Thinking of a dark-skinned, coarse-handed Chinese street vendor in rags? Times have changed. While old-style vendors are still common, there are new ones.
At about 7 p.m., as the summer heat burned the Beijing Modern Plaza on the western side of the city, 27-year-old Zhang Yuan parked his car and pulled out a foldable clothes rack.
He then hung a full bag of T-shirts on the rack and started work as a street vendor.
Zhang, who works for an advertising company, recalled how he entered the street selling business in March. "I just thought it was fun when I saw people who drove their own cars were setting up stalls by the road."
Relying on friends' help, ordering from Internet stores and buying directly at wholesale markets, Zhang said his passion for his side-job was no less intense than that for advertising.
An office lady sells trinkets in her spare time. (Xinhua Photo)
"But honestly, I haven't made much money," he said with a smile.
With a monthly salary of about 6,000 yuan (878 U.S. dollars), a fairly good amount in Beijing, Zhang said he could earn just enough money to pay for gas each month.
"I'm already very happy with that," he said. "Besides, I can meet different people, much more interesting than killing time on the Internet or drinking in a bar."
Zhang was not alone. Nearby, similar vendors were offering clothes, shoes, hats, ornaments and cosmetics.
The scene was similar in Chengdu, capital of western China's Sichuan Province, where Cheng Jia, 24, was leaning against a wall and waiting for passersby to buy her earrings and bracelets.
Chen works in the marketing department of a private company and makes 3,000 yuan a month. To her, being a street vendor is a "fashionable lifestyle."
"I can earn some extra money and experience a different life," said Chen, who makes about 100 yuan each day from the stand.
In Shanghai, too, 26-year-old Zhao Zhao is enjoying bargaining to sell her ornaments and fighting with other vendors for space.
"I'm still very inexperienced in the business," she said. "Luckily, I haven't gotten any counterfeit money."
Zhao works as a teaching assistant at a prestigious Shanghai university.
On the Internet, meanwhile, these "white collar vendors" chat heatedly about how to stock goods, choose the right spot and bargain.
A netizen named "Linxiaoyang" wrote in her blog on 163.com: "We may easily make several hundred yuan by dealing stocks on the Internet, but by standing on the street and selling goods, it feels much better even if you only make less than a hundred."
Linxiaoyang's first intention was to make some extra money to pay off her car loan.
A recent survey by ChinaHR.com, a website for job hunting, showed that more than 60 percent of the 1,463 young office workers polled said they would work at side-jobs, mostly to make more money.
Another 18.3 percent said the reason was to "experience what it's like to set up a business" and 14 percent said just wanted to "taste something new."
Young office workers, a generation born in the 1980s or late 1970s when China's economy began to boom, usually spend money freely. But their monthly salaries are often only 2,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan, depending on where they live.
Yan Jirong, a professor at Peking University, said that being a street vendor can be seen as a new leisure activity among China's comparatively well-off class, just like trading online at taobao.com.
Taobao, a website set up in 2003, has become popular among shopping-savvy young urban Chinese.
Whatever their goal, "the biggest attraction for these so-called vendors is satisfaction and joy," Yan said.
But the job is not always easy. They all have to deal with urban management staff, known in Chinese as "Chengguan", whose primary job is to clear the streets of vendors.
"Most of the time, chengguan just tell us to pack and leave," Zhang Yuan said. "But they do get tough sometimes and confiscate our goods."
A chengguan who works near the Beijing Modern Plaza said that the "current main solution" was to ask vendors to leave without using force.
In Chengdu, on the other hand, regulations allow street stalls in certain areas at certain times, said Liu Jian, director of the law and regulations department of the Chengdu Urban Management Bureau.
Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong Province, is piloting a regulation allowing stalls in four of its 10 administrative districts. Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, has also proposed to allow stalls on condition that "they don't affect transportation and the city's image."
Hu Guangwei, a sociologist of the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, said that the authorities should be tolerant about street vendors, noting that the office workers' new businesses could help boost consumption.
Yan Jirong suggested the authorities assign certain venues for the vendors, something like a flea market in other countries.
This is also what Zhang Yuan hoped for, a legitimate space for doing business.Source: Xinhua