguan officers tipped over a 56-year-old woman's fried potato cart, knocking her unconscious in the process.
The new regulation is being proposed by the chengguan's bureaucratic overseer, the Kunming Bureau of City Administration and Law Enforcement, which has branded the policy as "first offense, no punishment" (首违不罚).
It remains to be seen whether the policy will have much effect on public perception of chengguan, given widespread public tolerance for and patronage of unlicensed vendors.
"The circumstances in Kunming are not suitable for vending on the street," said an official surnamed Liu from the Bureau. "It's much better that they set up a stall in a market, rather than sell things out on city streets."
A street vendor surnamed Li who talked to a Spring City Evening Post reporter agreed. He told the reporter that he had originally been a vendor at a Kunming farmers' market, but that the market had been demolished to clear the way for development.
"Now I depend on carrying around some fruit slung on either end of a pole to make a living," he told the reporter.
After assailing the chengguan's current rough tactics, he pleaded for the city to make street vending into a legal but regulated activity, with specific times and places where it is allowed.
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