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New lifestyle: office work by day, street vending by night

THERE'S a stereotype of Chinese street vendors as being dark-skinned from sun exposure, with calloused hands and shabby clothes. They tend to be rural migrants.

But times have changed and unlikely white collars have joined the ranks.

After a hard day at the office, many young professionals are setting up shop on the street, as a fun, fashionable experience, a way to meet new people and earn pocket money.

They're all over China.

At around 7pm, while the summer heat still scorches Beijing Modern Plaza on the western side of the city, 27-year-old Zhang Yuan parks his car and pulls out a foldable clothes rack.

He opens up a bag of T-shirts, hangs them on the rack and goes to work.

Zhang, who works by day for an advertising company, recalls how he entered the street vendor business in March. "I just thought it was fun when I saw people driving their own cars and setting up stalls at the side of the road," he says.

He gets new clothes through friends, through Internet stores and from buying directly at wholesale markets.

Zhang says his enthusiasm for his sideline is no less than his zeal for advertising.

"But honestly, I haven't made much money," he says in good humor.

With a monthly salary of around 6,000 yuan (US$877), a fairly good amount in Beijing, Zhang says his sideline pays just enough to cover gas for his car.

"I'm very happy with that," he says. "Besides, I can meet different people, which is much more interesting than killing time on the Internet or drinking in a bar."

Zhang is not alone. Nearby, similar white-collar vendors are selling clothing, shoes, hats, accessories and cosmetics.

The vending scene is similar in Chengdu, capital of western China's Sichuan Province.

Cheng Jia, 24, leans against a wall and waits for passersby to buy her earrings and bracelets.

Chen works in the marketing department of a private company and makes 3,000 yuan a month. To her, being a street vendor is a "fashionable lifestyle."

"I can earn some extra money and experience a different life," says Chen, who makes about 100 yuan each day from her stand.

In Shanghai, too, 26-year-old Zhao Zhao enjoys bargaining to sell her accessories and fighting with other vendors for space.

"I'm still very inexperienced," she says. "Luckily, I haven't gotten any counterfeit money."

Zhao works as a teaching assistant at a prestigious Shanghai university.

On the Internet, meanwhile, these "white-collar vendors" have lively chats about how to stock goods, choose the right spot for sales and bargain.

A Netizen named "Linxiaoyang" writes in her blog on "We may easily make several hundred yuan by dealing stocks on the Internet, but by standing on the street and selling goods, it feels much better even if you only make less than 100 yuan."

Linxiaoyang's first intention was to make some extra money to pay off her car loan.

A recent survey by, a Website for job hunting, shows that more than 60 percent of the 1,463 young office workers polled said they would take side jobs, mostly to make more money.

Another 18.3 percent said they wanted to "experience what it's like to set up a business" and 14 percent said they just wanted to "taste something new."

Young office workers, a generation born in the 1980s or late 1970s when China's economy began to boom, usually spend money freely. But their monthly salaries are often only 2,000 yuan to 8,000 yuan, depending on where they live.

Yan Jirong, a professor at Peking University, says that being a street vendor has become a new leisure activity for China's comparatively well-off class, just like trading online at

Taobao, set up in 2003, has become popular among shopping-savvy young urban Chinese.

Whatever their goal, "the biggest attraction for these so-called vendors is satisfaction and pleasure," Yan says.

But the job is not always easy. They all have to deal with urban management staff, known as chengguan, whose primary job is to clear the streets of vendors.

"Most of the time, chengguan just tell us to pack and leave," Zhang Yuan says. "But they do get tough sometimes and confiscate our goods."

A chengguan who works near the Beijing Modern Plaza says that the "current main solution" was to ask vendors to leave without using force.

In Chengdu, on the other hand, regulations allow street stalls in certain areas at certain times, says Liu Jian, director of the law and regulations department of the Chengdu Urban Management Bureau.

Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong Province, has a pilot regulation allowing stalls in four of its 10 administrative districts.

Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu Province, proposes to allow stalls on condition that "they don't affect transportation and the city's image."

Hu Guangwei, a sociologist of the Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, says that authorities should be tolerant of street vendors, noting that the office workers' new businesses could help boost consumption.

Professor Yan Jirong in Beijing suggests the authorities allocate certain venues for vendors, an arrangement something like a flea market in other countries.

This is also what Zhang Yuan hopes for, a legitimate space for doing business.

(Liu Gang, Li Yunlu and Yuan Jian also contributed to this story.)


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