When China was in the midst of a pandemic-induced economic slump in 2020, then Premier Li Keqiang touted the idea of creating jobs by encouraging street vendors to set up shop across the country. That pitch was quickly shot down by close associates of leader Xi Jinping, who characterized the traditional trade as “unhygienic and uncivilized.”
Just three years later, how the tables have turned.
In a major policy reversal, the “street vendor economy” is making a comeback with many cities lifting curbs on hawkers and encouraging jobless youth to set up open-air stalls as a way to revitalize the economy and boost employment.
Shenzhen, China’s high-tech hub and the third richest city, announced last week that it will lift a blanket ban on street vendors, allowing them to operate from the start of September in designated areas.
It joins a list of major cities that have relaxed curbs this year, including Shanghai, Hangzhou and Beijing, after years of sometimes violent campaigns against hawking. City authorities are encouraging people to set up street stalls or carts in certain areas, where they can sell local specialties, snacks, clothes or toys.
Analysts see the current relaxation as a desperate measure by the government, as urban unemployment has surged to worrying levels after three years of pandemic restrictions hit small businesses hard. A regulatory crackdown has also wiped out tens of thousands of jobs in the education and tech industries.