Is Li Keqiang Reviving the Economy by Promoting Street Markets?

June 4, 2020 Updated: June 4, 2020

News Analysis

Over the past few days, the term “street vendor economy” has gone viral on Chinese social media. It follows a speech made by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on China’s economic state during the “Two Sessions”—an annual meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s rubber-stamp legislature and its advisory body to enact policies and agendas. Chinese netizens ridiculed: “The United States has started the era of the privately funded space market economy, and we have restarted the street vendor market economy.”

During a video-based press conference in Beijing on May 28, Li admitted that China has 600 million people with a monthly income of 1,000 yuan ($140). “It’s barely enough to cover monthly rent in a mid-sized Chinese city.” “The poverty alleviation task is getting heavier as some people may fall back again into poverty due to the coronavirus,” Li added.

Li once again emphasized the new round of pro-growth measures would focus on “ensuring employment, people’s livelihoods and [helping] market entities.” He pointed out the efforts of street vendors in Chengdu city, Sichuan province have helped to prop up the economy.

During the pandemic, the Chinese economy was shut down. Overseas orders plummeted, which seriously affected small and medium-sized companies and employment of ordinary people. In March, the Chengdu City Management Committee issued new regulations that removed five restrictions for small vendors–for instance, roadside stalls are allowed in residential areas, shop owners are allowed to sell their goods outside of their stores, sidewalk sales are promoted in shopping malls, and mobile vendors are allowed to sell on the streets.

Since then, more street vendors have been given the green light to operate in Shanghai, Gansu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hebei and other cities. In Jiangxi province, the Nanchang municipal government issued a policy on May 26 to designate 100 streets to open as a night market.

On May 27, the central government’s Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization announced new requirements. “Running business on roads, roadside markets, mobile vendors” are no longer listed in the assessment criteria for maintaining a “civil city.”

Recently, state-run media have positively publicized “roadside stalls to make a living” and praised it as “energy of smoke and fire” rather than labelling it “dirty, messy, poor” as it did in the past.

Since the CCP started the “civil city” assessment in 2005, local governments have stepped up their efforts to suppress mobile merchants to meet the annual goal. Getting rid of roadside vendors has become routine in maintaining stability. The violent law enforcement of urban management officers, known as “chengguan” in Chinese, and bloody incidents as a result of conflict with street vendors have occurred frequently.

Today, after fifteen years of suppression, mobile hawkers have again set up stalls running their “great, bright and right” business. Online discussion of the phenomenon has gone viral. Some netizens said, “Now we are encouraging the roadside stalls. Obviously, the domestic market is already poor enough.”

Some netizens also commented: “To encourage the street vendors, one is to bluntly revitalize the people’s economy; the other is that the real winter is coming? Simply tampering with the data won’t solve the problem this time.”

Others expressed the following:

“The expedient measure of unemployment panic.”

“When it is not allowed, it is so-called ‘dirty and messy, it affects the environment and causes the smog.’ When you are asked to do it, it is called ‘energy of smoke and fire.’”

“Now the economy is bad, people are allowed to run their own stalls. The news encourages and praises it every day. Why didn’t you [media outlet] report it when the violent urban management law enforcement took the vendor’s tricycle?”

Over the past few months, the CCP virus pandemic has caused a national economic shutdown, and many people have had no income for months. With the spread of the CCP virus in the world, China’s manufacturing industry has suffered from the loss of large amounts of foreign orders, and company layoffs are frequent. A recent survey by Caijing found that 80 percent of the small and medium-sized foreign trade factories in the Pearl River Delta region have encountered loss of orders, and most factories have shown no activity.

Hu Jia, a human rights activist in Beijing, told Radio Free Asia that the Communist regime’s decision to grant people some accommodation this time was obviously due to considerations of social stability, political security, and finance.

“If I don’t let him go to the streets to support his family, what could happen when he’s anxious? What if he retaliates against the society? Or goes on a street demonstration? When the people have income, it will reduce some of the financial pressure on the government. Without this pressure of economic downturn and social unrest, the regime would not have made the exception.”