Newspapers

A Nanjing without news kiosks

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A Nanjing newsstand (see story #11 )

Nanjing has decided that news kiosks are a blight on the city.

Erected on the roadway, they create yet another unnecessary obstacle to the growing number of cars on the streets. Moved to the sidewalk, they pose a risk to blind pedestrians.

The plan, which was circulated among vendors this summer in the form of removal notices, has been roundly criticized by Nanjing media outlets, pundits, and Internet users. Where will Nanjingers buy their news from now on? Who will be responsible for the news vendors who are put out of work by the demolitions? What good does it do anyone it a newsstand is moved from a major thoroughfare to an out-of-the-way side street?

The reigning interpretation is that the government is more concerned with the city’s image than the livelihood of its population. One alternative suggested by the chengguan, the city management administration that is in charge of the removals, is for news vendors to rent space in supermarkets and other fixed stores. That option has its own problems:

“Inside operations” means encouraging supermarkets and other stores to sell newspapers and magazines. But operating costs are high, and they must pay taxes. A supermarket salesperson told this reporter that a news stall would occupy about two square meters, a space that could be rented from the supermarket for 30,000 RMB per month. Mr. Jiang, who has operated a newsstand for a decade, told this reporter that a newsstand can make at most around 4,000 RMB per month, so the cost to entry is far too high for them. As a result, very few newsstand proprietors have moved into supermarkets.

Other observers have expressed doubts about whether supermarkets will open their doors at 6 in the morning to allow commuters to buy the morning paper on the way to work.

Nanjing’s bid to rid the city of street-side newsstands is not without precedent. When Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, wiped out newsstands in 2001, city authorities also mentioned city beautification, and in 2007, the local planning bureau issued a notice recommending that vendors rent space in supermarkets and other stores. According to The Beijing News, which ran a lengthy story on the situation, the income from periodical sales was far less than what it would cost to rent a stall inside a store. The city’s readers ended up getting their news from temporary, mobile stalls: a board thrown over a cart.

The Yangtse Evening Post reports that in a number of locations across the city, news vendors whose kiosks have been demolished have returned with carts laden with newspapers and magazines to serve a clientele that still requires print media. Ironically, the Nanjing government had eliminated these news carts a decade ago by encouraging the erection of free-standing news kiosks, in line with The Notice on the Establishment of Newspaper and Periodical Sales Kiosks in Cities and Towns Across the Country, issued in 2000 by the Civilization Office, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Public Security, State Administration for Industry and Commerce, General Administration of Press and Publication, and the State Post Bureau.

With that notice still in effect, critics of the Nanjing government’s demolition plans have accused it of violating national policy and going against the “spirit of building socialist spiritual civilization.”

The Yangtse Evening Post published an interesting look back at the recent history of news vending in Nanjing:

Erecting News Kiosks Was One of Nanjing’s “Ten Practical Tasks”

by Song Nanfei / YEP

In the course of the investigation, this reporter learned that prior to 2000, Nanjing citizens mostly bought their newspapers from mobile carts. “In those days, a newsstand was just a wooden board.” The first group of news kiosks appeared on North Zhongshan Road. “The twenty kiosks were a new experience for everyone, and it was a big deal in the Nanjing news,” said one experienced proprietor.

Then, after a Notice was issued by the Civilization Office and five other departments urging the city to improve its image and develop the spiritual side of its populace in 2001, Nanjing erected more than 200 newsstands, and the first group of news vendors moved in. Another 200-odd newsstands were erected in 2002, all of which belonged to Nanjing Post’s Zhongshan Book and Periodical Company.

In 2003, the Nanjing Municipal Committee and People’s Government named “newsstand construction” to a list of ten practical tasks for building spiritual civilization. Subsequently, the city government moved to clean up news vending, requesting that all vendors move into kiosks. At that time, a second newsstand management company, Huiwen, was established by the Nanjing Press Group, Nanjing Post, Nanjing Broadcasting Group, and Easthigh International.

Yesterday, this newspaper spoke with Huiwen president Li, who said that at the time, requirements for newsstand placement included not occupying pathways for the blind and being at least 50 meters away from intersections and traffic lights. “We also had to think about electricity hookups and the need for public telephones.” Li explained that once the locations were picked, they contacted subdistrict chengguan who reviewed and approved their selections. Newspaper vendors could speak with the company if they wanted to move into kiosks, but they were not forced to do so.

After the 2003 restructuring, Nanjing’s old newspaper stalls practically vanished, and newsstands popped up on streets large and small. At its height, the number of news kiosks in Nanjing was nearly 1,000, most of which belonged to Zhongshan and Huiwen, apart from a few set up by the subdistricts themselves.

However, that number has been contracting ever since demolitions began last year of newsstands along Zhongyang, Zhongshan, and South Zhongshan roads. Today there are just over 500 left, a decline of nearly one half.

“Once removed the kiosks are useless, and we haven’t received a cent in compensation,” said president Li. In 2007, more than 300 kiosks were under Huiyuan’s control, but today the company controls just over 200. Li said that newsstands along the “three Zhongs” were moved or torn down last year; this year the demolitions are taking place in Baixia District, on Ruijin Road, Changfu Street, and Hubu Street. “We’re told to take them down so we do. What else can we do? It’s a government action.”

Li explained that in the past, a small number of newsstands had been transferred from major roadways to secondary roadways, but he had not come across any since he took office in April.


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Yangtse Evening Post, March 10, 1991

The roadside news carts that kiosks replaced were a fixture of Nanjing city life. “Orange Daily,” a microblog produced by the new media department of Jinlin College, Nanjing University, reproduced a front-page image from the March 10, 1991 edition of the Yangtse Evening Post. The top headline of that issue announces that Deputy Mayor Zhang Lianfa, the so-called “mayor of the roads,” called roadside paper vendors a “Nanjing tradition,” and as a feature of a cultured city that fulfills the spiritual and cultural needs of the people, they were not to be removed.

Microblog contributors spoke to actual news vendors whose livelihood would be affected by the demolitions and recorded the stories of their past experiences and anxieties about the future:

Stories

1: He’d just arrived in Nanjing from out of town, and because his nephew’s wife was pregnant, he helped his nephew man the newsstand. To support his family, his nephew delivered papers in the morning and the mail in the afternoon. They were out-of-towners and had rented a local’s newsstand the previous year. If it is taken down, the 50,000 RMB will go to the owner, and they’ll have to leave….has anyone thought about the lives and feelings of these people in the demolitions?

2: He’s worked in newspaper vending for thirty years, and has experienced the changes of the industry, from selling newspapers off of tables and carts to the kiosks of today. At first, he did not want to spend the money to rent a kiosk, but after he moved in, he said, thanks to the government for this great newsstand, which protects us from the wind and rain. And now that they want to kick him out of it, he’d rather have the kiosk!

3: He’s at the age of easy understanding, in his sixties. He says, “I have nothing! No medical insurance, no retirement insurance.” Perhaps to increase his family income, or perhaps out of habit, he only gives himself one day off for the Spring Festival. Afflicted by serious illness, he just got out of the hospital not long ago. I could tell that the small news kiosk is practically his whole life these days. So is there easy understanding for him now?

4: Why not satisfy both sides? “For their effect on the city’s appearance, the government could help with beautification, like in Beijing and Shanghai, and we could continue to work hard at our business to serve everyone even better.” With three people in the family relying on the kiosk – including a disabled wife a child away at school – what will he do if it is torn down?

5: The two of them have experienced the demolition of their “home,” after which they carried with them the sadness of leaving behind the “place where we grew up” and the regret of not being able to protect the their house, and perhaps a little joy at a new home. For several years, they lived life on a line between two points: Home—newsstand. Cooking, taking deliveries, delivering food, midday rest, watching the kiosk, visiting the restroom…they crossed paths along the way. If the newsstand is gone, their home will be there, but the line will full of hardship.

6: They used to sell papers at A, but for a certain reason they were assigned to B. Now, they’ve been told that their newsstand at B is “occupying the path.” I asked the proprietor, were you occupying the path at A? He said, no, and then he said: they told me that even if we were at the old place they’d have to take it down. All of them are coming down! Is that what they said? Yes! We all know!

7: I hope they can be compassionate – “Whenever anyone mentions demolition, I get really scared, because any day it could be our turn.” The proprietor started selling newspapers in the 80s. There was a government appeal and the poor were given special attention. Now he relies entirely on the newsstand for his livelihood. His child is only in kindergarten, and his future education is a long road. “I can only hope that the government will be compassionate, otherwise…”

8: A woman close to 40. She has back problems and has parents and a child. Her husband has a job of his own. A job does not merely mean “money,” but also represents self-respect for this housewife. She said that when a woman has a career of her own, she does not need to rely completely on her husband. Facing “demolition,” she panicked: “I have no education, so I really don’t know what to do!” Will tearing down a newsstand tear down a woman’s self-respect with it?

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9: Have you received the chengguan demolition notice? Yes. What is the deadline? Tomorrow. We’re getting ready to move out. Do you agree with it? There’s nothing we can do. They big and we’re small. How much is the government giving you? 50,000. What will you do now? The only thing we can do is try to find other work. After all, we can’t sell newspapers anymore. The newsstand closed down that afternoon.

10: She told me that she paid a one-time fee of 12,000 for the kiosk; it costs 300 RMB per month to rend a postal newsstand. If she agrees to the “50,000-RMB policy,” the 50,000 RMB is only compensation: they ought to pay 12,000 for the kiosk before they tear it down!

11: When I looked at this kiosk, I thought that maybe it had already met an unfortunate end. But upon asking, I learned that the husband and wife had gone off to see the Expo, because their son was working in Shanghai and had scored a few tickets. Although I was happy for them, I wondered: before they left, did they know about the demolitions? Would this affect their mood at the Expo? After bringing up their son, had the two of them now begun to enjoy the fruits of his success? What will go through their minds before the demolition?

12: Concerning the newsstand demolition issue, an indifferent Uncle He says simply, “I’m 55 this year, and like my wife I’ve been laid off. We’ve been here six years. The whole family relies on me. My kid is going to school…” and then he is unwilling to talk any further. All during the conversation he has been staring at the newspapers in front of him. His “simple” words and “simple” mood reveal that his only wish is to simply live.

13: Our family has been selling newspapers for more than thirty years, beginning with tarp on the ground in the 80s. Now it’s become tough to feed ourselves. And we don’t have any retirement insurance. They can tear it down if they want, but they need to pay us a monthly pension. My husband is over fifty and has to visit the hospital at least twice a year, and it costs a lot. We live off of our own two hands. What reason do they have for tearing us down? If I was just a little older, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do!

14: Citizen Li – the first person to reveal the newsstand demolition issue to the media. And, like what happens to the nail that sticks up, the chengguan surrounded his kiosk and the chief held out a document for him to sign, but he still refused. That afternoon, when the TV station notified Li in an interview that his demolition had been changed to a move, he said: I don’t want to move to an alleyway, where there’s no business. So what should I do? His kiosk is on Chengxian Road.

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