Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Mini markets, vendors integral part of city

By SHEN CHI (China Daily) Updated: 2016-06-23 08:17

Mini markets, vendors integral part of city
Wang Xiaoying / China Daily

Some mini-vegetable markets were recently shut down in Beijing and some breakfast sellers "persuaded" to "go home". After Beijing launched a new campaign to "free the municipality of non-capital functions" earlier this year, such incidents have been reported from many communities, with many residents complaining about the inconvenience they have caused. Even People's Daily has said it's not right to shift vegetable markets away from residents.

Freeing Beijing of "non-capital functions" may be a good move because the metropolis has become very crowded. By the end of 2015, Beijing's total population had reached 21 million, almost three times that of London and New York. And its subways are so crowded that people jocularly say a sardine tin is no longer a good metaphor for them.

But the phrase "non-capital functions" should not be misunderstood or misinterpreted. It seems the local authorities are trying to move the low-end workforce out of the city and keep only high-end employees who earn higher incomes, pay more tax and generally carry a better image.

By doing so, they are forgetting Economics 101-that the labor market is shaped like a pyramid, and top-end labor-force, favored by the local government, needs a large number of lower-level workers as support. For example, a senior banker needs several white collar workers, including doctors and lawyers, to serve him/her. The doctors and lawyers, in turn, need others such as nurses, cleaners, barbers and cooks in restaurants to meet his daily needs. If the elite workers live in Beijing, they will need the white-collar as well as the other workers just to survive.

In other words, to survive, Beijing residents need to buy breakfast, vegetables and clothes, get their houses and offices cleaned, and seek treatment for their ailments. This makes breakfast vendors and mini-vegetable markets an integral part of the city.

Shen Chi is director of the Planning Institute of China's Center for Urban Development affiliated to the National Development and Reform Commission. The article is an excerpt from his interview with China Daily's Zhang Zhouxiang.

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