Web Reactions: In China, Local Citizens Baffled by Outsourced Officers

"Jahad" from Afghanistan dons his new official cap as Hefei's new urban management officer. (Hubei News)

Chengguan (城管), loosely translated as "urban management officers," are responsible for maintaining various aspects of civic order in Chinese cities. Their responsibilities include enforcement of local bylaws pertaining to the environment, sanitation, work safety, pollution control and public health.

Last weekend, the presence of three foreign volunteer chengguan from South Africa, Central African Republic and Afghanistan on the streets of Hefei, the capital city of eastern China's Anhui province, aroused waves of interest, both among the local community and on the Internet.

Video: Shanghai TV reports the story (1 min., 49 sec)

Chengguan are generally not well-liked by locals, who usually perceive them as intrusive and even violent in their approach to enforcement. However, coverage of, and commentary on, these foreign chengguan suggests that there was little animosity from Hefei residents. Most users of the Chinese microblog Weibo, for instance, had good things to say.

From Dream孟婷: "I approve, wishing them the best."

"The news reported that these foreign chengguan are quite effective," observed 小霓子的城堡. "Could it be that the Chinese can no longer control the Chinese, and we have to start relying on foreigners?"

李大月儿 speculated on the reason for their success: "It's because foreigners have better physiques, and will not be at a disadvantage when getting into fights."

Not all were full of praise for the newcomers.

Morning1998 flatly objected to having local jobs taken by foreigners. "We have so many people in our country, why is there a need to find foreigners to be chengguan, I object!"

Meanwhile, the warm reception given the foreign chengguan (all of whom are apparently students at nearby Anhui University) has led many Weibo users to reflect on the bad reputation of native chengguan.

幽幽香茶1984 said, "This is new, hope they don't follow the bad example of our own chengguan."

嗨-狼人 added, "Only in this way (having these polite foreign chengguan) can those black-hearted chengguan do some soul-searching!"

"The popularity of these foreign chengguan should be wake-up call for local chengguan, I recommend our local chengguan step off their pedestals and learn from these foreigners!" wrote 小蝶说事. "The question is: Even if they do try to learn, will they succeed? Furthermore, to invite these foreigners to take the job, aren't the local chengguan indirectly admitting to their own (tendency to) violence and impotence?"

侯汉坡 argued that the arrival of foreign chengguan does little to change the situation. "Although we have a saying, 'Foreign monks chant the best,' the Chinese historically have always been hospitable to guests, regardless of whether they're instinctively friendly to foreigners or just wish to protect the image of China, they would usually accomodate. However, having foreign chengguan is only a gimmick [that], while well-intentioned, means nothing more. Only by effecting institutional change can we be rid of our 'Everyone hates the chengguan' dilemma."

四月的胖子磊, however, believes that it all comes down to reflexive worship of the West. "The success of foreign chengguan lies in the Chinese fundamental propensity to idolize the West. We vilify and defy local chengguan, yet listen attentively to the foreign chengguan. To the world we're earning respect — but in reality we're just in servitude to the West."

About the Author

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Shuan Sim is a contributor to Asia Blog. Originally from Singapore, he's currently studying Journalism at New York University — and is an avid unicyclist.