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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]

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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