NANJING — A senior official at an east China university Thursday denied foreign media reports that students clashed with local police on Monday night.
Chen Xiachu, deputy Communist Party chief of the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), told Xinhua the conflict involved city management personnel and sidewalk peddlers near the campus.
“Up to 1,000 people were watching, including about 100 of our students,” he said. “The street was then blocked and traffic was at standstill.”
Chen said he was not on campus when the incident happened. “I arrived at around 10 p.m. to help police and city management staff disperse the onlookers.”
The school board carried out an investigation Monday night, and confirmed none of its students had been peddling or were involved in the conflict, he said.
“Foreign media reports about students clashing with police and consequent injuries were groundless,” Chen said.
NUAA students who witnessed the incident, either at the scene or from the balconies of their high-rise dormitories, confirmed no students were involved in the conflict.
They did, however, finger city management personnel, who tried “violently” to clear the vendors from the street by confiscating their wares.
Nanjing city management personnel, known as “cheng guan” in Chinese, are notorious for roughing up vendors and even buyers. Last year, two diners at an unregistered night market were beaten up for giving a sarcastic thumbs up to city management staff who were violently removing snack stands.
“The vendors were protesting and my friends and I were secretly sympathetic,” said Deng Haichuan, a junior student at the NUAA Business School, who witnessed the scene on his way to dinner with his classmates.
“Quite quickly, the situation got out of control, with some vendors confronting uniformed men and calling on onlookers to use violence,” he said.
A few young men and women then took out signs that carried slogans, printed in English and Chinese, including “nonviolent and noncooperation” and “help vulnerable social groups and co-construct a harmonious society,” Deng said. “It was unclear who these people were. Seemingly they were not among the vendors.”
Several photos of the scene were posted at the university’s bulletin board website, apparently taken by onlookers with cell phones. One of them showed the slogans, printed on A3 paper, were creased. On another photo, a police officer was quietly listening to the protestors’ complaints.
Deng and his classmates, who were told to return to school at around 10 p.m., did not see whether anyone was arrested at the end of the chaos.
A city management officer said the incident happened after they tried to clean the street of vendors. “We didn’t beat them or rough them up,” said Wu Qiangguo, deputy chief of the Jiangning District City Management Team. “Most vendors were cooperative, and police detained two people who refused to leave.”
Wu said they had finished ridding the vendors by 7 p.m., and the conflict broke out because some onlookers thought the two detainees were students.
Xinhua requests for an interview with the public security bureau in Jiangning District went unanswered.
Cheng guan teams were established in the urban administrations of many Chinese cities from 1997 to deal with street peddlers who evaded taxes and cluttered streets, and occasionally ended up in violent clashes with them.
The teams were also responsible for maintaining public facilities, including phone booths and manholes, banning spitting and littering in public and stopping construction sites from making too much noise at night.
The law enforcers in the city administration were in an embarrassing situation themselves. Many people could not distinguish between them and the police because they wore similar uniforms. But the city managers are widely known for their role in ridding the streets of illegal snack stands, pirate DVD vendors, beggars and distributors of commercial leaflets.