Urban grittiness

3 May

The infamous chengguan have a bad reputation and hard jobs. Not quite policemen,  these urban civil servants patrol the streets and try to enforce public regulations such as evicting illegal vendors. That is a thankless job because Chinese cities are full of unlicensed street vendors, who though not paying taxes and taking up space on pavements, provide a good service to regular people through selling goods and foods. The conduct of chengguan is sometimes over-the-edge, brutal, and even somewhat random. This article’s writer tries to argue, a bit indirectly, that public order and trust in the law are necessary for a society and ultimately chengguan doing their jobs is a good thing.

The triads are Chinese/Hong Kong versions of the mafia. Triads used to be notorious for violent gangfights and targeted hits in the eighties and nineties in Hong Kong, but the violence has mostly abated in the past decade. A lot of movies were made in Hong Kong about triads. Shockingly, something straight from those triad action movies happened when an alleged triad boss was hacked to death in public on Sunday, outside a hospital in rural Sheung Shui.

Beijing is an international city, but is it world-class? It’s got history, political power, and international recognition, but what about other factors like livability that would make it comparable to cities like London, Tokyo, or New York. This 2010 article compares Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul. Beijing comes out unfavorably, maybe too harsh in some aspects, in a sobering diagnosis- too little parks, no nightlife, no vestiges of its history. Yet it’s hard to judge this on a black-and-white basis. The city is massive, and covers an area that far exceeds that of some small countries! Its arguments run superficially bleak on Beijing and Shanghai, and too sunny on Seoul, but it’s an interesting read.


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