Streets as Suspect
State Skepticism and the Current Losers in Urban China
Author: Dorothy J. Solinger
The Chinese Communist Party has been suspicious of people engaged in commercial activity on the streets ever since it took over the country in 1949, but the reasons for this have shifted in a paradoxical way over the decades. In the years when Mao Zedong ruled the nation according to his understandings and beliefs about socialist values and for several years after his death the suspicion in the main concerned the capitalist practices that business entails – profit making, inequalities, price-consciousness, class differentiation. Except for a few short intervals, doing non-state trade or providing private services was banned. In the first few decades after 1980, marketing outside was treated more leniently, although fees and licenses were still required in order to avoid harassment, and peasant migrants faced challenges. But once millions of people were laid off after 1995, the Party hoped to enable them to make a living, and also to prevent them from protesting, so it gave them special leeway to work outside from stalls and even directly on the pavement. After the mid 2000s, however, the indigent – the majority of whom were probably once members of the ideologically sacrosanct proletariat – have, ironically (in light of the values of the past) been discouraged from appearing on city streets to make money. Thus now that capitalist activity is common, the impoverished are considered to damage the city appearance, so that instead of capitalism being banned, it is the interests just of large-scale moneymakers that are to be served.