Street vendors in China have seen a significant rise in popularity and regulatory support after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang voiced government approval of them to alleviate unemployment and revitalize the economy following the country’s coronavirus pandemic.
Following the Premier’s comment on June 1 that “the street-stall and small-store economy is an important source of employment” and are “as much a part of China’s livelihood as large, high-end businesses,” more than 20 provincial or city governments have issued policies allowing and supporting street vendors.
Before the loosening of regulations, local governments have cracked down hard on street vendors for reasons such as potential food safety issues and urban beautification, driving vendors close to extinction in first-tier cities.
The approval from the central government, however, prompted cities such as Chengdu, Ji’nan, Xi’an, Nanjing, and Hangzhou, some of which have been experimenting with small-scale support programs, to fully initiate their version of a “stimulus program” for local street vendor economies.
Many of these plans give street vendors legal status and suspend pre-existing regulations that punish the occupation of streets, with some even extending support to provide designated business areas — such as plazas and parks — for vendors and free parking for their mobile business stalls.
China’s overall support for street vendors also attracted the attention of major manufacturers and tech companies. E-commerce giant Alibaba, for instance, said on May 29 that it would provide RMB 70 billion of interest-free credit purchase for 30 million vendors for stocking and future operations, according to a report from media outlet Jiemian. A few days later, JD.com announced its plan to provide RMB 100,000 of interest-free credit purchases for each small-store owner.
Tencent also rolled out a support program on Tuesday for more than 50 million small business owners using WeChat Pay for their businesses, providing subsidies, guides, and solutions. On Wednesday, e-commerce platform Pinduoduo started subsidizing street vendor-related goods, even including a new model of cargo van that can be converted into a mobile business stall launched by SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile.
In addition to attracting existing vendors back to cities, the favorable regulatory conditions have also caught the eye of prospective vendors. According to Chinese media reports, the number of live streams related to street vendors on Kuaishou increased by close to three-fold between February and May. Statistics from Baidu Search Big Data recorded a 655% year on year surge in searches for content related to street vendor tips in 2020.