China: The Vagrants behind the Wall

Beijing, the host of 2008 Summer Olympics that has been prettified to be the highest honor and dream of the whole country, is trying to show every bright aspect of its stable and harmonious to the whole world, however, when you are almost convinced by the prosperous night scenes around the Forbidden City, you may never think behind some traditional Chinese-style walls, there is another totally different world.

Lao Humiao (老虎庙), a noted blogger and citizen journalist for his personal blog magazine–24hour, has published a series of reports on the homeless people who are living an unimaginably poor life in Beijing. Those shabby vagrants sleeping in their little box shelters are separated from the city's bustling and flourishing only by an exquisite gray wall:


To the east of Zhengyangmen, there is an old railway station which used to be one part of Beijing-Shenyang railroad. A wide road is built before the station's front gate facing to the west. Although the name of the road is unclear by now, it is really wide enough. Recently, in order to renovate the area outside the Qianmen, the Qianmen Road is completely blocked. As a result, this road has become the important passageway between the inner and outer city. Where the road has passed through was formerly the area of Xianyukou. To hoodwink the public, the real estate businessman has built a tracery wall by the road to cover up the construction site. Treasured bottles, jade fans and eight-treasures lattice windows which are carved by traditional Chinese Painting essays are falsely “inlaid” on the wall…
It looks very beautiful, but behind it, there hidden an undercurrent society, which no one cares and no one wants to care. This is what I said the number one gathering place of the tramps in the capital.
Passing the entrance of the wall, I come to this vagrants’ paradise…


Such fake style like nothing is so disgusting


The shelters of the vagrants, one by one, are some strange structures like pigpens, and each box is lived by one person. I can see thirty ones altogether, which seem to be built deliberately by some people.




Yin Shi is a man from Weifang, Shandong Province. I asked him whether it was the town of kite. He said he used to do some, but not many. Old Yin is over thirty years old and seems very normal; actually his words are even a little tasteful. I asked why he didn't stay at hometown. He answered: his village wouldn't allot lands to him, so without farming or any other income, he chose to go outside to make a living. I said, “is it begging?” He denied immediately and said with disdain, “I don't beg and I live by working.” Later on I learned from the conversations that he thought begging was very embarrassing and his main life income was from the collection of scrap bottles which could be sold to the recycling station by 0.1 yuan or 0.08 yuan for each one. The price all depended on the brands of the bottles. In this way, each day he may earn four yuan or ten yuan at most, but once he only got two yuan a day. I asked if he could save some money. Yin said, “it is impossible to save any money because the earning is even not enough for food!”
This is Yin's home which is the most beautiful and daintiest one among the box shelters.


Yin sits with Ai Ding who is a young Kazakh form Xinjiang Province and let me take photographs for them, in the hope that I can report their conditions to the public…He might think I'm a reporter.


Ai Ding was deceived into coming to Beijing. A man told him there was a job of roasting mutton, and the employer only wanted someone from Xinjiang, so Ai Ding handed in two thousand yuan to the man as cash pledge and followed him to Beijing. Finally, when the cheater was gone with Ai Ding's money he realized he was deceived. Ai Ding suddenly became a poor wretch and began his vagrant life. He went to many restaurants, but all of them would only provide board without lodging. Ai Ding said he could cook hand-pulled noodles, roasting mutton and some dishes…
Ai Ding shaking in the cold wind allowed me to take a picture for him.


I couldn't help asking Ai Ding why he didn't go to the relevant official units to ask for help. On earth he was not like some others who lived by begging. Ai Ding told me he had been to the Xinjiang Branch Office where the official said all their staff are Uygur, so they couldn't help the Kazakh like him otherwise they would have too much work to do. I was pretty shocked after hearing that! How about the Police Station? Ai Ding said, “it's worse, the police only asked me to sleep in the Beijing West Railway Station so that the relief institution may help me return Xinjiang.
Ai Ding asked me to take photos for him again and picked up a paper flag from the ground. It's a national flag. Ai Ding seriously raised that flag which is much redder in Beijing's piercingly cold air, and I took the last picture at the end of 2007.

According to Lao Humiao, all the vagrants of Qianmen are extremely lack of basic necessities to live through the winter and some of them are old and ill or even handicapped. Fortunately, a lot of bloggers and netizens who learned the story through Lao Humiao's blog have voluntarily sent a quantity of clothes and fund to the vagrant community and some of them even visited those homeless people by themselves:


Under the splendid Qianmen Gate, a movement of loving care is efficiently carrying on. I have got thirty calls and fifty messages. In addition, there are also countless notes on the net. All the people didn't tell their names and identities.

Words on the picture: Wang Yuhai, the handicapped from Handan, is wearing a new military coat, which is bought by the netizen's contributions

However, with the Qianmen vagrants getting more and more attention from the public and Lao Humiao's continuous reporting, the Beijing regulators finally could not keep silent to such an ugly blot which was not far away from the Tiananmen Square. On January 9, a group of officials of the relief institution and some policemen came to the Qianmen vagrant community. Lao Humiao described the situation in his blog:


Around the noon of Jan. 9, soon after several netizens left the vagrant community, the officials of the Chongyang district relief institution and some policemen appeared. They firstly tried to persuade the present vagrants: It's OK to go to the relief institution where they can have 10-day free board and lodging and in the end a ticket to their hometown. Later I learned the government would pay two thousand to three thousand yuan for each person voluntarily going to the official relief institution. But on that day, the official's persuasion and the pretty attractive conditions seemed to be more like an interlude and what their behavior exposed was much impatience. After a series of formal announcement to the vagrants, they began to take actions. Allowing no arguments, the officials and the policemen tore down old Yin's box shelter, leaving a complete mess. Then they continued to break down another shelter hundreds meters away from old Yin's…
The things happening at noon really confused us! Since the relief conditions were so good, why weren't the vagrants willing to go? When old Yin asked the policeman “where do you take me to”, one of them replied, “a good place for you to eat!” Beaten by such a tough tone, old Yin who was primarily dubious about the official caring fell back right away. In that evening old Yin depressingly said to me, “I won't go there to seek death!” Obviously, his misgiving was a little unnecessary, but it was who that made such a terrible police image in old Yin's and a lot of other people's mind?

Surprisingly but also fortunately, by Lao Humiao's latest report on Qianmen vagrant community on January 17, the police or the officials did not appear again. It seems everything has been back on the track. However, the life of Qianmen vagrants is never actually going well. The young Kazakh Ai Ding has been missing for days and in the bone-chilling winter some new members have joined the Qianmen vagrant community, which is separated from the capital of China by a wall.

Words on the picture: Soon after the old members of the vagrant community experienced the storm, the new one has joined in. He hasn't built up his own box shelter yet.


(P.S. The date is mistaken for the camera's time option. It should be “08-01-17” instead of “07-01-17”)


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