You may have heard recently that the organisers of a religious folk festival in Nanchang, China locked some local beggars in cages, creating a human zoo, and that, apparently, nobody over there in Nanchang seemed to mind too much.
The festival attracts flocks of tourists every year, all coming to make offerings to temple gods, and organisers were getting sick of the "walking eyesores" – i.e. the beggars who also flock to the festival every year – ruining the vibe they spend months planning. So what better way to avoid visitors having to deal with a relentless barrage of toothless grins and hopeful hands than sticking them all in cage? Right?
Although they're not forced into the zoo and can leave whenever they want, their only two options are either: skip town for the duration of the festival, or relent and surrender their dignity to the cage. Defending the setup, one organiser said, without any tangible sense of irony, "The beggars are quite comfortable in their cages. People give them food and water as gifts and, in a way, it's better for them there than having to find a place on the busy streets." Yes – better to force people out of their own city or pack them into a human battery farm, than grant them the basic human right of not being locked in a cage.
Ever enlightened, the commenters on the The Daily Mail website, where the story appeared, left their insightful, not-at-all xenophobic ideas for everyone to read, with a select few reeling off gems like, "Might be a great idea for San Francisco. They can contain their public pooping and peeing, then maybe the city will be worth visiting again.” Which raised an important question – are we really any better?
Sure, we might have methadone programs and park benches ergonomically designed for K cider binges, but the London Olympics, for all their celebrations of humanity, were skid-marked by allegations of social cleansing.
Nigel Beardsley claims that Westminster council paid him £1000 to move out of a Bayswater B&B to accommodation in Torquay. They threatened to revoke his benefits if he refused and Nigel says the same thing happened to five other people from the same hostel. The Olympic spirit shining through there like the considerate beacon of inclusiveness that we've all come to know it as.
Leading up to the handful of Olympic events in Cardiff, the city’s retail partnership demanded the police use the 1824 Vagrancy Act to jail any homeless people exploiting corporatised sport for a handout. Under the act, any “rogue” or “vagabond” found sleeping al fresco could be locked up for three months, which makes Nanchang’s zoo for the destitute suddenly look like a Premier Inn.
Newham Council, meanwhile, contacted over 1000 housing groups from Stoke-on-Trent to North Tyneside in an attempt to house the 32,000 families on their waiting list for private accommodation in the borough, as they focus on catering for an influx of tourists and young professionals duped into believing that living like Dickensian chimney sweeps is somehow trendy.
And this isn’t just a London phenomenon. Preparations for the Atlanta Olympics in ’96 saw 2000 projects demolished and 6000 residents evicted. As if that wasn't enough, the city of Atlanta planted a big 'ol Dirty Sanchez on their face when they issued over 9000 arrest citations to get bums off streets. Real nice, guys.
Who's to say how Brazil are going to deal with their destitute population for the Olympics in 2016? They've already started evicting and demolishing favelas, home to thousands of people, so it's anyone's guess how the country's notoriously blunt authorities are going to handle their homeless.
They say a civilisation is measured by how it treats its weakest members and, lest we forget, Bum Fights is a Western creation, so Daily Mail commenters (as if I'm actually offering you advice), before we offer ourselves to the world as some sort of enlightened yardstick, we should probably stop treating our own homeless with cues taken from the Bobby Brown school of love and affection.
More examples of China's fantastic human rights: