Since his blogging tour by bike through some of the poorest areas in China, veteran Beijing blogger Laohu “Tiger 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 organizing clothing and food drives through his blog, 24 Hours Online, and through this inspiring similar actions [zh] in other cities.
In early January, one younger member of ‘the tribe’ as he calls them, Ai Ding, mysteriously disappeared [zh] the day before Tiger Temple and several of his readers showed up one morning to deliver goods, leaving his makeshift shelter and all possessions behind, and hasn't been heard from since. If anything of Ai's was left following a series of police and chengguan raids throughout January and February [zh], including the heavy winter jacket Tiger Temple left behind despite Ai's absence at the time, hope of getting it back now is gone following yet another raid on February 20 by police and chengguan, which this time seemed intended at getting rid of the elderly dwellers for good. Tiger Temple looks into the situation, makes his second recent appeal for help to a national leader, and outlines plans for more deliveries this weekend in his Feb. 21 post, ‘Premier Wen Jiabao, you really ought to come visit your neighbors’:
At 6 this morning I took the first subway train and hurried to the drifter tribe over at Qianmen, to visit that suffering group who just yesterday afternoon had their shanty shelters forcefully demolished by police and chengguan.When I got the call yesterday from the drifter tribe it was already after 8pm; I gave them a few reassuring words over the phone, and then tossed and turned all night. To be honest, there isn't anything we can do for them; that the drifters, in their most difficult moment, thought of me, it's an honor, but I'm not The Saviour. After thinking it over and over, the most I can do is to do everything I can to give them some spiritual solace.
Qianmen in the morning is still brightly lit, but behind that well-noted wall of “prosperity and harmony” it's still pitch black.
From the periphery to the inside, I did a thorough inspection of the site, right up to the spot where Old Ge's shanty used to be. By chance, Old Ge was just crawling out from his shanty in the dark. I called out, and Old Ge happily said he'd be right over. When I asked, ‘and them?,’ Old Ge just pointed towards my feet, ‘Old Zhang's still sleeping.’ Confused, I looked down at my feet, and sure enough I saw the shape of a person curled up at my feet, wrapped in a dirty gray synthetic carpet no doubt picked up from some shop. From the part of him that stuck out I could see Old Zhang's trademark crimson wool hat and I couldn't help but should, “how can you sleep in the open air?!”Old Zhang, Old Wang and Old Liu heard the commotion and one-by-one got up to say hi. In the dark, I could see that they were all only wearing light clothing, and those little nests which just a few days ago still looked presentable enough were now as empty as could be. They're still there in between the concrete barriers, covered with tattered cardboard and sheets of plastic, with newspaper ‘door screens’ to keep out the cold.
The drifters all started talking over each other to tell me all about what they'd been put through the day before.
On the afternoon of the 20th, police and chengguan waited until there would be no drifters in their homes, then moved out in full force. The tore down everything of the tribe's that they could, leaving only the thing they couldn't tear down, this temporary construction, this famous “wall of prosperity and harmony” delivered to Qianmen Rd. East by the mayor with a ribbon-cutting, with a concrete table as base in behind, meant to seat flowers that would poke up from behind the wall, for the leaders to see. Only later the space beneath this table became the nesting place for these drifters. Old Ge tells what happened, between his choked sobs, and how the 700 RMB in emergency money he'd been collecting for years and seldom touched, was stolen yesterday during the demolition. He spent the night searching for it, stopping just short of digging the ground up; he thought several times that it might be his eyes playing tricks on him, but in the end he wasn't able to find it. Having said that, Old Ge gets a faraway look in his eyes……Old Wang also lost 200 RMB in the demolition, as well as a tape recorder. On that, although Old Wang, who is disabled, is here among the drifters, he's been studying English for years, and the loss of this tape recorder is devastating for him. Old Zhang the Beijing ‘zhiqing’ [intellectual youth] (age 60) lost the near-luxury hardcase suitcase we saw in the video attached to the post prior to this. In the recording, we hear this Beijinger who would rather die than lose face say “don't look at me like that, I still have a thousand-RMB suit in my suitcase; if you journalists want to take any pictures, I have an outfit…”
I asked, “when they came to tear [your dwellings] down, did they really just leave without saying anything? Like telling you to go somewhere to report in, or where to register to resolve this?” “No, they didn't say anything. It was only when we came back that we overheard eyewitnesses say what had happened.”That night, these poor people sat with each other, later ducking into a sheltered spot, unable to sleep throughout the night. In particular was Old Zhang, who is unable to care for himself, who just went and laid down on the ground in the open, spending the night wrapped in his ratty carpet. Although Beijing's weather is gradually picking up, it's still only 1 or 2 degrees out at night; I really don't know how they'll get through tonight.
Because I still had to go to work, before I left I gave the drifters a hundred RMB (part of the money netizens have donated), and told them to go get some breakfast first, that I'd be back on the weekend with some army blankets or heavy clothing. What I didn't expect was for 70-year-old Hubei-born Uncle Ge to burst out crying loudly when I gave him the money, tears running across his face, leaving everyone there unable to stop sobbing….
I'd like to reiterate again, that nobody has the right to give anyone the right to deprive others of the right to live! This has absolutely nothing to do with urban renewal, and even less to do with the Olympics. If you're doing these loathsome, inhumane and anti-compatriot things in the name of the Olympics, then all the people in China are your enemies.Wen Jiabao, you really ought to pay an incognito visit to your neighbors; I can even tell you the address: come out of Zhongnanhai, turn left, then right, then left again, then right again, go down 20 meters, and the lattice wall will be on your left. We are currently distributing to the drifters copies of the law that you yourself signed in 2003, telling them to learn it and fit in with country as best they can, to establish boundaries to their lives, and hope from here on in to see if police and chengguan can also stay true to the law!
Side note: This morning after returning from Qianmen, I received cleaning products, lemon wafers, instant noodles and French buns and other things couriered here by one woman in Tianjin. The cleaning products were sent to allow the drifters to take a collective bath. Others with that much caring support can go themselves to hand out clothes and bedding. At present it's these they lack most down at Qianmen.
Included in the post is an audio recording of Tiger Temple's interview with those behind the Qianmen wall from the morning of February 21:
Sixty year-old Beijing ‘zhiqing’ Old Zhang was forced to sleep out in the cold last night…..
When I left behind the netizen donation, 70 year-old Lao Ge from Shandong started crying on the spot…..
The food Ms. Yan from Tianjin sent arrived in Beijing this morning, among which are cleaning products meant so the drifters can all bathe.