Stall Economy: China’s Solution to Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery


China’s Solution to Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery


After years of trying to get them off the streets, the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau (commonly referred to as cheng guan) are now welcoming street food stalls and other small businesses back to the streets of China, following the newly introduced “stall economy” policy. Why the big change? We’ll explain.



The Origin 起源

The street stalls, usually selling ready-to-go food, odd-tasting beverages or outfits that even your mum wouldn’t appreciate, is one of the most unique Chinese experiences. The everlasting game of hide and seek between street venders and cheng guan is a contributing factor to what makes it so special. However, this scenario is about to change.  



According to a recent announcement by China’s Central Civilisation Committee, roadside seating, street markets and mobile vendors are no longer included in this year’s “Civilised City Assessment”. After years of categorising street vendors as “unsightly”, this is a major change of attitude from Beijing. The new policy was also validated by the Premier of the State Council, Li Keqiang, during his recent visit to Yantai City, Shandong Province, where he referred to street stalls as “the glitter of the common being, the living soul of the Chinese economy”. Since then, many cities have been relaxing restrictions, even stimulating the development of street businesses.



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The Reasoning 原因

The reasoning behind this upsurge of street business is twofold. At the 2020 Two Sessions’ (Lianghui) press conference, Premier Li pointed out that there’s still a group of 600 million Chinese people with medium to low income (with a monthly income of 140$ or less), which encompasses 43% of the total population. This is more so a problem after the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the country’s economy hard as the overall GDP of the first quarter decreased by 6.8%. The government states that the unemployment rate is at 6 percent, while other estimates put it at 20 percent. Hence, it is believed that ‘stall economy” would be Beijing’s answer to a post-COVID-19 economic recovery. It is estimated by economists that, if enough space is given to the vendors, 50 million new jobs can potentially be created.




The Implications 言外之意

The recent change of attitude from the central authority has brought a lot of attention, both online and offline. On Weibo, many have joined the heated discussion, jokingly speculating given what they have studied and what their jobs are, what street-based business they can get into. In reality, the regulations were carried out with caution. One significant difference is that restaurants and coffee shops are putting their seats back on the pavement again, whereas in the past, such behaviour was never tolerated by cheng guan. Organized night markets hosted by big shopping venues have been popping up overnight, selling jewellery, hand crafts, flowers and fancy food. To do business at such a night market, one has to sign up with the venue, pay the venue fee and follow the formulated set up at the set time and place. Even with the restrictions, small business owners have shown great enthusiasm, crowding up each and every one of the 51 night markets around Shanghai. 



While there is still no sight of freshly made food served on the streets of Shanghai, here’s hoping that it’s just around the corner.