Lu Jianqiu went missing over a decade ago in Guangxi Province. His cousin, Lu Xiaoyan, was shocked to hear him calling out to her on a street in Dongguan City, hundreds of miles away, in late 2010.
More shocking was what state he was in. “His right arm was gone, with only a round bump left. Both of his legs were gone from his knees down,” Lu Xiaoyan told a reporter with Phoenix Television. “He was sitting on a little cart made by a wood board and wheels.”
He was a healthy child when he went missing; now he was a grown-up amputee.
The story of criminal gangs that kidnap children, maim them, and force them to beg for the gangs, has shocked the Chinese public. A recent investigative report by the Hong Kong-based Phoenix brought it to widespread public attention, causing outrage online.
“Beggar gangs,” as they are called, often engage in other criminal activities, too: like human trafficking, torture, and murder.
An investigation into the gangs was kicked off because of the Lu Jianqiu case. During their chance encounter on the street in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, in September 2010, he told his cousin that he was out one day and was hit by a man and lost consciousness. He then woke up in a dark room with one arm and both legs missing.
Lu Xiaoyan, the cousin, started crying. But before they could speak for long, two men jumped out of an old minibus parked nearby, kicked the beggar, and told Lu Xiaoyan that if she didn’t leave, they’d kill her right there. Then they picked up her cousin, shoved him into their van, and drove off.
Lu’s brother said that the gangs give the beggars a little food and water, and take for themselves all the money acquired through begging. They use scrap vehicles with fake license plates to transport their captives, according to Phoenix Television.
Phoenix Television focused on the testimony of a senior beggar and handicapped man, Wang Xiuyong, who over many years got an idea of how the begging gangs operate. He said he was once part of a forced begging ring in Dongguan many years ago.
Wang said that the use of disabled children to beg has been rampant in Dongguan since 2000.
Gang leaders were initially farmers who would “rent” handicapped children from their parents in rural communities. Later, they would acquire healthy children illegally, and then disable them.
“When they started, they paid the disabled child’s family 3,000 or 4,000 yuan ($480–$640) a year, and then the child was theirs,” Wang said. “The profits were so big, so they started to steal, cheat, and even snatch children. They also picked up abandoned babies.”
Wang said that when the babies were little, the group fed them with sleeping pills so that they would sleep through the day without bothering the “business.”
When the children were 1 or 2 years old, gang leaders would break their arms and legs and send them out to beg. The children couldn’t run away, ask for help, or “make trouble” Wang said.
“They used bricks and wooden sticks to hit the baby’s legs. The baby was crying like mad,” Wang said. “Then the baby’s leg was infected and festering. They don’t treat the children with medicine, because the more miserable they look the more money they gain. Even when an injury was healing, they would break it open again with wooden sticks to let it bleed.”
When the children died young, at 4 or 5, the gang would throw the body away in the wild or dump it in a river.
Beggars would be dropped off on the street early in the morning, and then beg for money until after midnight, Wang said.
Like regular gangs, the beggar gangs have their own turf, often divided up by provinces. There are leaders, and then the thugs who beat and control the children.
Police Fail to Act
Wang Xiuyong told Phoenix that he informed the police in Dongguan in 2002, but they simply told him that it wasn’t part of their job. They advised him to various other government agencies, he said.
The family of missing child Lu Jianqiu’s also faced a similar response from police while searching for Lu. “When he was missing, we called the police, but the police station has never responded to us, not even once,” Lu’s brother Lu Dongzhu said. “I can’t believe it.”
Many Chinese people who read and watched the reports about the gangs were furious at the news, and blamed the government for not acting quickly and firmly against the activities.
“China Central Television reported on the sex industry scandal in Dongguan so intensively, but it’s mute on the issue of children getting their arms and legs broken by beggar gangs,” wrote Netizen “@Shuiyan Dahe” on Sina Weibo.
CCTV is the state mouthpiece, which ran extensive reports on how the Communist Party was cracking down on prostitution in Dongguan earlier this year. The authorities waged a harsh, three-month, large-scale, anti-prostitution campaign, with more than 6,000 police dispatched to arrest prostitutes and their customers the day following CCTV’s reports on the matter.
Internet users wondered why the government took no action against the gangs. “This is extremely shocking! Such a brutal thing has been going on right on the streets for many years. Where did public security go? Why doesn’t anyone stop such crazy criminals?”
“This isn’t the first time it’s been reported about, but it always ends up with nothing definite being done, because there’s a godfather behind the scenes,” wrote one netizen, anonymously. “Then time goes by, people forget it, and life goes on …”