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Hip young folks take to streets as hawkers
By Li Anlan

Young people always seem to be looking for ways to make urban life more interesting, even if it means working after hours as unlicensed vendors of trendy goods and dodging tough urban management street patrols.

Unlikely as it sounds, urban Chinese young people are becoming street vendors of stylish, better-quality goods and they have formed a community that even has a code of conduct. It stresses good behavior, no littering and no fakes.

They are mostly employed people, jobless university graduates and some white collars.

They don't do it for the money, though a little extra is always helpful. Most have a day job.

They do it for fun, for the vibe, to interact and meet new people and to learn a bit about business.

The followers of this new urban pastime are called baike, a newly minted term - bai means to set up and ke is a respectful term for a group of people.

The word for street vendor is xiao fan, literally "small seller." Most vendors are middle-aged or old people or blue-collar migrants, not known for selling quality goods.

The new leisure pursuit is a two-way activity. Many hip young people enjoy shopping at stalls - some just set up shop around their cars - run by their contemporaries. There they can buy the latest high-heel shoes for as cheap as 20 yuan (US$3.15) a pair, fashion, jewelry and accessories, imported CDs and other items.

They can strike up conversations about anything. And it's much easier to bargain with a peer than an "auntie," who doesn't chat about music and doesn't yield. Baike are more likely than traditional vendors to tell a customer that something doesn't suit them and give them advice about what does.

The term baike was coined by Fang Weiqin, who founded the website Baike China (www.baike086.com) in May 2009. It is an online community for baike to communicate and share tips such as how to set up a stall, which locations are best in which city, and how best to avoid the urban management patrols who routinely (and often physically) clear the streets of unlicensed sellers.

It has around 100,000 registered users, mostly in big cities. Most are non-natives of those cities and the website brings them together. As non-natives, they find it difficult to start a business and street sales is a way to begin, to learn about sourcing, budgeting and communicating, Fang says.

Fang, a Hebei native who now lives in Beijing, traditionally thought of vendors as migrants, unemployed or low income, and definitely not young. But he discovered a group of young people who had recently graduated or held good jobs with good salaries.

So, he thought they needed a new name, one that confers a bit of respect, baike.

Fang himself, who used to work in advertising and publications, has been a vendor since he left high school.

"It is part of my growing process, not something weird," Fang says. "I think it's a means of self-development."

Today working on the website has almost become a full-time job for him.

Fan Jian works as a quality checker in a private business in Shanghai. In March he started selling women's clothing on the streets. Depending on the weather, he spends around four hours a day as a baike.

"I had some ideas and quite a lot of leisure time. I wanted to find something to do, so I gave this a try," says Fan, whose wife works with him.

"It is face-to-face communication and I get to be in touch with society," he explains.

For a lot of baike, the experience is what matters most.

Hero Zhang graduated from college this year with a major in electronic automation. He's looking for a job.

"I came across this concept (baike) in 2011," Zhang says. Earlier he knew nothing about it and only set up stalls in his spare time.

He sells crafts, little toys and interesting items that can't be found in most stores.

"There aren't many things like this on the market and people don't know about the price range," he says.

He usually sells on weekend evenings.

"If I find a job, I will definitely continue doing this," Zhang says, "because you can talk to very different people from different walks of life and it's great practice."

For many people, full-time job is pressure enough and they wouldn't consider spending extra hours on the streets, talking to customers and negotiating prices.

For baike, selling is a way to relax and unwind after the work day.

"I choose to do it because I love it, and because I love it, I'm willing to do it," Fan says.

Zhang describes himself as a former "introvert" who became less self-conscious and more outgoing through working as a vendor and interacting with people all the time. He says it's very low pressure.

What to sell and where

New baike face two important questions: what to sell and where to sell it.

The merchandise can be very diverse. Baike can sell things that they really like and want to talk about, or items that make more profit.

Finding the right location is a huge problem for everyone, since they are unlicensed and many cities do not have designated zones for vendors.

Street vendors usually pick locations with high traffic, such as Metro stations, neighborhoods or shopping areas.

They often obstruct sidewalks and some toss litter on the street, leaving a mess for others to clean up.

Urban management officers try to control the vendors, sometimes chasing them away and confiscating their merchandise. Conflicts between vendors and urban management are a widespread problem in China.

Chen Yuan is a technician in the automobile industry. He purchased some small items to sell, such as table lamps, because he wanted to learn how to do business. Small goods don't cost much and if they are confiscated, it's not a big loss.

"A while ago, there were many sellers on an old street that also had retail shops. Both shops and vendors did good business, but now urban management has banned the vendors and you don't see people in the evening," Chen says.

Baike also face problems with urban management patrols that doesn't distinguish between traditional vendors and the new breed of baike. Zhang says his goods have been confiscated several times and it's hard to find a place to set up.

Fang, the baike founder, emphasizes the difference between baike moonlighting vendors and traditional vendors. Ordinary vendors don't have a good image, selling fakes, poor-quality items and making a mess of the streets. Food vendors often toss food and fruit peels away and dump dirty water on the sidewalk.

New breed of vendor

"Relatively speaking, baike are more educated and they do have better qualities," Fang says. "We want a place where we can sell things without urban management interference."

It's important for baike to gain public approval by behaving correctly, Fang says, adding that he supports clearing out vendors who misbehave.

"We need to make sure we don't harm a city's image and pollute the environment - this is our first priority," Fang says. "When we do our part right, then we can talk to urban management about the possibility of getting a designated location."

China Baike Convention

Here are excerpts of baike principles, dos and don'ts translated from official website.

"We baike are disciplined street sellers and we have standards about setting up stalls and doing business ... We focus more on communication and sharing ...

Baike are vendors on the street, but not every street vendor can be baike ... Baike want to socialize, improve their skills and make friends ..."


Must not cause any harm. They don't jam up pedestrian traffic, they don't harm the environment, they don't disturb residents.

Do not sell fake and forged commodities or seek illegal profits.

Do not create any reason for violent law enforcement.

Are responsible for product quality and after-sales service.

Give customers contact information in case further service is needed.

Are committed to legalizing their status ... Through our civilized behavior, we let more people know about vendors and promote legalization.

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