China / Society

Vagrant-repelling spiked ground sparks fury

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-07-06 16:17

GUANGZHOU - A southern Chinese metropolis has come under fire after online posts suggested the city had used concrete spikes to stop vagrants bedding down under overpasses.

Vagrant-repelling spiked ground sparks fury
Concret spikes are seen under an overpass in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, July 2. [Photo/CFP]

Photos have crisscrossed China's Internet showing hundreds of pyramid-shaped spikes densely grouped on the ground under an overpass thought to be in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.

Annotations suggested city authorities, as part of a campaign to improve the city's image, erected the concrete phalanx to repel homeless people who built homes on the site.

The photos have triggered an outpour of anger online, with many netizens saying the "concrete teeth" presented the ugly face of the city, exposing its inhumanity against disadvantaged groups.

"If the government had the money [to install the spikes], why not spend it on charity, so that no vagrants would have to sleep under the bridge," commented a netizen with the screen name "39 degrees centigrade" on Sina Weibo, the popular micro-blogging site.

"I can't understand why a city that presents itself as open and inclusive couldn't bear some vagrants. Please don't deprive them their last speck of land," posted another netizen, "Mini Mino."

Qu Zhihang, a Chinese performance artist, posted a picture on Sina Weibo of him performing a naked push-up against the pointed spikes.

"The spikes have been there for years, but I didn't know it was built to repel wanderers. As a Guangzhou native, my conscience has been hurt," Qu said.

Historical legacy

An official from the city government said the spikes were a historical legacy, installed more than a decade ago to make the space uninhabitable.

Some of the spiky ground was later replaced by green areas, the city has not added such facilities in recent years, and doesn't plan any more in the future, said the official, who refused to be identified.

The official, however, did not provide information on the number of such facilities in the city or the cost of their construction, saying the records were unavailable after the department in charge of their installation had ceased operation.

Huang Jianrong, a retired worker in Guangzhou, recalled that the spikes dated back to the 1990s, when large numbers of immigrants swarmed into the city, some of them ending up under the overpass.

"At that time, the public generally supported the government action, as the wanderers brought squalor and troubles after they settled down," Huang said.

Chinese public opinions and official attitudes toward urban vagrants have been divided. While some call for protecting their rights on the street, others associate their presence with idleness and much-criticized "professional beggars".

Some Chinese cities have rolled out controversial measures against the population. In 2010, the southwestern city of Chengdu added arc-shaped benches at some bus stops. Authorities said the benches' curved design could prevent the homeless from sleeping on them.

Officials in Shenzhen, another city in Guangdong, recently said urban managment officials would risk demotion or performance-related penalties if vagrants or beggars were found on streets within their jurisdiction, an almost explicit expulsion order for the city's homeless population.

Cai Lihui, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University, said Chinese cities should find better ways to settle vagrants, rather than forcefully banish them or turn a blind eye to their presence.

"China should adopt a sustainable system to provide active aids, job training and temporary housing for the homeless," Cai suggested.


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