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The Dark World of Dongguan’s Beggar Gangs

Begging has been a social problem in China for decades. The recent anti-vice crackdown in Dongguan has unexpectedly directed netizens’ attention to the problem of forced begging.

Manya Koetse

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“This news is much more relevant than China’s anti-pornography campaign!” A netizen sends out a message through Weixin about the illegal practices of China’s beggar groups. The issue has become a much-shared topic amongst netizens over the past two months; bringing the current situation of Dongguan beggar gangs into connection with the governmental campaign against pornography because of the major crackdown on brothels in the city in earlier this year. While the government is directing serious attention to the city’s sex industry, a “much more important” issue is taking place in the underground networks of Dongguan, where criminals earn money by forcing innocent people on the streets to beg. The news became a hot topic amongst Weixin users after Hong-Kong based Phoenix TV brought an inside story in its ‘The State of Society’ show (社会能见度) on how beggar groups in Dongguan will go so far as to mutilate healthy children in order to make them appear more helpless and thus receive more money on the streets: “the more miserable, the better” (Fenghuang 2014).

Dongguan, a city in the south of China with eight million inhabitants, is commonly known as China’s ‘sin city’ or ‘sex capital’.

 

dongguan-guangdong

 

The city received nationwide attention when the government put a halt to its large-scale sex industry in the wake of the 2014 anti-vice campaign. One online blogger took this moment to write an article on Dongguan and its beggars, telling the personal story of how his uncle Lu Jianqiu went missing in the city in 2000. It was not until ten years later, in September 2010, that Lu was seen once again by family-member Lu Xiaoyan (aunt). Lu Jianqiu had become a handicapped man, begging on a street corner in a lively neighbourhood of Dongguan. When he called out to Lu Xiaoyan, he was immediately taken away by a group of men. Afterwards, they threatened to kill Lu Xiaoyan if she would meddle in their business. This story brought Phoenix TV to Dongguan, reporting on the current situation. Through interviews, the investigative team discovered the existence of a dark world were beggar groups abduct innocent adults and children, mutilating them in order to beg on the streets and win the sympathy of people. According to the report, there is an entire underground network where beggar groups can “rent” or “purchase” handicapped or deformed people, including children, to work for them as beggars (Fenghuang 2014).

 

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A reconstruction of the encounter with Lu Jianqiu on a streetcorner in Dongguan, by Phoenix TV.
 

It is not the first time netizens cry out for governmental action on the practices of (child) beggar groups. China’s illegal beggar practices have surfaced in news reports at different times over the past years. The problem received attention as the Olympics were coming close in 2007. In 2011, Chinasmack reported how people joined in an online effort to rescue exploited child beggars. The World of Chinese ran a story in 2013 on vagrants in Beijing ‘renting’ children to beg. Nevertheless, the human trafficking that is part of this begging industry is a social problem on the increase (Jiang&Sanchez 2013). Physically disabled people are still forced to beg on a daily basis; they are being sold or rented as props.

In the meantime, Dongguan authorities have responded to the Phoenix TV show and the (social) media attention by promising to investigate the issue. As reported, they are making “special plans” to help police prevent gang leaders from forcing victims into beggary (Zheng 2014). As for the case of Lu Jianqiu- his current whereabouts remain unknown. If he still alive, he will turn 35 this year. In this particular case, the local government’s probe into the matter might be too little, too late.

 

A short report on the Phoenix TV investigation can be viewed here (in Chinese):

 

 
References 
Fenghuang Weishi 凤凰卫视 [Phoenix TV]. 2014. “东莞“丐帮”调查:健康幼童被断腿越惨越赚钱 [Inside Story on Dongguan ‘Beggar Groups’ – Healthy Children with Broken Legs – The More Miserable, The Better].” Ifeng News (March 18) http://news.ifeng.com/society/shnjd/detail_2014_03/18/34885540_0.shtml (Accessed May 26, 2014). 
Jiang Quanbao and Jesus J. Sanchez-Barricarte. 2013. “Child Trafficking in China.” China Report 49(3): 317-335. 
Phillips, Tom. 2013. “Inside Dongguan, China’s Sin City.” The Telegraph (May 1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/10030014/Inside-Dongguan-Chinas-Sin-City.html (Accessed May 26, 2014). 
WeixinSource: bit.ly/1tGKc31 (Accessed May 26, 2014).  
Zheng Caixiong. 2014. “Reports of Forces Child-Begging Probed.” China Daily (March 20) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2014-03/20/content_17362607.htm (Accessed May 26, 2014). 
Images 
http://www.redflag.info/dongguan.htm
http://www.thenanfang.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/beggar-.jpg 
P.S. 

The word used for ‘beggar gangs’ is ’丐帮‘ (gaibang). Many netizens seek to stride against this social problem by acting as ‘citizen journalists’ (‘拍客‘-paike), making videos of beggar practiceswith their mobile phones. Some netizens claim to have seen how child-beggars are taken to the street by a mini-van at 7.00am, and are not picked up until 23.00pm. 

 

[box type=”bio”]

koetse.148x200About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.[/box]

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Digital

The Rise of Facial Recognition in China’s Real Estate Market

Some homebuyers counter the rise of facial recognition technology in real estate offices by wearing helmets during their visit.

Manya Koetse

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The issue of Chinese real estate agents using facial recognition techniques to collect information about their clients has sparked privacy concerns among Chinese social media users.

 
– By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Bobby Fung
 

A recent news report by Southern Metropolis Daily exposes how more and more real estate offices in China are working with facial recognition technologies to collect personal information about their prospective clients.

This is not the first time that the widespread use of facial-recognition techniques in the real estate industry receives attention in Chinese media. In 2019, some blogs already raised concerns over the use of such techniques and the negative impact it could have on homebuyers.

But why would the real estate industry benefit from buying expensive face recognition systems?

One reason is that these AI techniques could earn those within the industry a lot of money while reducing time-consuming conflicts over commission fees.

Using facial recognition within the real estate industry solves existing problems regarding the practice of commissions and splits in compensation, as the techniques can register when, where, and how often a certain client visited, and through which channels the eventual property purchase was made.

Besides the fact that the registration of biometric information violates the privacy of visitors, it could also mean they, as homebuyers, are losing out on big money. First-time visitors, not yet registered by the smart facial recognition cameras, can get much higher discounts.

The report by Southern Metropolis Daily claims that homebuyers could end up paying up to 300,000 yuan ($45,560) more when buying property if their face was previously recorded.

This is, among others, because agencies make a distinction between homebuyers who first come to view a property following a real estate agent’s own marketing campaign (a ‘natural visitor’ 自然到访客户) and those who have come through an intermediary (‘渠道客户’). In the latter case, the company also has to pay a commission fee to the intermediary.

This system has led to some potential homebuyers wearing helmets when visiting a real estate agency. Images of a certain ‘Brother Helmet’ (头盔哥) viewing property previously attracted attention online.

One of the companies that is mentioned by Southern Metropolis Daily as providing this kind of smart camera systems to companies is the Shenzhen-based Myunke (Mingyuan Yunke 明源云客), an internet company focusing on the “intelligent transformation and upgrading” of real estate marketing.

On Weibo, dozens of commenters suggest that the use of these techniques in China’s real estate industry is already widespread, with some sharing their own experiences as homebuyers and others saying: “I work in this industry, and it’s true.”

“Where’s our privacy?! This is too scary!”, others write, with some saying that the root of the problem lies in China’s “overly lax privacy protection.”

The ubiquity of commercial use of facial recognition has been attracting more attention recently amid rising privacy concerns.

One example is the use of built-in smart cameras by digital advertisement billboards, which measure customers’ reactions to advertisements. These digital billboard record, for example, if people look at the advertisement, how long they stay interested, and if they are male or female.

Earlier this week, a court in Hangzhou ordered a local wildlife park to delete the facial recognition data of one of its patrons, saying it was “unnecessary” and “lacked legitimacy.” An associate law professor at Zhejiang Sci-tech University named Guo Bing sued the safari park in 2019 for using mandatory facial recognition systems to register him and his wife as park visitors.

As reported by Sixth Tone, Guo decided to file this lawsuit on the grounds that the park had violated China’s consumer rights protection law by collecting sensitive personal information without the permission of its patrons.

In light of the heightened concerns around privacy and commercial use of facial recognition, a draft law to ban facial recognition systems in residential communities was recently submitted to the local legislation department in Hangzhou. This move may signal a stricter overview or even ban of mandatory collection of facial scans in residential areas.

Whether or not the use of facial recognition systems in real estate sales will be curbed any time soon is unclear. Some experts have pointed out, however, that the necessity and legitimacy of employing such techniques – which only protect the interests of the company and not the interest nor rights of the clients – is highly questionable.

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China Insight

Shandong Woman Dies after Suffering Abuse by In-Laws over Infertility

Anger over Shandong abuse case: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

Manya Koetse

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The only photo of the victim on social media is a childhood photo.

Just a month after the tragic story of a Chinese vlogger being killed by her husband triggered outrage on social media, another extreme domestic abuse case has gone trending on Weibo.

This time, it concerns the story of the 22-year-old woman named Fang Yangyang (方洋洋) who lived in Fangzhuang village in Dezhou, Shandong Province. The woman passed away in 2019 after suffering prolonged abuse by her husband and in-laws. Chinese media report that the abuse was related to Fang’s infertility issues.

Fang married her husband Zhang Bing (张丙) in November of 2016. It was an arranged marriage, with Zhang’s parents paying a bride price of 130,000 yuan (almost $20,000).

When Fang did not get pregnant after marrying her husband, she started suffering severe emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws, beginning in July of 2018. Zhang and his parents reportedly beat Fang with wooden rods, refused to let her eat, locked her up, and let her freeze outside in the cold.

The in-law’s house on November 17, photo by Beijing News / Qiao Chi

Fang, who weighed 180 pounds (80 kilograms) when she got married, only weighed 60 pounds (30 kilograms) in early 2019. Beijing News reports that Fang, malnourished and weak, died on January 31st 2019 after suffering another beating by her in-laws.

The case received more attention on social media this week as the local Yucheng People’s Court (山东禹城法院) reviewed the case after an earlier verdict in January. The retrial is set to take place on November 27.

In January 2020, the court sentenced Fang’s husband and his parents for the crime of abuse. The victim’s father-in-law, Zhang Jilin (张吉林), received three years in prison, her mother-in-law, Liu Lanying (刘兰英), got 26 months in prison, and her husband’s sentence was suspended with a three-year probation time, as reported by Sixth Tone and China Daily.

The relatively light punishments triggered anger on Weibo, where the hashtag “Woman Suffers Abuse by In-Laws for Being Infertile and Dies” (#山东一女子因不孕遭婆家虐待致死#) has been trending for days, along with other similar hashtags (#女子因不孕被夫家虐待致死案重审#, #山东女子因不孕被虐待致死#).

A statement issued by Yucheng People’s Court said the court gave the defendants lighter punishment because they were truthful about their crimes and, in advance, paid a voluntary compensation of 50,000 yuan ($7630). The verdict will now be withdrawn.

In an interview with Southcn.com, Fang’s cousin stated the family had contacted police before when Fang’s in-laws would not allow the family to see her. The second time they contacted the police was after Fang had died.

Sources close to the family state that Fang’s mother had been diagnosed with a mental condition, with Fang allegedly also showing signs of mental disability, although this has not been verified by official sources. There are also sources claiming that the father-in-law, Zhang Jilin, was a heavy drinker who would get aggressive when drunk.

On social media, many people are outraged. “I just don’t understand it!”, one person writes: “It’s just because of societal pressure that this case is now going on retrial. But this is not justice!”

Public anger about the case grew louder due to another case trending at the same time, in which a Shenzhen mother who beat her 12-year-old daughter to death received a ten-year prison sentence (#母亲失手打死12岁女儿获刑十年#).

“This is unimaginable,” one Weibo user wrote: “Isn’t the idea of sentencing someone to actually punish them?!”

“This pains me so much, is this the actual society we’re living in?”

Besides the anger over China’s criminal justice system when it comes to domestic violence, there are also those who express disgust over the fact that the Zhang family apparently arranged a marriage for the sole purpose of producing offspring. “Are we still living in the Qing Dynasty?”

Many of the comments online are similar to those that flooded social media after the death of Lamu: “Is this how the law protects women?!”

We will report more on this story after November 27.

By Manya Koetse

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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