In China, when people mention the word chengguan－urban patrol officers－the first impression might be negative, thoughts of abuse of power or their rude manners when expelling vendors.
However, during my several days' stay in the coastal city of Qinhuangdao, the stereotype was changed by some new friends working in the chengguan system.
"How do you feel about our city?" That is the first question Li Yaobin, director of the urban management office of Qinhuangdao, asked me when we met.
He cared about the answer so much because he has put a great deal of energy into improving people's impressions of the city, along with dealing with other urban management affairs.
Despite his tight schedule, Li has to walk many kilometers in his work to check details. Such inspections always take place early in the morning or late in the evening.
When we were on the way to an interview, several urban patrol officers talked about the best way to decorate tree pits. They told me that because of their work habits, when people are enjoying beautiful scenes on trips, they usually focus on details of the city's appearance, such as garbage cans.
At the city's digital management center, I felt the concern of the staff members as they strove to deal in a timely manner with cases that residents reported online. Illegal street stalls, for instance, should be handled within three hours; broken pavement should be fixed within five working days.
The chengguan officers also gave themselves a challenge by introducing the strictest domestic standard in city sanitation－in Zhongwei, a city in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. That's in sharp contrast with some Chinese civil servants who are blamed these days for doing nothing as a way to avoid making mistakes.
When I asked how the volume of dust in every square meter of ground is calculated, they laughed and showed me a video in which urban patrol officers put a square frame on the ground, swept the space and put dust collected on a little scale.
I can understand how hard it is to stick to the standard in a city boasting one of China's largest coal transportation ports.
"Is it too strict for the city?" I asked. "It is strict," Li answered, "but when we hear the visitors say how much they like the place, I feel all the sweat has paid off."