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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.

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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. 

 

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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

Key Players, Digital Trends & Deep Dives: China Internet Report 2021

SCMP just launched its latest China Internet Report. (And What’s on Weibo readers can get a 30% discount on the Pro Edition!)

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As China’s tech sector has been facing an ongoing crackdown by Beijing regulations, a lot has been changing in the country’s digital environment over the past year. The new China Internet Report 2021 by SCMP gives an overview of the latest trends and developments.

When it comes to China’s online landscape, nothing ever stays the same. Over the past year, political, economic, and social developments and measures have once again changed the Chinese digital environment.

Giving a comprehensive overview of the key leaders and major trends dominating the Chinese online field, South China Morning Post (SCMP) issued its fourth annual China Internet Report.

China’s internet population has now risen to 989 million – last year’s report indicated an internet population of 904 million. By now, there are 853 million mobile payment users, which indicates that over 86% of the entire mobile internet population uses mobile as a way to pay.

As China’s internet population is still growing, and new online startups are still popping up every day, there have been tightening regulations on multiple fronts.

As laid out in SCMP’s report, regulations mainly focus on the four areas of antitrust, finance, cybersecurity, and data privacy. Regulatory actions targeting the monopolistic behaviours of China’s biggest internet companies are still ongoing, and the new Data Security Law came into effect on September 1st of this year.

While Chinese tech companies are seeing increased scrutiny at home, they have also been facing intensifying geopolitical tensions between China and other countries. Over the past year, the various probes and shutdowns into Chinese companies by countries such as the US and India have meant a serious blow to the market share of Chinese apps.

Meanwhile, the SCMP report highlights the trend of various older and newer Chinese (e-commerce) apps “downplaying” their Chinese origins when entering foreign markets. Shein is a good example of this development, but other players including Zaful, Urbanic, and Cider are also experiencing more success outside of China while not explicitly marketing themselves as Chinese e-commerce apps.

Another noteworthy trend explained in the new report is how China’s shifting demographics are creating new niche segments to compete over. The COVID-19 crisis is partially a reason why China has seen an increase in senior internet users, with an increasing number of online products and content catering to the elderly.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) even issued special guidelines earlier this year for web pages and mobile apps to carry out so-called “elderly friendliness modifications.” Since this user group is still expected to see significant growth, the “silver economy” is an area that will only become more important in the years to come.

To check out all the main trends for 2021, China’s latest internet statistics, its top tech competitors, internet companies, and more, here’s a link to the free report.

The free report is 55 pages long and gives an overview of China’s latest internet numbers and players, covers the top cross-sector trends for 2021, including the tightening regulations and the bumpy road ahead for China’s tech IPOs.

The Pro Edition of China’s Internet Report 2021, also launched by SCMP, is 138 pages long and provides a deep-dive into ten relevant sectors – featuring insightful and useful analysis, data, and case studies relating to China’s e-commerce market, content & media, gaming, blockchain, fintech, online education, healthtech, smart cars, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence.

The China Internet Report Pro Edition is priced at US$400, but the team at SCMP has kindly reached out and made it possible for us to offer a special 30% discount to What’s on Weibo readers.

You’ll get the discount by using the discount code: WHATSONWEIBO30, or by clicking this link that will automatically include your discount code.

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 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

Goodbye 996? Weibo Discussions on Changes in Overtime Work Culture

Beijing made it clear that working overtime is illegal, but netizens are concerned about the realities of changing working schedules.

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Many people are tired of being forced to log long hours, but are also worried about how a national crackdown on ‘996’ working culture could impact their workload and income.

In late August of 2021, China’s Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security (人社部) and the Supreme People’s Court issued a joint clarification on the country’s legal standards of working hours and overtime pay.

Their message was clear: the practices of ‘996’ (working 9am-9pm, six days per week) and ‘007’ (working 24 hours seven days per week, referring to a flexible working system worse than 996) are illegal, and employers are obliged to obey the national working-time regime.

On Weibo, China’s state broadcaster CCTV published a 10-minute long video illustrating the 10 typical cases of overtime work laid out by the ministry and the top court. The moment was marked as the first time for the state-owned broadcaster to publicly comment on overtime work practices.

The Weibo post pointed out that “striving for success is not a shield companies can use to evade legal responsibilities,” and made it clear that employees have the right to “say no to forced overtime.”

The topics of overtime work and China’s 996 work culture generated many discussions on Weibo, with the hashtag “Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security and the Supreme Court Clarify 996 and 007 Are Illegal” (#人社部最高法明确996和007都违法#) generating over 420 million views on the social media platform.

 
“Without implementation and enforcement, the law is useless”
 

The current labor law in China bars employees from working more than 44 hours a week, and any overtime work must be paid.

Although the 996 practice is technically prohibited by law, many companies still enforce the hours informally.

Many employees revealed online that, although the 996 practice is legally prohibited, they were nevertheless being assigned job tasks that exceeded the prescribed working hours.

“Just finished work,” one Weibo user (@介也没嘛) posted with this picture, showing it’s nearing 11PM.

“I wonder if the workload will decrease after all. If it doesn’t change, it means people will now have to work voluntarily,” one Weibo user commented.

People also indicated that, since the start of the pandemic, remote work has become a new norm. Many companies have moved from office to working at home, making it harder to draw the line between regular working hours and overtime hours.

“What really matters is whether working from home includes overtime hours,” one Weibo user wrote. Many netizens complained that their companies wouldn’t explicitly stipulate a 996 schedule; instead, most of them disguise the overtime hours as ‘voluntary’ work.


Many commenters say it takes more comprehensive legislation and tougher law enforcement to really solve the issue of overtime work.

“These regulations are good, but they are basically impossible to implement. Even if they ban ‘996’ and ‘007’ there is no way to regulate the so-called ‘voluntary work,’” one Weibo user wrote.

Some people said that their companies have various performance assessments and that they feared that refusing to work more hours would make them lose their competitive advantage: “The burn-out (内卷 nèijuǎn, ‘involution’) is severe. It is too difficult for us. I have only one day off during the week and I’m so tired,” one person commented.

 
“We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours”
 

China’s 996 work culture has been championed by tech leaders and denounced by workers for years, and it has become an unwritten standard – not just in the tech sector but also in other industries.

While working long hours has been ingrained in Chinese workplace culture since the early days of the country’s internet boom, it later also started to represent ‘a road to success’ for Chinese tech entrepreneurs.

Many Chinese netizens blame Alibaba’s Jack Ma for praising the ‘996’ work system. In 2019, Ma called the 12-hour working day a “huge blessing,” causing much controversy online. During his talk at Kyiv International Economic Forum, Ma said: “(..) ‘996 is the spirit that I encourage Alibaba people to follow. If you want to have a bright future, (..) if you want to be successful, you have to work hard.”

On another occasion, the tech mogul reportedly said: “If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours.”

Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group described 996 as a ‘blessing’.

However, after the shocking death of one Chinese delivery man working for food delivery platform Ele.me and the widespread discussions about the ‘996 ICU’ project – which called on tech workers to add names and evidence of excessive hours to a ‘blacklist,’ – the 996 work culture has come under increased scrutiny.

Some people argue that the overtime culture is draining employees and creating an unhealthy work-life balance; others argue that they work for themselves and believe that putting in extra hours will eventually translate to individual success.

While economic growth has slowed down during the pandemic, most companies are persisting with long working hours because they are under pressure to achieve results.

According to an online survey conducted by an influential tech blogging account (@IT观察猿), more than one-third of participants claimed to have one day off per week, and more than one quarter claimed they didn’t have any weekend days off.

 
“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced”
 

Starting from August 1st, ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the popular short-form video app TikTok, dropped its ‘big and small week’ (大小周) – a schedule that previously required employees to work six days in a row every other week.

ByteDance is not the only Chinese tech company that has begun to cut back on its long working hours. More and more companies have decided to drop grueling work schedules.

Kuaishou, another Chinese short-form video app company, stopped scheduling weekend work in July. Since early June, Tencent – China’s largest game publisher – has encouraged people to clock out at 6 pm every Wednesday.

Although these changes seem to signal a positive development, there are also many people who do not support the new measures. When Bytedance announced the changes to its working schedule, news came out that one-third of the employees did not support the decision (#字节跳动1/3员工不支持取消周末加班#).

Those relying on overtime pay said abolishing overtime work will cut their take-home pay by around 20%. Indeed, the first pay-out after the new implementation at Bytedance showed an overall drop of 17% in employees’ wages.

“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced,” one Weibo commenter complained.

One trending discussion on Weibo focused on the question “Do companies need to make up for employees’ financial loss after the abolition of weekend work?” Many comments revealed the situation faced by thousands of struggling workers who value free time but value their income more.

Many on Weibo still wonder whether a company that abolishes ‘996’ will come up with an alternative to compensate those employees who will otherwise inevitably lose vital income.

By Yunyi Wang

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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