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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:

正阳门东侧有一座老火车站,知道的人大概不会少,它为当年京奉铁路所用。火车站面西前门,脚下向南新修了一条宽路,路名不详,但宽是够宽。最近为了拆建前门外地区,彻底封死了前门正街,因而这里就成了内城通向外城的重要通道。这条街穿行而过的正是原先的前门外鲜鱼口一带。地产商为遮人耳目。在路旁修建起了花墙,用以遮挡工地,花墙上又假模假样地“镶嵌”了宝瓶、玉扇、八宝格子窗,窗里描绘着写意国画小品………
看起来很美的东西,却于花墙后暗藏着一个潜流社会,一个无人过问,也无人愿意过问的群体。这里就是我所说的京城头号盲流聚集地。
从花墙入口处走进,我来到了这个流浪者的天堂……

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…


这样四不像的假造型实在令人作呕

Such fake style like nothing is so disgusting


流浪着居住的地方,是一些很奇怪的像似圈类的建筑,一格一格,正好一人一间。我数了数,三十只,好象是有人刻意搭建而成。

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.


近看

Closer


尹氏,山东潍坊人,我说那是风筝之乡吧,他说做过,不多。老尹三十多岁,思维看起来很正常,甚至言语措辞有几分幽雅。我问他为什么不在家待着。他回答说:村里不给他地,没有地可种,又没有其它收入,不如出来谋生。我说是乞讨吗?他马上否定,不屑地说:我不乞讨,靠劳动生活。后来从谈话中我知道他是认为乞讨很难堪的,他的主要生活来源就是拣拾饮料瓶子。通常卖给回收站一只可得一角或者八分,视瓶子品牌的不同价钱不等。这样一天下来,最多卖到过十元钱,多的只卖四元,最少一次才卖了两元。我问他是不是可以攒点钱呢?尹说:那边卖了,这边就进了肚子,饿得跟不上趟,哪还能攒钱!
这是尹的家,是圈子里搭建的最漂亮,最讲究的房子

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.


尹和新疆来的哈萨克族青年艾丁坐在一起,叫我拍照,说是希望把他们的事情报道出去……他也许把我当了记者。

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.


艾丁是被人骗来北京的,那人对他说,北京有一份烤羊肉的工作需要人做,而且专门要新疆来的。他就给那人缴了二千元押金,跟随来了北京,后来走散了,他才觉察是被那人骗来的,那人也并非走散,而是躲了他。艾丁立刻变成了穷光蛋。他开始在北京四处流浪混日子。去几家餐馆都说是包吃不包住。艾丁说他会拉面,会烤羊肉,还会炒菜……
艾丁在寒风里打着颤应我要求拍了照。

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.


我憋不住还是问了艾丁为什么不去寻找有关单位?请求协助。你又不是前面那几位专门以乞讨为生的。艾丁告诉我说,他也找了新疆办事处,还找了公安局。新疆办事处说工作人员是维族人的天下,哈萨克族的人他们管不了,这样的事情太多!我听了十分震惊!我又问公安局怎么说?艾丁告诉我“公安局的更不理我,他们只说叫我到西客站去睡觉,一旦被人收容了就有可能送回新疆去。”
艾丁这回又要我给他拍照,并且随手从地窝子里拿出一面纸旗儿来,是国旗。艾丁把那面在北京的凛冽寒风里尤显鲜红的国旗郑重其事地举在胸前,我就拍下了这么一张2007年岁末最后的一帧照片。

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:

在高大辉煌的前门楼子下,一场爱心营救行动正在积极和富有成效地进行着。
我先后接到约三十宗五十余次电话或者短信,其次还有无数个网上留言,一律没有透露身份姓名。

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:

……
9日中午前后,当最后几位前来看望部落的网友走后不久,崇文区救助站以及公安人员出现在了部落现场。他们对部落现场的流浪人员先是做了劝说:可以去救助站,在那里可以获得十日的居住条件,提供饮食,提供返乡车票。据我后来了解到,这样的条件提供政府约为每人支出二至三千元。不过现场的劝说以及看起来蛮是诱惑的条件诉求似乎只是一个过门儿,他们表现更多的则是很不耐烦。在一番程式化地向流浪人宣读处理办法后,行动就开始了。他们不由分说地拆毁了山东高密老尹的窝棚,留下了遍地狼籍。接续又拆毁了距离老尹西边百米之外的另外一个窝棚……
然而今天中午发生的事情叫我们非常困惑!既然是那样好的救助条件,为什么部落里的流浪人不愿意去呢?当老尹问到公安人员“带我去哪里”时,公安回答“给你找个吃饭的地儿!”本来还在犹豫的老尹一听那说话的强硬语气,立刻退却。当晚我去部落时老尹对我不无忧愁地说“去了还不找死?”显然老尹的顾虑是显多余了些,但又是谁给老尹以及更多个人民造成如此公安印象呢?
……


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.


(说明:以下照片因相机日期设置有误,“07-01-17”应为“08-01-17”)

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

9 comments

  • […] regime can’t suddenly disappear beggars from central Beijing and local bloggers are revealing the extent of the […]

  • […] Fact is that while Beijing is being prettified to be the highest honor and dream of the whole country, there is another totally di… […]

  • I went down to the hutong area today to see if I could take some snapshots with my digital camera. It was a very eerie experience, almost like walking through a ghostown. There were a lot of eviction notices, notices for missing people, and lots of padlocked doors. Despite the best efforts of the Chinese bloggers, you’ll see that there are still some people living there (my girlfriend told me that there was someone sleeping in one the little cubicles as I was taking photos).

    English translations of the various signs are welcome, as are any other comments.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/zombie_chris/sets/72157603829318557/

  • yangtung

    There is always the poor who will go to the Urban cities to look for jobs. No work, no money and no shelter, where will they stay?..these incidents will happen in developing states. What can be done? Nothing except the NGO and other chatitable organisations come in. The government have a lot of problem at hand.The poor must also play a part. Highlighting such state of poorness does not help the situation…do something yourself.

  • […] Temple” Miao has over the past two months taken on the part-time job of social worker for a group of homeless and destitute senior citizens living behind a temporary roadside wall just opposite Tiananmen Square, collecting donations and […]

  • […] Laohu ‘Tiger Temple' Miao, who spent months earlier this year blogging the stories of destitute Beijing residents whose makeshift homes were harmonized to make way for the Olympics brings us a post today about a […]

  • […] harmonized, prettified, just when everyone seems so into the Games, out comes the news that two of the highlights of the […]

  • […] armonizzata, abbellita: proprio mentre tutti sembrano appassionarsi a questi Giochi, arriva la notizia della […]

  • Uncle B

    Sadly, mans inhumanity to man shows even in America, it has tent villages springing up, people riding trains illegally, Hoovervilles, soup kitchens and many folks who have lost all hope and behave badly in society! Can social assistance prevent their misery? Can we force them to take it? Not likely! It is not part of human nature is it! best we can do: feed them bathe them give them work if they can do it, and give them a place to survive, even if they prefer a place on the street! Police them well to protect them and always remember, they are a part of us, and we may become them at any given moment! It is a mental quirk, a genetic thing? or psychological? Who knows, It is certainly a universally human thing. Show care!

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