To me, the street peddlers are one of Beijing’s specialties. They spread out on busy street corners and overpasses to sell dozens of different kinds of goods. Food, toys, clothes, hairclips, wallets, key chains, cell phone covers… you can buy almost anything from the street peddlers. They wheel their wagons and bicycles all over the city, selling and shouting. Their colorful merchandise brings more color into the city’s dusty scenery.
But lately, there have been many disruptions in the lives of the street peddlers. Underneath the building I live in, there is an empty space where many food peddlers set up and sell breakfast, lunch, dinner, and lots of hot snacks. It’s commonly packed with people who come for a meal while on break from work. But several times upon returning home from school, I have seen vans with chengguan, or city management officials, parked by the road.
The peddlers were pedaling, pushing, and dragging their merchandise in all directions as fast as possible, and the officials were chasing after the stragglers and stopping them, asking for license and registration. If the peddlers couldn’t show them anything, they took away their merchandise and put it in the van, and the peddler was left with nothing. The other peddlers looked on from the other side of the street or around a corner, waiting with big trash bags full of goods for the coast to be clear. Once the officials finished with who they caught, they drove off, and the peddlers came back and set up again.
The cycle goes on like this, and there are always a few peddlers left with nothing at all for their efforts all day. I always feel bad for them, but you can’t pin “evil” on the officials either – they just do the job they are told to do by their supervisors. The whole system seems to end up hurting people who really don’t deserve to be hurt – they’re just trying to feed their families.
I wish that one day the system will become more considerate of the people’s backgrounds and financial difficulties. People who add so much vitality to Beijing’s city life shouldn’t be punished for it, especially when they’re just feeding their families. Let them do it with dignity.