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Hundreds of NYC's Homeless Were Duped by a Chinese Millionaire Today

Chinese millionaire Chen Guangbiao promised homeless people $300 and a free meal in Central Park. But it didn't happen.

by Olivia Becker
Jun 25 2014, 10:50pm

VICE News

A Chinese millionaire treated 250 homeless New Yorkers to a feast and karaoke rendition of “We Are the World” in Central Park today, but pretty much everyone left the event totally pissed off.

The Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao began advertising the event last week, saying he would be giving away a gourmet lunch and $300 to homeless people in New York. After the word spread of the free cash and meals, people began sleeping in Central Park Tuesday night.

But it quickly became clear that no one would be getting any money. VICE News was on the scene today as a spokeswoman for the New York City Rescue Mission, the shelter that organized the event, went on stage at the Loeb Boathouse Central Park restaurant and told the crowd that no one would be getting any cash, and instead Chen would be donating the money directly to the shelter.

“Mr. Chen agreed instead to give $90,000 to the mission,” read a press release handed out to the event by the Rescue Mission shelter. “We regret there was miscommunication, likely due to translation which created expectation for our guests that they would receive cash.”

But soon after the spokeswoman made this announcement, Chen himself got on stage saying that he would still agree to give everyone $300 if they came down to the Rescue Mission headquarters to collect it. So 250 homeless people loaded onto four busses to head down to lower Manhattan to collect the money. But the group quickly realized they were duped again when Chen never showed up.

Video shows volunteer waiters dressed in green Chinese military uniforms singing a Maoist tribute song of Lei Feng, the iconic soldier in Mao’s army.

One person told VICE News that he was planning on giving the money to his family and granddaughter. “He’s a thief!” yelled another.

Guests were also treated to a Maoist tribute song performed by Chinese men and women dressed in costumes resembling the uniforms of China’s People’s Liberation Army. The men and women, who were volunteers, also had the image of Lei Feng, the iconic soldier in Mao’s army, on their uniforms.

Chinese performers wearing Maoist Army costumes

Chen is notorious for his sweeping and often controversial acts of philanthropy. He once stacked up piles of cash for a picture, danced on top of cars he claimed he was giving away and smashed his own Mercedes to encourage people to bike more. Chen also tried to buy the New York Times earlier this year, although he was told the paper was not for sale.

The full-page advertisements for today's event appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal last week, and featured a picture of Chen next to Lei. In an interview with CBS This Morning, Chen said that his philanthropy was inspired by figures such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, which is what motivated him to give away thousands of dollars to the homeless.

"When I see that there is a disaster in China, I see a lot of US companies or the US government going to help China," Chen said in the interview. "But when there is a disaster in the US, I do not see any Chinese people donating money to the US."

The meal in Central Park consisted of sesame seed-encrusted tuna, beef filet, and berries with crème fraîche, according to US News & World Report. But many left hungry.

“I took my insulin this morning, thinking it would be a real dinner, but there was nothing there,” a homeless man told VICE News, as he was waiting at the shelter for Chen to show up. “It was a tiny piece of meat, but that was it. They didn’t feed me enough for my insulin, so I had to buy this food here before I get too low on sugar. Otherwise I would have gone into a coma, so that’s why I bought these sweets.

“I’m going to give it another half hour and see what happens,” he added.

After it became clear that Chen was not going to show up, Craig Mayes, the executive director of Rescue Mission, came outside to speak to the crowd.

“This had the potential to be a great event today and I think it was, up until a few minutes ago. I do believe there was something lost in translation," Mayes said. "We had a contract with Mr. Chen about the gift to the Mission, which really does help serve the people.”

“Our position as a mission historically is to not give cash to the homeless because of the risks it would be spent in ways that are harmful,” Mayes added.

He was quickly drowned out by shouts of "fuck you" from the crowd.

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Chen sings "We Are the World."

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Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928