Beggars at a religious folk festival in southern China have been ordered to stay in purposely built cages, or be removed from the festivities. Organisers gave the beggars an ultimatum saying their presence ruins the experience for visitors at the temple fair in Nanchang, Jiangxi province and if they wished to beg they had to do so from inside small cages. The zoo-like cages are so small adults are unable to stand and although they are free to leave at will, they are immediately banished from the festival area and have to leave the city if they do so.
The annual fair celebrates a religious holy day with a funfair, market and entertainment as pilgrims come to the temple from all over China. Due to the thousands of visitors it has become a magnet for down-and-outs looking for charity from festival-goers. ‘This year we decided we would no longer accept beggars wandering everywhere, distressing our guests and spoiling it for everyone else,' explained one organiser before adding that no one is forcing them to beg and that they have voluntarily entered the cages. Over the last few years we have had increasing numbers of beggars turning up at the festival and it was becoming very intruding for our visitors. They were being harassed and made to feel uncomfortable.
‘We had no choice but to ban them from the grounds. We found the cages a good solution for everyone. People can still give them donations if they desire too but are not harassed and followed around the festival when they are having a day out with their families. The beggars are quite comfortable in their cages, people send them food and water as gifts. In a way it is better for them there than having to find a place on the busy streets. Our guests come here to enjoy themselves and that is our top priority. The beggars can leave whenever they like but they have to leave the city too, they can't go into the fair,’ they added.
The cages have infuriated human rights campaigners in China who have branded them a human zoo. ‘They are treating them like zoo animals. What will they have to do next - tricks for their food?‘ said one. ‘They are kept behind iron railings at the entrance to the fair, they are supplied with water and food by festival organisers but have to eat it stuck in these cages. This is nothing less than public humiliation. Do they want people to believe the region has no poor people and just put on a good show? These people need help. We should not be allowing them to be locked away in cages. These people are human beings too.’