Should the people who have suffered for so many years be happy that the “urban management” system has been abolished in various areas?

Recently, many local governments have announced the abolition of urban management departments. Does this mean that the forces that have long been “oppressing the people” will disappear at the local level?

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Following last month’s announcement by Beihai city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region that it would abolish its “General Administrative Law Enforcement Bureau,” the governments of Chifeng city in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Ganzhou district in Zhangye city, Gansu province have also recently made organizational adjustments, with other departments (such as the higher-level “Chifeng Municipal Operation Management Service Center” or the renamed subordinate “Ganzhou District Urban Management Bureau”) taking over the relevant responsibilities of urban management. The newspaper quoted Professor Ma Liang of the School of Public Management at Renmin University of China as saying that the above measures do not abolish urban management departments, but rather split and reorganize them. Also, judging from the names, the meaning of “law enforcement” in urban management has been diluted, with the emphasis on “management.”

Since its establishment in 1997, China Urban Management Bureau has been tasked with maintaining order and smooth traffic on the streets and assisting the police in enforcing administrative regulations not related to criminal law. Its best-known task is to maintain the “streetscape” and hygiene by “driving off” mobile vendors. Over the years, various clashes have been reported on the streets between urban management bureaus and residents. Residents often witness or hear urban management bureaus cruelly treating beggars, harassing unlicensed vendors, forcibly demolishing homes, and confiscating property. There have also been many bloody and fatal incidents involving residents. In 2008, the Tianmen Urban Management Bureau murder case occurred in Hubei Province, where General Manager Wei Wenhua of the Tianmen Water Conservancy Construction Company was beaten to death, attracting public attention.

The 2012 Human Rights Watch report, “They Beat Us, They Take Everything,” documented human rights abuses committed by urban management officials in six Chinese cities between mid-2009 and the end of 2011. Victims described being slapped, shoved, punched, kicked, and having their cars thrown onto the street. A 2016 public opinion poll by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also showed that urban management officials were the least popular civil servants due to their “poor image,” according to the New York Times.

Deng Yuwen, an independent scholar and political commentator based in the United States, pointed out that although the disappearance of the urban management department may gain public recognition, unless the management and law enforcement model changes, it will still be difficult to alleviate the long-standing conflicts and differences between residents and urban management.

Wang Junping, who moved to the United States from Chengde, Hebei Province last year and has run a small restaurant in China for nearly 20 years, and has frequent contact with urban management, told the station that urban management is as necessary as traffic police. However, from the central government to local governments, “the upper beam is not straight, and the lower beam is crooked”, so some urban management “bullies the weak and fears the strong. Some officials give money and extort money in the name of urban management, or accept money from merchants and turn a blind eye.” Among them, urban management and merchants in big cities have no emotional foundation for outsiders, and arguments and conflicts often occur.

“If a family is unhappy, wayward or there are restrictions from above, (urban management authorities) will enforce the law through campaigns. (Some) will even seize and take away people they don’t like,” Wang Junping said.

Regarding the future of urban management personnel, Cai Xia, a former professor at the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, said that urban management personnel are not civil servants in the government system, but are supported by local government finances. Some may be employees recruited by local security companies to assist police work. Many of them are unemployed, migrant workers from other provinces, or people from the lower classes of society who often wander the streets without decent work. These people are recruited by local governments to become thugs, but when they cause public resentment or financial tension, they often become scapegoats for the authorities.

Cai Xia said, “I don’t even know if the security company still exists. When the government can pay, it will give them money to hire them as workers. When the government can’t pay, they will be the first to be fired by the government, which means they themselves will be unemployed.”

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