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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).

 

beggar-

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]

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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 Insight

Exchange Student to Be Deported from China for Harassing Young Woman at University

An exchange student studying at the Hebei University of Engineering has been expelled and will soon be deported after harassing a female student.

Manya Koetse

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An exchange student from Pakistan who was studying at the Hebei University of Engineering (河北工程大学) has been expelled and detained after harassing a female student at the same university.

The incident, that is attracting much attention on Chinese social media this week, adds to the wave of recent controversies over the behavior and status of overseas students in mainland China.

On July 31, a female student at the Hebei university filed a police report against a Pakistani student who allegedly harassed her and attempted to forcefully kiss her and touch her breasts.

Screenshots of a supposed WeChat conversation between the exchange student and the female student, in which the man apologizes and claims the interaction is a “requirement for friendship,” are being shared on social media.

According to various reports, the police initially tried to mediate between the two students, which the female student refused.

Together with the school principal, the police then further investigated the case and found ample evidence of harassment after examining the university’s surveillance system.

On August 1st, the Hebei University of Engineering announced that they had expelled the student and that he will be deported from China. The announcement received more than 14,000 reactions and 150,000 ‘likes’ on Weibo.

The student is now detained at the local Public Security Bureau and is awaiting his deportation.

A photo of two officers together with a man in front of the detention center in Handan is circulating on social media in relation to this incident.

At time of writing, the hashtag page “Exchange Student to Be Deported after Molesting Female Student” (#留学生猥亵女学生将被遣送出境#) has been viewed over 310 million times on Weibo.

Among thousands of reactions, there are many who praise the Hebei university for supporting the female student after she reported the exchange student to the police.

“This may not be the best university, but at least they stand behind their students!”, some say, with others calling the university “awesome.”

Many say that the Hebei university should serve as an example for other Chinese universities to follow, with Shandong University being specifically mentioned by Weibo users.

Shandong University was widely criticized earlier this summer for its “buddy exchange program,” which was accused of being a way to arrange Chinese “girlfriends” for male foreign students.

Another incident that is mentioned in relation to this trending story is that of an exchange student who displayed aggressive behavior towards a Chinese police officer in July of this year. The student was not punished for his actions, which sparked anger on Chinese social media.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Insight

“Bolt from the Blue”: Mainland Tourists Can No Longer Independently Travel to Taiwan

Chinese tourists who were planning a solo trip to Taiwan are out of luck.

Manya Koetse

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Starting from August 1st, 2019, mainland residents can no longer individually travel to Taiwan for tourism purposes, and can only visit the island with a pre-approved travel group until further notice. The news has become top trending on Chinese social media.

After Chinese authorities announced on July 31st that China will stop issuing individual travel permits for mainland residents visiting Taiwan, the topic became one of the most-discussed topics on social media this week.

China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated on its website that independent travel to Taiwan will be suspended from August 1st “in view of the current cross-strait situation.”

The brief statement announcing the ban.

State media outlet Global Times writes that the individual travel suspension is a result of “repeated provocative actions by the Tsai Ing-wen administration and secessionist forces on the island.”

Taipei Times explained the move as “another attempt to isolate Taiwan in the hope of spoiling President Tsai Ing-wen’s re-election chances.” Taiwan will hold its presidential elections in January 2020.

On Wednesday night local time, hashtags relating to the individual travel ban had gathered millions of views and comments on Sina Weibo.

 

ROC Restrictions for Mainland Travelers

 

Tourists from mainland China face restrictions when traveling to Taiwan, Republic of China (ROC), and must hold a travel permit to visit.

In July of 2008, PRC passport holders were first legally allowed to visit Taiwan for tourism purposes, but only if they joined a pre-approved group tour organized by a selected travel agency.

In 2011, these rules were relaxed after Taiwanese and mainland authorities agreed on a trial to allow mainland residents visiting Taiwan as individual tourists.

Under the terms of that ‘trial,’ mainland residents from 47 cities could apply for individual entry permits to Taiwan. These cities included places such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Harbin, Xiamen, and others.

With Wednesday’s statement, that program is currently put on hold. According to Focus Taiwan, this is the first time Beijing authorities have banned individual travelers from visiting Taiwan since June 2011.

Mainland tourists who want to visit Taiwan will now have to go back to joining tour groups again.

The Taiwanese tourism industry relies heavily on Chinese tourists. In 2015, the year before Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was elected, 4.2 million mainlanders visited the island, making up 40 percent of all tourists.

 

“A Bolt From the Blue”

 

On Weibo, the “Taiwan Individual Travel” account, an information channel for tourists, called the ban “a bolt from the blue” and said that it is unclear how long the restrictions will last: “We just hope that it is temporary.”

The post received over 11,500 comments from netizens, many of whom are confused about the ban and concerned on how it will affect their personal travel plans.

“I already received my permit, can I still go?” many wondered.

According to the China International Travel Service, mainland travelers with permits issued before August 1st can still go on their planned individual trips.

In a Weibo poll answered by more than 210,000 social media users, state media outlet China Daily asked people if they would still consider visiting Taiwan after the restrictions on individual travel permits.

The China Daily poll.

While more than 10 percent indicated they would be willing to join a tour group and still visit, a staggering 89,5 percent indicated they preferred free traveling and would not go at all.

“I will go once [the mainland and Taiwan are] unified,” some popular comments said.

Discussions over the ongoing Taiwan Strait Issue often flare up on Chinese social media. In August of 2018 for example, Taipei-born actress Vivian Sung ignited a storm of criticism on Weibo for a comment she made about Taiwan being her “favorite country.”

Last November, Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival was overclouded by controversy due to a speech about Taiwan independence (read here). Chinese state media responded to the issue by promoting the hashtags “China Can’t Become Smaller” and “Not Even a Bit Can Be Removed from China” (#中国一点都不能少#).

“Not Even a Bit Can Be Removed from China” propaganda images spread by People’s Daily.

Earlier this year, many Chinese netizens were furious to discover that the super popular Taiwanese online game Devotion contained secret insults toward President Xi Jinping.

Although big discussions on the current Taiwan travel ban are filtered on Chinese social media, there are still some smaller threads where Weibo users are speculating about the reasons behind the move.

Some blame Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, and see the latest travel measures as a way for Beijing to economically impact the island’s tourism industry to influence upcoming elections.

Others argue that the current ban is more of a “protective measure,” to make sure Chinese travelers who individually roam Taiwan will not be influenced by its election campaigns and media.

Then there are also those who think the entire issue is all about the ongoing Hong Kong protests.

Responses are overall very mixed. Although there are netizens supporting the solo travel ban, there are also those who think the measure will have an ‘opposite effect’ of that desired.

Although Weibo is mostly popular in mainland China, the social media platform is also used by Taiwanese netizens.

“I heard many of our Taiwanese online friends are happy to hear the news [about the travel restrictions]. Finally, this is something that cross-strait netizens can agree on!” one popular Beijing blogger (@地瓜熊老六) writes, sharing an online meme that shows Taiwanese scenery with the line ‘Welcome to Taiwan, without Chinese.’

Still, there are also many Weibo users who want to visit Taiwan by themselves and are just concerned about the practicalities: “So, when do you think I will be able to visit again?”

“I was just preparing to go and visit Taiwan,” one commenter writes, posting a crying emoji: “Nevertheless, I will still support China in this.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image: Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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