Xiaozhai Village in Min County, Gansu Province is well-known throughout the country because media call it “China’s number one beggar village”. According to the numerous media coverage over the years, most of the farmers in this village are like migratory birds, migrating and begging through the developed coastal cities like Jinan, Qingdao, Shenyang, Nanjing etc. “going north in the summer and south in the winter”. Today this village strives to change its embarrassing image; among the 12 communities in Xiaozhai village, only two of them are still living with the old ways. However the bad reputation does not just go away in one day. Xiaozhai village has a long way to go to in order to clear its bad name. Recently China Youth Daily reporter visited the village to see how much it has changed; and whether this infamous village still carries on its humiliating tradition.
The biggest difference between Li’s family and the other villagers is that Li’s family had the first college graduate of the entire village. But, now Li’s family is one of the poorest in the village. The reason was simple, according to Li Gahou, he was the first to start begging for living, but did not continue.
Li Gahou’s son Li Yuping was the first college graduate of this village. Years ago when he was just seven years old, he was begging with his father on the city streets. He asked the people for money while his father played Erhu. Li’s family stopped begging. When Li Yuping was accepted into college, Li Gahou went out begging again in order to make hi son’s tuition but was soon stopped by his son.
In 2005, Li Yuping published an article titled “A letter to village students – stop kneeling, People of Xiaozhai, Stand up” on the school newspaper.
“At that time, the begging trend was stronger than ever, becoming more and more serious. I really could not stand it anymore” Li Yuping recalled when he first exposed the “family scandal” to the outside world. It was precisely because of this young man’s action which triggered the national media coverage of Xiaozhai village. Names like “Beggar Village” and “China’s number one beggar village” appeared in many reports. This was the history of how this village became infamous. Since 2007 (editor’s note: original article has 2001 which does not make sense, I think it should have been 2007) onwards, almost every year, journalists have come to the village, the heat had never died down.
In 2009 the media reports on the village reached to a peak. In cities like Jinan, there was even a policy targeting baggers from this village on the streets. Many “beggars” were forcefully sent home.
5 years later, thinking about what he did, 24-year-old Li Yuping does not regret even one bit, “The media exposed Xiaozhai village, the more people are concerned, the sooner the village will change.”
Many farmers who went out to beg brought back fortunes. They started to use the money they got from begging to build new shinny houses.
“The first group of people in the village became rich by begging.” village party secretary Jin Zhongyang confirmed this.
“It is not because the lives are too hard; it is because begging is easier, and more profitable.” said Yang Weike, he served as a long-term village cadre. According to his observation, starting in 1999 Xiaozhai village started to beg for rice, steamed buns to fight hunger at first, then it turned into begging for money for profits. Going into the 21 century, many farmers viewed begging as a short-cut to “get rich quick”, thought it was not “honorable”. The advantage of being wealthy soon got the best of people’s dignity. On one end it is the torture of poverty, on the other end it is the temptation of begging, which makes more money than farming or manual labor. Many farmers who got rich by begging, kept their begging experience in the city as secrets. Most of them claimed to be migrant workers.
Min County Deputy Secretary of Civil Affairs Li Kangping said “Beggars from a village are usually not the poorest. The beggars that really were forced to beg because of their life do not exist anymore.”
“This is a shame.” Yang Jingzhong said. Facing the reality, this official was helpless in terms of trying to completely take off this village’s “disgraceful hat”.
In a report provided by the Civil Affairs Bureau, an analysis of Xiaozhai village’s reality writes as the following, “Because of the huge gap between the rich and the poor, between the developed areas and the underdeveloped areas, plus compare to working begging earns money faster and with less efforts, resulting in people having the indolent thinking and started begging for living. As time goes by, some people’s concept of making wealth was twisted, they used begging as a way to get rich quick. Furthermore some even exploit people’s sympathy as a weakness and use women and children in begging in order to gain more profits”
However, the village is changing, for the better. The number of beggars in Xiaozhai was decreasing over the years. Each community used to have 20 people begging outside at one time, now decreased to only a few families. Each year, there used to be fifty to sixty “beggars” sent home from other cities, now the number is down to single digit.
A while back there were also media reports on how some family were making money by renting their children out (for begging). ‘”Children renting” (for begging) became a “booming industry” in this area. According to the reporter, these acts have already disappeared.
Walking into the village, you can see many efforts have been made to change the villagers’ mentalities; to restore the village’s dignity and reputation.
Pictures from Netease:
December 26, 2009, on the entrance of the village, a slogan printed on the wall “Stand up and live with dignity!”
December 25, 2009, a woman carrying a child in Xiaozhai village
December 25, 2009, Primary School students were embarrassed when facing the reporter’s interview. They covered their faces and ran home quickly.
December 26, 2009, Chuandu village, Gansu, Hou Dong showed the reporter a picture of his family. Hou Dong is 10 years old, and started begging with his parents since when he was five. In these five years, his parents used his brother and him in turns for begging.
“Stop kneeling! stand up!”
December 25, 2009, Shuiping village primary school, students covered their faces when in an interview with the reporter. All of their reactions were the same. One boy said “Uncle, I don’t want to be on the newspaper, I already stopped begging for long time. I promised my teacher I will never go begging again, I want to do well in school.”
Villagers are drying their Chinese angelica. This area is also the home of “Chinese angelica”, which proves they can get rich in ways other than begging…
December 25, 2009, in Xiaozhai primary school, many kids must ride a bike over 1o miles of dirt road to go to school. A student is riding in the dirt road on his way home from school. In order to prevent parents taking their kids begging during the summer and winter breaks, the school requires the students to go back to school in every 10 days.
December 25, 2009, one kid from Dazhai community, Gansu province
The overwhelming concerns and the humiliating names from the outside world cased a shadow on Xiaozhai village. Yet the real reasons behind the “beggar village” are the gaps between different geographical regions, between the rich and the poor, between the city and the rural area. In order for Xiaozhai village to clear its name, it still got a long way to go to.