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The chengguan, or city law enforcement officials, in the city of Guangzhou in China have been issued new and improved protective gear to fend off violence and protests.
The new upgrades include a protective shield, helmet, gloves, an anti-stab vest made of steel, and a walkie-talkie with a range the size of the whole city. They also carry a video camera that can record for 12 hours, the first of its kind in China.
Chengguan are members of a city-level government agency called the City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau. Their jobs include keeping petty criminals in check, maintaining the city’s appearance, managing pollution and sanitation, and enforcing local bylaws.
However, the chengguan have been widely criticized by Chinese for abusing their power, bullying people, and terrorizing citizens.
“All the equipment is protective gear, not for fighting or attacks,” the head official of the City Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau assured state-run mouthpiece Guangzhou Daily.
“Its only purpose is to ensure the safety of urban management officers, also known as chengguan.”
The official added that the equipment was upgraded because the chengguan are facing “increasingly violent and worsening protests,” and that the protective gear has to be obtained with a supervisor’s permission.
The anti-stab vest alone weighs 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) according to one chengguan officer, the Daily reported.
“I feel very heavy, but also very safe,” the officer explained. It took him five minutes to don his helmet, video camera, shield, and walkie-talkie. The heavy gear and hot weather made him sweat all over, according to the Daily.
Netizens have a lot to say in criticism of the new gear and those who wear it.
“Even if the Urban Administrative wears the newest spacesuit designed by NASA, they still cannot cast off the nature of a gangster,” a netizen called citi2002 wrote on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.
“Is the equipment really needed?” another wrote on Sina Weibo. “They can beat someone to death with their bare hands, or they’ll use anything available, like the sliding weight of a steelyard. It is the citizens who need the equipment.”
In late July a protest erupted in Hunan Province after a chengguan killed Deng Zhengjia, a 56-year-old watermelon seller in Linwu county. During a dispute, chengguan surrounded Deng and struck him in the head with his own metal weight, used to weigh watermelons. Deng fell to the ground and died. County authorities then dispatched hundreds of riot police to put down the protests.