A video showing a toddler picking up a steel pipe to defend his grandma from a group of Chengguan, or Chinese urban management officers, went viral last week.
In the video, the toddler yells “Don't touch my grandma” and waves the pipe threateningly at a group of Chengguans who are laughing and videotaping the toddler. Onlookers also laugh at the scene.
Chengguan, who are responsible for maintaining public order by clamping down on illegal street vendors and enforcing rules on city sanitation, have been a target of public scorn due to their thug-like behavior. A few years back, videos showing instances of violent behavior by Chengguan often went viral online and attracted a huge amount of criticism. However, due to the increase of social media censorship in China, similar citizen witness accounts are now less visible. Instead, party affiliated media outlets have started picking up news about street vendors attacking Chengguans.
This time, the video also passed the ideological review as it shows a toddler's “violence” towards Chengguan. The video clip went viral on various Chinese social media platforms on April 14 and was quickly picked up by the English-language side of People's Daily, which shared the news report on Twitter.
On Weibo, China's most popular social media platform, the majority of the people, like the onlookers, found the scene funny. But some felt sad for the toddler:
I really like this kid. But my heart is aching. His thinking and world is simple.
Is this funny? The toddler's anger comes from his will to protect his grandma from bullying. Is this funny? If your family is humiliated and bullied, wouldn't you stand up to help them? I don't understanding what you are laughing at.
The toddler should enjoy sunshine like all other kids. Instead he learned how to use violence in resistance to the Chengguan. His action reflects the environment he grew up. His heart was covered with a shadow. It is not just a family tragedy but also a social tragedy.
As the online discussions started to turn critical towards Chengguan, the propaganda authorities issued instructions demanding the video, pictures, and news reports be removed from the main news section of major news outlets on April 15 because they “unfavorably portray the law enforcement community”. More balanced, pro-law enforcement views are now dominating social media:
应该给小孩正确的引导吧 这些城管又没有暴力执法 她奶奶占了人行道 当然得管啦！
Should educate the kid. The Chengguan [in the video] did not use any violence. His grandma has occupied the pavement, of course the law has to be enforced.
The family education of this kid must be problematic. First of all, his grandma has occupied public space. This is bad behavior. Secondly, how can the parents allow the kid to pick up such big weapon. Isn't that dangerous? The video did not show Chengguan use violence and we should not comment too much on it. However, there are so many keyboard warriors who assume Chengguan as the bad guy.
There's an argument to be made that the video does in fact show the Chengguan's violence towards the toddler — it's just not physical, it's psychological. The mobile phones, the cameras and the laughter can embarrass and demean him.
Whether they agree that it's violence or not, many netizens nevertheless didn't see the video as amusing.