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Official Pique Deprives 250 Families of Livelihood

May 18, 2005

Human Rights in China (HRIC) has learned from sources in China that 250 stall-holders in Hangzhou’s Cuiyuan night market face the loss of their livelihoods after officials issued a notice to close the market down.

Cuiyuan Market has become a notable tourist attraction since it was opened in the year 2000. However, some stalls have proven more profitable than others, based on location, and stallholders in the rear of the market, whose business was poorer, recently made a request to the local Party secretary, Chen Futian, to switch the positions of the stalls. This did not go over well with the stall-holders in the more profitable front portion of the market, but sources say Chen Futian still carried out the switch, in defiance of the contracts stall-holders had signed. For that reason, on May 8, Gao Daohong and some 150 other stall-holders located in the front of the market began petitioning municipal officials to rectify Chen’s error and meet the terms of their contracts. Little did they expect that Chen would retaliate by closing down the night market altogether, apparently acting on instructions from senior officials. On May 18, all 250 stallholders were given an official closure notice that requires the removal of all belongings within one month, even though official regulations require three months’ notice for such a closure.

On the same evening that the closure notice was issued, 50 to 60 police officers, municipal officials and commercial management personnel reportedly arrived at the market and kept watch over the proceedings, preventing stallholders from gathering together to discuss what to do next. Observers believe this monitoring will continue until the closure is completed. The stallholders originally planned to petition the district government on May 19, but they are now discussing possibly more effective means of pushing for their rights. Sources told HRIC that the stallholders have already united to petition Hangzhou Mayor Shen Zhonghuan and the official in charge of regulating the night market. calling for the closure notice to be rescinded so that stallholders, municipal coffers and members of the public can continue to benefit from the market. Stallholders have also started appealing to the media to raise awareness of the case, which is becoming a matter of public discussion throughout Hangzhou.

The closure notice thrusts many of the stallholders into considerable financial peril. Many of them, such as Lü Gengsong, Zhao Jianhua, Han Guoqing, Li Chuanfu, Wang Xue’e, Xu Yuying and Zhou Xiaoying, are middle-aged people who have been unemployed for many years, and their market stalls are their only source of financial support. Other stallholders are rural migrants who came to Hangzhou to forge a living for entire families. Zhang Congyun, a peasant from Hubei province, recently borrowed more than 20,000 yuan from a friend to set up his market stall.

“It’s outrageous that municipal officials are depriving 250 households of their livelihoods because of an official’s fit of pique over the stallholder dispute,” said HRIC president Liu Qing. “The case should be settled in accordance with the civil laws applying to the contracts the stallholders signed. By running roughshod over these agreements, Hangzhou officials have violated not only civil law, but also what the Chinese government itself constantly refers to as the overriding human right of survival. Hangzhou officials should demonstrate their adherence to the government’s “people first” policy by rescinding the closure notice and helping to negotiate an arrangement that will reduce the conflict between the stallholders.”