Selected Articles Talking about Street Vending in Shanghai through History


Street vending in China has a long history back to ancient times. Considering the history of Shanghai and China, the general classification on the period is:

1843 -1949:

Shanghai became a treaty port in 1843 (上海开埠). The international trade opened and the city became a commercial center. People from other provinces came to Shanghai to become a vendor since the market was open.

-《近代上海摊贩群体研究 (1843-1949)》Li, Liming (Research on Street Vendors in Modern Shanghai 1843-1949)

- Related chapters include the four stages of street vending business in Shanghai, classification and location of stands and detailed analysis on vendors (origin, previous job, living situation and etc.)

In this book, the author mentioned《商民协会组织条例》(Regulation on Business and  People Associations) published by Kuomintang in 1928 which covered regulation on vendors’ associations. There is a Japanese scholar Hajime Kaneko金子肇 who researched on the relationship between the vendor class, business associations, and the government at that time.

Media Resource:

旧上海一个摊贩每天收入最多6000元 可养活3-5人

A vendor’s Income Could Be 6000 Yuan in Old Shanghai, Which Could Afford Life for 3-5 People (Note: great inflation in price at that time)

Date: Oct. 31st, 2014

Source: [origin: Nanjing Daily]

The article discusses about the life of street vendors in Shanghai after 1843. It says that vendors need license in concessions at that time so more of them on in Chinese sections. There were many second-hand good vendors but street food vendors were more than them. In addition, it introduces regulators and income level on street vending business.



In addition, whether you select to be fixed stand or moving stand should be taken into consideration. Although the rent and tax were huge burden for fixed vendors, the moving vendors were in danger of being expelled by the police (Public Security Bureau). At that time, the police were playing the role as Chengguan. When the police came, you could see the vendors running away. It is common to see the police scold, abuse, extort or even beat vendors.


More of the vendors were selling vegetable, fruit and snack, which are daily necessity. In crowded business area, you could see snack stands everywhere. There are breakfast, pastry, sides, and snacks such as baked pancake, fried dough, fried dumplings, fried sesame ball and congee. In a national painting daily in 1910, people describe the scene of selling wonton: “People make sound with their should pole to sell wonton. You could find the vendors on the wharf. One yuan for one is a good price, the meat is fresh and it tastes delicious.” Once Zhang Ailin wrote: “In the lanes and streets, the voice of vendors is everywhere. ‘Tofu—Hua’ , the word tofu is very fast, and they prolong the pronunciation of  ‘Hua’”.

1949 – 1978:

This period is after the PRC is established when at first the general economy was recovering but then moved into the planned economy period. During the recovering years from 1949 to 1952, the market was still open for vendors and regulated by the police. However, moving forward to 1956, after the planned economy policy was executed, the vendors were gradually eliminated since everything was allocated directly by government.

Liu, Lingling 刘玲玲《1949-1952年上海摊贩管理工作研究》Research on Regulating Street Vendors in Shanghai 1949 – 1952. Shanghai Normal University. 2012

Quotations: (Directly quoted from Abstract, might be some vocabulary errors)

“So from June 1949 to August 1950, the Public Security Bureau of Shanghai carried out some preliminary tightening and restrictive measures to specify the focused place for stall-keepers doing business, make up some stall-keepers’ groups, assess license tax, tax on stall-keepers. From September 1950 to the end of 1952, under the leadership of industrial and commercial Bureau, according to the historical tend, combined with various political movements, found out the stall-keepers’ situation, grasped the general information, replaced the licenses, overhauled the street vendors and other management.”

Media Resource:


Management on Vending Business in Shanghai in Post-liberation Period

(Author: Zhang, Chen, who works at Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau, Archives Department)

Date: Oct. 9th, 2014

Source: Shanghai Archives Bureau



In Dec. 1949, there were 84623 vendors, and this number increased to 190000 by 1955. Among the newly added venders, migrants took 45%, of which 80% were farmers. The existence of large groups of vendors brought some negative effect on traffic, social security, taxation and etc. of Shanghai.


Shanghai local government started to regulate vending business, saying “a regulatory action to ensure social security, traffic and urban appearance but takes care of vendors’ business and daily life” as the direct goal and “helping regular development of taxation and the industry of business” as secondary goal. At the beginning, the police (Public Security Bureau) was responsible for the action. On Jun. 26th, 1949, the Public Security Bureau released “Regulations on Vendors” to ensure legal business as well as to regulate market order and traffic. It said “people should take action, emphasize education, strengthen regulation, limit development, consider different cases and reform gradually.” The details of the regulation include:

  1. Fixed stand vendors should submit the application form to the corresponding Public Security Bureau to get the approval for license for legal business operation. The license should be put at an obvious place for check purpose, and it should not be lent to others.
  2. The area for vending business should follow the assignment by the government. The area should not exceed length by 1.3 meters and width by 1 meter.
  3. Vendors should be responsible for cleaning the stall and surroundings.
  4. To avoid the market being disturbed by spalpeens, the vendors have the right to report to the Public Security Bureau. If it is the fact, the Public Security Bureau should protect the vendors.
  5. Without permission, vendors cannot build any additional architecture or use tent. Vendors are prohibited from ruining public buildings and streets. Vendors are not allowed to sell any unsafe or illegal products, bargain for an extraordinarily high price or find a new place for business by themselves.
  6. If vendors violate those regulations, they would face punishment including “warning”, “temporarily suspending business”, “some amount of fine” and “cancel business license or permanently suspending business”.



With the development of regulation system and public security management, Shanghai started to tax on vendors’ license. On Mar. 1st, 1950, the government announced the establishment of Shanghai Vendor Regulation Committee, including people from Public Security Bureau, Finance Bureau, Civil Affairs Bureau and Industry and Business Bureau. They set an office of the committee at the Public Security Bureau. There were subordinate committees in each district, including people from corresponding district-level departments, appointing the director general of district-level Public Security Bureau as the leader. District-level Public Security Bureau took charge of execution. They estimated the income level of each stand and taxed them. There was a democratic system on estimating income – reporting income by vendors and taking public opinions, so that the government could know the number of vendors, capital, business area, sales and etc. thoroughly for taxation. On Nov. 29th, 1950, the government announced a “Temporary Regulation on Vendors in Shanghai”, which adjusted some regulations. The regulations asked vendors who were in food, medicines, barber and laundry business should get the certificate from local health departments to start the application for license. It also added several new lines about not allowing scales that hadn’t been checked by government, for which the punishment included 1. warning and education, 2. suspending business for 1 – 10 days, 3. a fine of 2000 to 50000 yuan (old), 4. cancelling the license and permanently suspending the business, 5. taking to the person to court when necessary.

1978 – Now:

In the more than 30 years after Reform and Opening-up, the government encouraged private business and individual economy as a supplement to public owned economy (1982). In this period, the regulation system developed.

Jin, Lin 金凌. 上海流动摊贩管理现状与对策分析 Analysis on The Current Situation of Regulating Moving Vendors in Shanghai. Fudan University. 2010.

(The author briefly introduces the overall situation after Reform and Opening-up in Chapter 2.1.1.) Jin concludes three reasons for the recession in vending business: 1. the society shifted emphasis onto knowledge, and those with higher education degrees had their salary improved. 2. with production capacity developing, consumers have more choices and quality in formal stores. 3. with lots of SOEs merged or shut down, the unemployed came into vending business which made the business more competitive.



Many of individual vendors were not registered at the Administration for Industry and Commerce. The vendors were everywhere on the streets, doing small businesses. Street-level government and Resident Committee would ask them to do business in a specific area and charge them administration fee. During that period, the government regarded the phenomenon as incenting economy and promoting the market so that did not interfere with the vending business very much.

进入21世纪以来, 我国城市化进程加快, 由于农业耕作效率的提高,城乡收入差距的持续扩大, 大量的农村青壮年富余劳动力加速涌向城市,由于各种主客观方面的限制,除了一部分成为“农民工”外,更多的人只能选择从事流动摊贩这一行当。由于流动摊贩的经营产生外部不经济性如环境污染、影响市容及公共交通安全、扰乱经济秩序等,各地政府部门也从这一时期开始实施反复取缔的政策。

When it comes to the 21st century, the urbanization of China has been accelerating. Because the agricultural production becomes more and more efficient, the income gap between urban and rural areas is more severe. Large amount of young labor from rural areas come to cities. Some of them become “migrant workers,” but the majority have to become vendors, due to some limitations. The negative externality that vending business has caused includes environmental pollution, urban appearance, public transportation safety and economy disorder, which makes the government to enforce strict policy on street vending.