In a country infamous for heavy-handed officials, the government employees who harass and sometimes beat and extort money from street vendors are among the most despised.

Their official name is "chengguan" — literally, "city management" — but the word has become slang for someone who uses excessive force to solve life's problems.

In recent weeks, anger against them has reached fever pitch after several cases of apparent abuses have spread widely on Chinese microblogs, sparking a flood of online comments.