HONG KONG—Ordinary Chinese are increasingly angry at government attempts to "clean up" the nation's cities ahead of the Olympic Games, with standoffs between local people and the authorities reported across the country in recent days.
At the forefront of the "clean-up,” which is often an official euphemism for the removal of underprivileged people from public places, is Beijing, which is all too conscious of its international image ahead of the Summer Olympics.
Authorities in the capital announced this week a renewed drive to enforce regulations on temporary residents of the city, which require that anyone over 16 years of age from out of town wishing to stay longer than a month for business or study purposes must get a permit from the police.
The scheme has already sparked controversy among netizens, prompting the authorities to slash the fees charged by police for the permits, fees that two out-of-town lawyers say have netted the police around 100 million yuan (U.S. $14 million) so far.
They don’t have permission for demolition and they are acting illegally. We tried to sue them but our suit was turned down by the court.
Henan-based civil rights lawyer Li Subin and Anhui-based civil rights lawyer Cheng Hai have filed a complaint with the Beijing Municipal People's Court, saying that the actions of police in Beijing's Changping county contravene the country's Administrative Licensing Law.
"It still costs money to get a temporary residence permit...We are talking about around 100 million yuan that the police have collected here," Li told Cantonese service reporter Lee Kin-kwan.
An officer who answered the phone at the Changping police station said: "I am not authorized to comment."
According to the Beijing News , police will be checking temporary residence permits over the next few weeks to ensure that all out-of-towners are properly registered. People who fail to obtain the necessary permits may face a fine of up to 50 yuan, the paper said.
Blogger Xiao Xifeng, who has written about the temporary residence permit system in the past, said the fees had been slashed amid public discontent, however.
"I think it's just an administrative charge of 10 yuan now. In the recent past there have been a few problems with the temporary residence permit system. I think a lot of people felt that the police were behaving just like the chengguan [who get their income from fining illegal hawkers and beggars]."
Across the country, citizens have rallied round in support of street vendors targeted by urban management officers, or chengguan, with violent clashes in southern and eastern China.
"I saw the urban management officers beat up a vegetable stall-holder, and it attracted many bystanders who came to see what was going on," a vegetable seller in the southwestern region of Guangxi told RFA's Mandarin service Monday.
Several hundred people in the regional capital, Nanning, surrounded the chengguan vehicle last Friday, preventing the officers from leaving the scene and causing a tense standoff that lasted for about two hours, local residents said.
"They fine us," the street vendor told reporter Qiao Long. "Usually 100 or 200 yuan. Otherwise they will confiscate your vegetables."
Asked about her image of the chengguan, whose uniform is fast becoming a byword for official abuse of power, judicial violence, and rapacious fine-taking, she said: "Of course it's not good. Peddling or keeping a stall counts as business, not robbery or theft."
Nanning information services said the phone number for the chengguan headquarters in the city was unlisted and unavailable to the public.
On the other side of the country, in the eastern city of Wuxi, the chengguan were busy removing families from their homes forcibly, before the bulldozers moved in.
Several officers from the Beitang district chengguan surrounded the house of local resident Xu Zhenxing, climbing onto the roof to force entry.
"I was holding a knife and watching them on the roof as they were trying to get into our house from the neighbor’s roof," Xu Miao, whose father Xu Zhenxing owned the house, told RFA.
"My parents said to them that they would kill themselves if the chengguan entered the house. But they ignored my parents and stormed in. My parents then tried to light the propane cylinder," Xu told reporter Xin Yu.
Xu Miao said he was thrown by seven or eight chengguan from the roof, injuring himself in the fall.
Then the officers detained Xu’s family and any residents who showed support for them, and used a bulldozer to demolish their house.
"The officers detained several neighbors who took pictures, and confiscated their cameras. They forced me into their car, beating me and another neighbor inside. We were detained for longer than 24 hours and this violated the Chinese law," said Xu, adding that he would sue the officers concerned.
Phone calls to the Beitang district chengguan went unanswered during office hours Monday.
Local resident Zhang Panchang said the officers demolished six houses including Xu’s.
"They don’t have permission for demolition and they are acting illegally. We tried to sue them but our suit was turned down by the court."
Zhang said that the compensation the authorities offered was 353 yuan per square meter, but that the current market price for property in that area was 7,000 to 8,000 yuan per square meter.
Zhang Jianping, a spokesman for the civil rights Web site 64 Tianwang, said: "The demolished houses were not illegal structures. Their demolition shows that some officers are in cahoots with developers for illegal profit-making."
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and Xin Yu, and in Cantonese by Lee Kin-kwan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and Chen Ping. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.