Street Vendor’s Death Sentence in China Rouses Public Outcry
The death sentence of a street
vendor, who stabbed and killed two local government enforcers, has roused a
storm of comments from Chinese media, scholars and tens of thousands of
bloggers. They are expressing sympathy for the killer, and anger and criticism
at the government’s thuggish urban management enforcement.
On May 9,
2011 the Liaoning Provincial Court upheld a 2009 death sentence of Xia Junfeng,
a 35-year-old street vendor from China’s northeastern Shenyang City.
stabbed to death two urban management enforcement officials—known as
Chengguan—on May 16, 2009.
His wife told Chinese media that Xia acted in
self-defense, and that the Chengguan officials attacked and beat her
Chengguan, the City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement
Bureau, is an agency established in 2001 throughout all major cities in China.
Its purpose is to help with urban management,
improve city appearance, and enforce city bylaws, including cracking down on
unlicensed street vendors.
In actuality the agency is used to tackle
low-level crime, acting as a para-police force, equipped with steel helmets and
stab-proof vests, and is widely disliked for using excessive force and for its
alleged abuses of power, according to the BBC.
Xia is one of countless
unemployed-turned-street-vendors in China. After his first employer went
bankrupt, he and his wife struggled to make ends meet by doing odd jobs. At the
end of 2008, the couple decided to start a street vending business, selling fried sausages and chicken nuggets, hoping
it would help them pay for their son’s drawing classes. Their 10-year-old boy
showed artistic talent and had won several local drawing contests, according to
a China Youth Daily report.
Running their street
vending business was hard work, but it gave the couple hope that they had never
had before, and it paid off. With 3,000 yuan (about US$450) monthly income, they
were finally able to stop borrowing money
from their parents, Xia’s wife, Zhang Jing, told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.
For unlicensed street vendors like Xia,
the Chengguan enforcers are their worst worry. Daily stampedes of scared street
vendors trying to escape Chengguan raids have become a familiar sight throughout
the country. If caught, the vendors will be robbed of their merchandise and
equipment, which can only be reclaimed after paying hefty fines equal to days or
weeks of income. Many vendors therefore choose to bribe the Chengguan enforcers,
Zhang told Radio Free Asia.Financial gain is an added incentive for Chengguan enforcers to crack down on
street vendors. A China Youth Daily report quoted one of Xia’s fellow vendors
saying that Chengguan look to fines for additional income. They only target
those who do not bribe the officials. The report also said an official’s income
is often tied to the amount of fines he collects.
After months of careful avoidance and fleeing, Xia and
his wife had their inevitable confrontation with the Chengguan on May 16, 2009
when more than a dozen Chengguan enforcers unexpectedly showed up. Two of them
grabbed Xia’s tricycle and tried to take his gas canister. The couple pleaded to
leave them alone, but instead, about 10 of them beat up Xia and then took him
away, Zhang told Chinese media.
At the Chengguan office, two enforcers
attacked Xia with fists and a stainless steel cup. One kicked Xia in the groin,
making him bend over in pain. That’s when Xia pulled a folded knife from his
pocket, which he used for cutting sausages, and blindly stabbed at the two
officials, he later told his wife.
Both the officials died from knife
wounds, another was injured. Xia also cut off his own right index finger in the
Though six witnesses were willing to testify to the
beating of Xia in the market, the court did not accept their testimonies, and
rejected the appeal of self-defense for lack of evidence. The witnesses’ written
testimonies were published online by a blogger named Tufu.
Many Chinese media publish articles in support of Xia and criticized the
verdict. Ordinary citizens and experts expressed themselves in tens of thousands
of Internet comments with criticism for what they perceive as
A “163.com ” news report has attracted more than 18,000 comments,
which almost unanimously accused the officials and sympathized with
One post said, “Shenyang Chengguan enforcers are *** not humans at
all!” More than 54,000 netizens agreed. Many also criticized China’s lack of
social and legal justice.
Attorney Teng Biao, a marked human rights activist, said Xia acted
legitimately out of self-defense, as the officials assaulted him first. Teng
said both Xia and the two officials he killed were victims of Chengguan policy,
which lacks legal regulation and supervision. “China’s entire legal system needs
to be changed,” Teng said.
The Chengguan enforcement agency is notorious
for its excessive use of violence. A Radio Free Asia report said Chengguan officials have killed at least 20 people
during the past 10 years.
In addition, many physical assaults and cases
of public humiliation by Chengguan enforcers have frequently been reported
throughout the country.
Many people question the government’s policy of banning
unlicensed street vendors for the sake of city cleanliness. For these street
vendors their small businesses are their only means of income, and many of them
live in poverty. High taxes and management fees and less convenient locations
make “legal” government designated markets an impossible option for
In an April 23, 2009 article, the Australian reported on a Chinese
government guide on how to beat civilians without leaving a lot of traces. The
guide was openly for sale at a government bookshop, and someone published it
The article said the Beijing Municipal Bureau of City
Administration and Law Enforcement claimed to be the authors of the guide, and
it appears to have been aimed at the Chengguan enforcers.
One passage of
the guide reads: “In dealing with the
subject, take care to leave no blood on the face, no wounds on the body, and no
witnesses in the vicinity.”