Tag Archives: Children

Announcing “Living with Dead Hearts”

UPDATE: I didn’t expect this to happen so soon, but Foreign Policy has published a freelance article I wrote on the problem of kidnapped children in China. I think it’s a good primer on the issue in general and some of our subjects in specific. You can check it out here.

Longtime readers of the site have probably been aware for some time that some of the folks behind ChinaGeeks have also been working on a documentary for the past year or so. Today, I want to share with you a bunch of new information about that work.

We’re still in the process of shooting it, but we’re a lot further on than we were the last time I updated you here. The film now has an official title — Living with Dead Hearts: The Search for China’s Kidnapped Children — and we’ve even put together an early trailer which you can watch below to get more of a feel for what it’s going to be like when it’s finished (the trailer starts at about 0:30).

As you can see, we’re raising money again to help us continue production, and also to help out our friends at the Xinxing Aid center. We’re raising the money ourselves this time through Paypal so that we can give 20% of it to Xinxing rather than using Kickstarter and having to fork over a percentage to them and to Amazon payments. We’re looking to raise about $4,000.

We’ve got a new website for the film set up at www.livingwithdeadhearts.com but I thought I’d also lay out a little but of information for you here. We may not be using Kickstarter, but we will be running things the same way they do, in that donors can choose how much they donate and are eligible for rewards based on their donation (you can also opt out if you don’t want the rewards).

    • Donate $1 or more: Your name goes in the end credits of the film and you get access to exclusive donor-only content like desktop wallpapers.
    • Donate $15 or more: All the above, plus access to our monthly production updates via email.
    • Donate $30 or more: All the above, plus access to production stills.
    • Donate $50 or more: All the above, plus access to exclusive video clips and a DVD copy of the finished film once it’s done.
    • Donate $100 or more: All the above but now the DVD is signed and accompanied by a personal thank you letter from the director.
    • Donate $250 or more: All the above, plus contact our producers to ask your own questions to our interview subjects and get their responses translated for you.
    • Donate $500 or more: All the above, plus you’re listed as an Executive Producer and an invitation to one free dinner with the director the next time you’re in Beijing.
    • Donate $750 or more: All the above, plus personalized updates on the film’s progress straight from the director, who you can also chat with on Skype about the film’s progress.
    • Donate $1000 or more: All the above, plus exclusive early access to the finished film and the chance to record an audio commentary for the soundtrack.
    • Donate $2000 or more: You are incredible. You get everything listed above, and anything else you can think of that we can feasibly provide. Talk to us about how we can make you a part of the film.

    Some pretty cool stuff, no? Hey, how did this button get here…

    You may recall we did this last year, and were pretty successful, so it’s quite reasonable to be wondering why we have to do it again. The main reason is that my computer simply isn’t going to be able up to the task of editing hours and hours of HD video. A dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM would be pretty suspect specs under the best of circumstances, but of late it’s also been corrupting files and has outright stopped recognizing the AVCHD files that make up about half of our footage. Probably there is some kind of software fix for that, but given that the battery, power cord and optical drive are all broken, it seems like a better idea to buy a new computer so we can do our work on a system that’s reliable.

    Additionally, we’re having to travel quite a bit more than we originally expected, and travel is costing more because in several cities we’re being forced to stay in three-star hotels because the cheaper hotels aren’t willing to book a foreigner, which we hadn’t anticipated because it’s never been an issue for me before.

    Of course, there’s much more to say, and you may have questions; there are lots more details on the official site so go check that out. I’ve also created a special section of ChinaGeeks dedicated to the film and the problem of kidnapped children; you can check that out here.

    Anyway, if you enjoy ChinaGeeks I hope you’ll consider making a donation. If you can’t make a donation, I hope you’ll at least consider passing the link around to your friends and family or tweeting it to your followers on Twitter and Weibo. Even if you’re not willing to do any of that, keep an eye out for the film which we’re hoping to have finished by late 2012.

Child Beggars and a Revolution of Digital Conscience

Any foreigner who has traveled to China has seen its beggar children, often alone, wandering the streets in search of spare change. It is a sad sight, and the unseen background is sadder: most of these children are kidnapped or otherwise forced away from their families. Often their families have no idea where they are. Handlers will even sometimes break healthy children’s legs or arms on the theory that a mutilated child looks sadder, and attracts more money than, a healthy one.

Even going by government figures, which aren’t necessarily reliable ((understatement)), kidnapping is a serious problem. Official figures from 2010 report that there were 9,165 cases of selling women and 5,900 cases of selling children uncovered. 9,388 kidnapped and sold children were rescued, as were 17,746 women. 3,573 criminal kidnapping gangs were destroyed, and 22,511 criminals were sentenced in connection with cases of human trafficking. The true number of children kidnapped each year is unknown, but in all likelihood it is much, much higher than the number of resolved cases. For example, this Baobeihuijia thread that tracks open cases of missing children indicates that of the over 300 missing children on that page (many of those cases are years old), only 17 of them have yet been located, and of those, only 14 were found alive. Of course, that’s a very small sample size, and in all likelihood a decent percentage of these children weren’t kidnapped and sold but are missing for other reasons. Still, it indicates clearly that the rate of success in these cases is not particularly high.

This has been going on for years, and groups like Baobeihuijia have been fighting it by helping parents who have lost their kids post photographs and spread information about their kids online. In a way, it’s remarkable that it never occurred to anyone to go about it the opposite way until a few weeks ago.

Yu Jianrong, a Beijing man, set up a Sina Weibo account and asked people to do something simple: take photos of child beggars, and send them to him to be republished in his feed. This remarkably simple idea has taken the Chinese internet by storm, and brought light to the topic of human trafficking and child exploitation in China. Variations of the terms “help child beggars” and “human traffickers” have been in the top five trending topics on Sina Weibo every day for the past week, and Yu Jianrong’s microblog has accrued nearly 95,000 followers, with no signs of slowing down ((I suspect that by the time most people read this post, he will have passed 100,000)).

The story has been all over the media, and Yu Jianrong was recently interviewed by Southern Metropolis. Thankfully our own K. Drinhuasen has taken the time to translate the interview in full for us.

Interview with Yu Jianrong

Southern Metropolis: When did the idea of a rescue action / help for child beggars first occur to you?

Yu Jianrong: I didn’t have any kind of plan beforehand, it started incidentally when I was discussing things with friends online and everyone had some ideas [concerning this issue]. One thing just led to another. On January 17th I received a notice from a mother from Fujian province asking for help. Her son Yang Weixin had been abducted in 2009. In early 2010 a netizen had taken a picture of a child on a street in Xiamen., the child had been crippled and was begging. So I put her call for help on my micro blog. There was a huge response and a lot of people left messages with suggestions and possible leads. After things calmed down a bit I talked to several netizens that I know quite well to see if there might be something we could do for those kids.

Southern Metropolis: But how did the initiative first get started?

Yu Jianrong: On January 24th I had dinner with a few netizen friends, and when we talked things over we thought: Why not just open a micro blog on Sina that specifically collects and publishes information about child beggars! On the next day we opened our official blog “Help child beggars, take pictures!”. Me and the other netizens involved all use micro blogs, QQ and phones to communicate and keep each other updated on the progress of this project.

Southern Metropolis: Have you run into any difficulties?

Yu Jianrong: There are two challenges we face. We only have been running this micro blog for ten days and a lot of people who have lost their kids don’t know about this initiative yet and haven’t used micro blogs before, so we have to figure out a way to let them know. Here we need the support of the traditional print media to help spread the news. Usually when parents are looking for their child they publish a picture online, but our approach is right the opposite—it is netizens who post the photos they take, thus enabling a wider participation of the public. The second problem is that we need to start setting up a digital database now. We hadn’t even thought about this, since at first we believed that maybe 10 or 20 netizens would post their pictures online. But by now we have already received more than 1.000.

Southern Metropolis: In regard to posting pictures of child beggars online, might this not be interpreted as an infringement of their rights?

Yu Jianrong: I don’t believe that there is an infringement of rights involved. Begging in itself is a public act. But more importantly, letting a child under 14 years beg is illegal, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Civil Affairs are very clear about that in their regulations. Thus taking a picture is merely a way for everyone to step in and offer help.

Southern Metropolis: In your personal opinion, what results has the initiative brought so far?

Yu Jianrong: So far there have been several parents who believe they might have identified their children in those pictures and who have gone to the places where the pictures were taken, although none of them has found their child yet. I think that the greatest achievement is the fact that our society as a whole has realized a very fundamental thing: If you see a child under 14 begging on the street, then you can and should report this! The degree of public participation in this initiative was very high, so I do believe that this general notion has really taken hold in peoples’ minds. Another positive outcome is that the institutions of public security have also actively taken part.

Southern Metropolis: What effects, do you think, can this initiative have?

Yu Jianrong: The aim of this initiative is to put an end to the practice of child beggars. No matter if the children have been abducted or if it is their own family members who are sending them out to beg—they all require our help. And if there wasn’t a general consensus on this, our initiative might have just gone astray. We want to marginalize and ultimately end the practice of forcing minors into begging by setting up mechanisms and institutions and [encouraging] public participation. We hope that by pushing for legal action and establishing concise procedures for investigating [cases] and helping child beggars, we can ultimately deprive the ones who are in this for personal gain of their market.

A Revolution?

Potentially, especially in combination with a new police initiative that is offering reduced sentencing to human traffickers who turn themselves in by March 31st. It’s way too early to tell, but already there are reportedly several cases that have been solved thanks in part to Weibo, and this is only the very beginning. Of course, to leverage this approach effectively, Yu Jianrong will need to create a database fast, or risk being flooded with data. But as his followers continue to grow (he’s gained more than 300 since about ten minutes ago) it seems clear that even if this doesn’t reunite a lot of families with their children, it is going to become a significant hassle for the criminals who kidnap children and force them to beg.

Why? Ironically enough, they were able to remain relatively anonymous even in the middle of the street when no one was paying attention. But now their children are being documented, along with locations and times. To stay safe, this means they have to move the children frequently, and they face increased risks of police pressure because they not only have to deal with local authorities, but also local media and everyone else who sees their children begging via Weibo. Yu Jianrong tends to tweet the photos of children directly at local officials, media outlets, and other lumunaries to bring as much attention to them as possible. Even if this doesn’t result in the children being rescued, it’s definitely bad for business for kidnappers, and that’s a good thing.

Of course, for this to really matter, the movement will have to sustain its forward momentum. That will not be easy. But it is refreshing to see netizens approaching this issue with such passion, and so wholeheartedly embracing this clever and simple approach to helping with street children.

This is also something foreigners can participate in. There are many people who have already volunteered to help translate information and transmit it to Yu Jianrong and his microblogging account, so if you come across a beggar somewhere, please take a photo, note the time, location, and any other relevant data, and send it to someone. Cell phone images are fine, but remember what’s most important is a clear shot of the face so that people can recognize the child! If you can’t write Chinese or don’t have a Weibo account, you can send this to…

Me: custerc at gmail.com, or twitter @ChinaGeeks and weibo @ChinaGeeks.
@niubi: @niubi on twitter
[I will edit in other volunteers when/if they appear here].

Help a Child in Lijiang

Last night I got an email from Rachel Beitarie, journalist and blogger at Bendi Laowai. Because I don’t know anything more about the situation than what she sent in her email, I’m going to post most of it verbatim here:

I took the attached photos this afternoon near the entrance to old town in Lijiang, Yunnan province. It’s a street very busy with traffic and pedestrians, mainly tourists.

This boy is a contortionist beggar, doing some rather appalling and dangerous spins. We couldn’t see where the person handling him was.

Talked to the kid briefly: said his parents were home in Henan, he is seven years old and got to Lijiang all by himself (which is almost certainly a lie) he said he’s only got here yesterday and people who pass this street everyday confirmed he’d only arrived recently. I’m not sure I can place his accent accurately as Henanese but think he’s from somewhere in the North, definitely not from Yunnan or Sichuan.

This is all we know. There are several other kids around doing the same thing. One of them is older and has been here several years (that one has two broken legs and wouldn’t let me take a photo of him). Some locals said they have contacted the police and the mayor’s office but nothing was done about this.

So if you can think of a way to help identifying and helping this kid and other like him please do so: add few words in Chinese, post this or send to more friends in the media or the blogsphere or anything else that you think might be helpful in making noise and shaking some government or police butts.

And while you’re making noise about this, don’t forget that sadly, it isn’t just a local issue. Child beggars are everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to find them with no adults in sight. A few weeks ago, I myself ran across a girl begging in the Chaoyangmen subway station in Beijing who could not have been older than 5. She was not accompanied by any adults, although thankfully a caring passer-by had stopped and was trying to figure out where she was from and where her parents were.

This is something the police and the government should be paying attention to. Of course, the chengguan are happy to kick these people off the streets whenever they find them, but I get the feeling no one looks much deeper into the situation. Rachel’s email seems to confirm that plenty of people know about these kids, but no one really seems to care.

In the Aftermath of an Earthquake…

Waves, it strikes me, are a bit like news stories. Most of them crest and crash upon the beach in anonymity, leaving no impression whatsoever. The bigger among them may draw attention, and when they beat their inevitable retreat under the folds of the next curtain of bubbling seawater, they may take bits of our sandcastles with them. But even they fade from memory, replaced by the next rushing torrent within moments. If we lived in the sandcastle, we might remember them. But sitting outside on the beach, we forget. So it is, too, with news stories.

The Yushu earthquake stories have faded, now, replaced by newer stories in the news cycle. For those of us — probably everyone reading this — who don’t live in Yushu, its impression is probably already fading too. It’s as regrettable as it is inevitable — we must live our own lives, after all — and it’s exactly the reason why I hate headlines like the one pictured to below: “Today, we are all people of Yushu.”

I hate these headlines because for most people, they’re simply not true. How can we all be “people of Yushu” for a single day? Their ordeal has lasted weeks, and is not near over. We may have grown tired of writing about it, but the roots of tragedy are woven thick throughout the rubble in Qinghai.

We wrote before about the children who were killed in the quake. Weeks later, investigative journalist Wang Keqin is writing about the children who survived. Predictably, their stories are tragic.

This is five-year-old Zhuo Maqiong, a good tempered little kid who was admitted to the Qinghai Women and Children’s Hosptial on April 15th with a fractured thighbone, among other injuries. She still can’t walk, but likes to draw drawings with markers for the reporters who visit. Her parents — both father and mother — remain missing. She had been living with her father and grandfather (her parents were divorced) and her grandfather was killed when their house collapsed, but there is still no word from either of her parents. Many people from all over the country have called to offer to raise her as a foster child, but the hospital is waiting to make that decision after her injuries are healed.

This is five-month-old Little Bumao. Bumao had gotten sick, and the earthquake happened while the family was staying with relatives in a relatively remote village. Their house collapsed, and when rescuers got there, they found her trapped under the rubble, crying in her mother’s lifeless embrace. The fate of her father, and the relatives they were staying with, is still unknown.

This is eleven-year-old Yongcuo Gamao ((This is clearly a Tibetan name but I have no idea how to romanize it correctly. Here are the Chinese characters used for her name: 永措尕毛)) . She and her sister were trapped under a collapsing house while on their way to school. An old man happening by rescued her, but couldn’t get her little sister out. Yongcuo Gamao was severely injured, and still can’t even get out of bed. She has no father, but her mother, grandmother, and little brother are all alive. However, she has not been able to see them, as they are too poor to afford a trip to her hospital. She has recieved donations, and hopes her family will be able to visit soon. She was also given a backpack with some toys and Tibetan books inside, which she clutches tightly to her chest. “She loves it so much,” said a volunteer. “She’s never seen a gift this nice before.”

We all may have been people of Yushu for a day, but these girls will be people of Yushu their entire lives. While we will and must move on, let us try to keep our memory of this earthquake and its victims — the dead and the living — fresh, and not let it fade into anonymity like waves crashing on a sandy beach fade into white noise.

New on ChinaGeeks

ChinaGeeks Chinese translates a piece — and comments — from Foreign Policy: 亚洲是否会牵制崛起的中国?