Recently, young Chinese are increasingly choosing street vending in cities like Shanghai, particularly since the city ended its COVID lockdown in June.
They are selling coffee, accessories, and paintings along tree-lined streets.
Or they can also be seen in mobile bars installed in the trunks of cars along the high-end neighborhoods.
This shift towards small-scale businesses by disappointed urban Chinese is partly driven by a desire to break away from the pressure of a competitive working culture and experiment with the carpe diem philosophy.
Street vendors are also now popping up on social media platforms–many are showcasing their businesses online, and sharing their experiences and business motivations.
On the Chinese short video site Douyin, TikTok, a related hashtag has received close to 40 billion views. More than 1.5 million postings on street sellers on Instagram, similar to those on Xiaohongshu, include everything from recipes to their business strategies in an effort to encourage others.
Yang Wen, a 28-year-old man from Guizhou, lost his hotpot restaurant and traditional bar because of the pandemic. Now, he sells desserts in the street from the trunk of his car.
He told Sixth Tone, “My family and loved ones never understood my decision. They didn’t realize that I couldn’t get away with doing a normal job with a meager salary.”
However, this has become his main source of income and the only way to pay off his debts.
Huang Gengzhi, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University’s School of Geography and Planning, wrote in a 2020 Sixth Tone commentary, “Street stalls don’t just benefit residents on an individual level, they can also play a positive role in the modern urban economy. Restarting the street stall economy should not be a temporary response to the current economic situation, but part of the country’s long-term plans.”
Yang’s mobile dessert station has assimilated into city life in the four months since he launched the business. He uses social media to attract customers and claims to have 200 customers a day.
By creating a cozy atmosphere, his makeshift stall has become a popular meeting place for young urbanites.
He said he can earn 30,000 yuan (about $4,000), but it is not an easy task. He has to cope with the illegal nature of his stand, the rising cost of raw supplies, and the weakening demand for his products.
Yang said “I keep doing my utmost all the time to strike a balance. I don’t plan to do it forever. But this experience will lay a solid foundation for my future pursuits.”