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Applause for chengguan-residents role swapping

By Chen Chenchen (Global Times)

08:21, July 18, 2012

Three foreign students in Hefei, Anhui Province, volunteered to work as urban management staff Saturday to help patrol the local neighborhood. Pictures of them wearing uniforms and working with urban management officers, or chengguan, have spread online.

As Hefei bids for the title of national civilized city, the urban management department in the city's Luyang district recently launched a program named "Let me be chengguan for one day." A local official revealed that they are inviting people from different social groups to experience the challenges of being a chengguan. Last month, two melon farmers decided to take up the challenge.

For some, the local authorities were putting on a show, and foreign chengguan only served to create a media sensation rather than solve practical problems. In fact, many Chinese cities are facing complex issues in urban management. Hefei's latest move is, at least, trying a novel way of swapping roles to ease tensions between chengguan and local residents.

In some extreme cases, such tensions could lead to fatal results and even mass incidents. The controversial Xia Junfeng case, in which Xia, a street vendor from Shenyang, Liaoning Province stabbed two chengguan to death in 2010 and later got a death sentence, is undergoing second trial.

Last July in Anshun of Guizhou Province, Deng Qiguo, a street vendor, was killed during clashes with two chengguan. In the wake of Deng's death, local residents continued to throng in the street, blocking traffic, and hundreds of policemen were sent to maintain order.

When it comes to disputes between vendors and chengguan, the latter are often portrayed negatively. They symbolize abuse of power and people who bully disadvantaged groups. But maintaining street order is obviously not an easy job.

It's urgent to boost mutual tolerance between chengguan and locals. Some cities have begun to adopt new solutions. In Shenzhen, some public services previously undertaken by chengguan, including erasing illegal advertisements, have been outsourced to companies. Hefei's role trading method is another example.

At this stage of rapid urbanization, chengguan, with their limited personnel and tight budget, shoulder heavy workloads for menial tasks. This inevitably leads to loopholes in city management.

Both Shenzhen and Hefei's moves are inspirational. In Shenzhen, the government, by putting some public services to the market, directly alleviates chengguan's workload. The method, prevalent in the West, has become a trend in some Chinese cities too.

But for many regions with inadequate government revenues, Hefei's method, which approaches the problem by indirectly reducing obstacles in their daily interaction with locals, is probably the better way forward.

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