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.
Xia 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 husband.
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 frenzy.
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.