Who's managing the managers in China?

Chengguan, or city management officers, who are notorious for their violent actions against illegal street peddlers made headlines again in China.

A riot broke out in Cangnan county, Zhejiang province, last Saturday when chengguan attacked a man for taking photos of a dispute between the officers and a vendor.

The man, identified as Huang Xiangba, was allegedly slapped, punched and kicked by uniformed and plainclothes officers.

He was knocked unconscious. An onlooker snapped a photo of him which showed blood trickling down from the corner of his mouth.

The crowd kept swelling at the scene. Furious people attacked the chengguan’s vehicle with bricks and sticks, smashing the window and puncturing its tyres.

Five chengguan in the vehicle were badly injured in the assault.

The Cangnan government, in a statement shared on its official Weibo account, said the riot was fuelled by an online rumour that chengguan had beaten a man to death.

It explained that the chengguan from Lingxi city were requesting a vendor to remove gas stoves and other items from the walkway, but the said vendor was not willing to cooperate.

“Huang happened to pass by the scene and used his handphone to take photos.

“He refused to stop when ­prompted by the officers, and a clash ensued. He was sent to hospital immediately,” the statement read.

The whole incident lasted from 9am to 4pm.

Fifteen suspects were nabbed later while three chengguan who attacked Huang were detained for 10 or 15 days.

This shocking news added to the long list of conflict between the officers and members of the public, who often resent the men in uniform for their abusive actions and use of excessive force.

Out to change this perception was a chengguan from Changzhou, Jiangsu province.

Jiang Yifan, 27, came into the limelight last year for producing a short film with his co-workers to offer a glimpse into their job.

As the video captured scenes from a day in the life of a chengguan, a voice-over told the audience, “You only see my harsh words and stern look, but you don’t see my tears and grievances. While you have to earn a living, I have to carry out my duties.

“You can scorn our job, but we will prove to you who is making this city beautiful.

“Chengguan is destined to be a controversial job. There are doubts and mockery along the way. Even if we are not understood, we will march forward bravely.”

The one-and-a-half-minute clip ended with this statement, “I am a chengguan and I speak for myself.”

A day after the Cangnan incident, Jiang posted a photo of him in a pair of Google Glass on his personal Weibo account.

The device was a less intrusive way to record evidence when carrying out enforcement duties.

He told The Beijing News that he forked out some 10,000 yuan (S$2,014) to purchase the equipment from the United States out of personal interest at first.

“It was only later that I thought I could use it for work.

“Conflicts are likely to happen if we use camcorder. Google Glass can help avoid clashes,” he said.

Citing an example of his colleague who was threatened to switch off his camcorder by a vendor brandishing a kitchen knife, Jiang said chengguan are often caught in a quandary in such situations.

“Your life is in danger if you refuse to oblige, but you cannot clear up a conflict later if you switch if off,” he said.

Commenting on the riot in Cangnan, Jiang was of the opinion that a chengguan should not stop others from taking photos or videos of him if he is confident that he is carrying out his duties in a civilised way.

“I don’t have any problem with this. If I am collecting evidence with Google Glass, I am okay with being photographed as well.

“This is ‘mutual supervision’ and ‘mutual management’,” he said.