Premier Li Keqiang caused some rippled over the past few weeks by pushing street vendors as a way to save the economy and generate employment in the post-corona era. Some big cities disagreed, as they have tried to get rid of those vendors and political economist Shirley Ze Yu also disagrees with the street vendor policies, she writes in the South China Morning Post.
Shirley Ze Yu:
The “street vendor economy”, the latest economic policy from Premier Li Keqiang, has spread across China’s city streets in the past two weeks. It may seem alluring at first, but it’s far from a prescription for economic prosperity. A street vendor economy cannot save China.
During his visit to Yantai, Shandong province, on May 31, Li said: “Street vendors and small shops are important sources of employment. This is the ordinary people’s way of living. Just like those advanced and hi-tech industries, they are vital to the economy.”
Shanghai quickly announced a month-long festival promoting street nightlife. By June 4, at least 27 cities had enacted policies promoting street vendors.
Street vending has long been considered at odds with metropolitan modernity in China. For the past decade, city patrols and street vendors have engaged in a cat-and-mouse game on China’s streets, occasionally ending in brutality…
In an event too orchestrated to be accidental, a group of mayors from Hubei province held a wave of social media live streams in April. The mayors went on popular social media apps such as Douyin – China’s TikTok – to promote local produce, accompanied by their accents and on-camera unease.
They were quickly overshadowed last month when Gree Electric Appliances chairwoman Dong Mingzhu sold 310 million yuan (US$43.7 million) of goods during a three-hour stream on Kuaishou. Viya Huang, a streamer who was virtually unknown to the world before 2017 but now enjoys a celebrity status in China on a par with Kim Kardashian in the West, sold a rocket launch service for 40 million yuan on an April stream that attracted more than 19 million viewers.
Once China has experienced the power of a digital economy, how can it travel back in time and return to a more labour-intensive, less productive output narrative?
SpaceX recently made history by sending astronauts to space on an American rocket again. Solemn salutes were made on Chinese social media to the spirit of innovation. While the United States celebrated the revival of its space economy, China celebrated the revival of its street economy. No country becomes a leading nation by adding flocks of vendors to its city streets.
Government policy intervention can create emotional exuberance on the streets. China’s leaders know a street vendor economy won’t save the country this time. They are simply soothing the public while stalling to also gaze at the stars.
Are you looking for more experts on China’s digital transformation? Do check out this list.