Chengguan (urban management officers) and street vendors have been long engaged in a fierce cat-and-mouse game. This kind of relationship might be thoroughly altered as cities, including Shenzhen and Lanzhou in Gansu Province, have released new measures to help street vendors prosper in an orderly manner.
Starting Sept. 1, Shenzhen will allow its subdistricts to designate specific areas as permissible for street vending for the public’s convenience, with well-defined principles and effective supervision in place to maintain order, according to a revised regulation on urban appearance and environmental hygiene.
Additionally, qualified shops can also use their front spaces to operate businesses in an orderly way.
It is worth noticing that street vending is only allowed at designated areas. Otherwise, the municipal and district urban management authorities will issue a fine to offenders based on violations and confiscate street vending tools if violations are serious.
A scene of the car trunk market at the tea expo garden in Longgang District in this February photo. Yang Shaokun
The new rules have drawn heated discussion among the public, with both positive expectations and concerns heard.
Liu Jiandang, a researcher with the China Development Institute, observed that Shenzhen’s move to lift the ban on street vending will offer at least three positive impacts. First, it will provide more convenience to citizens with diverse needs. Second, it will help merchants increase income and support employment. Third, it will offer a new engine for economic growth.
“I really enjoy visiting night markets. I like the hustle and bustle. I usually visit night markets once a week and enjoy eating more at the street than at a restaurant. I will be very happy if more street vendors are allowed at more places across the city,” a citizen surnamed Liu said.
A vendor surnamed Zhu in Shuiwei Village in Futian District said the new rules might encourage more entrepreneurship, calling for management on street vendors so that they will not be disorganized.
Pollyanna Koh, a Singaporean living in Shenzhen, suggested that trash bins should be available at areas set up for street vending and that the areas are conveniently accessible by public transport.
However, some citizens interviewed by Shenzhen Daily showed concerns over street cleanliness and food safety albeit the return of street vendors will add to urban liveliness and economic vitality.
Night markets and car trunk economy
Although street vendors are now banned in Shenzhen, night markets have been well organized and serve as an essential engine to drive the city’s night economy. Yantian Street Night Market in Xixiang, center of Bao’an District, is one of the city’s popular night markets drawing in an influx of residents and tourists every day.
The market has been around for over a decade. There are nearly 100 stalls to be found on this 400-meter-long street, which offers almost every signature local specialty from across the country at a cheaper price.
Aside from night markets, there has been a boom in the car trunk economy over recent years. One might come across cars along the streets or outside shopping malls with their trunks open selling different products from beverages to accessories.
Shenzhen’s largest car trunk market is located at the tea expo garden in Longgang District. The market, with an open area of over 10,000 square meters, can accommodate more than 100 vehicles to operate their businesses. The products sold at this market include flowers, drinks and snacks. Sometimes, vendors or customers would hold live music shows and other performances to liven up the night market.
Hawker culture in Singapore
An organized system for street vendors is a concept that has been practiced in other countries and regions. One can look no further than to Singapore, where street vendors are an intrinsic part of people’s lives in the form of hawker culture.
Street peddling by hawkers has been a common sight in Singapore since the 1800s. Street hawking continued to thrive in Singapore after World War II as many who were unemployed turned to hawking as a profession.
However, as the number of street hawkers increased, problems such as poor hygiene and awful conditions occurred. These problems further led to tensions between law enforcers and hawkers.
The Hawkers Inquiry Commission was set up in 1950 to address these problems. Its efforts finally resulted in the formalization of a policy to relocate hawkers at designated locations where they could be better managed.
Singapore began a program to build markets and hawker centers between 1971 and 1986.
At present, it is home to over 110 hawker centers, with another 10 to be built by 2027.
To better manage hawkers, Singapore has its National Environment Agency (NEA) to formulate, implement and administer hawker policies. NEA also regulates food safety and hygiene, and since 1997, food stalls in hawker centers have been given a grade based on their overall cleanliness and related standards.
Moreover, a Points Demerit System was introduced in Singapore in 1987. Under the system, hawkers who violated public health laws will be issued demerit points. Repeated offenders will run the risk of having their licenses suspended or revoked.