Migrant Beggars and Buskers
China's Have-Less Celebrities
Author: Elaine Jeffreys and Sophie Wang
This article examines issues of migrancy and socioeconomic disadvantage in present-day China with references to two cases involving the celebritization of migrant beggars and buskers. The first concerns Cheng Guorong, a 34-year-old vagrant beggar with mental health issues who became an international fashion icon known as "Brother Sharp" in 2010 after an amateur photographer posted candid photographs of him walking down a street on an internet forum. The second case involves two migrant buskers in Beijing who performed to an audience of around 1 billion viewers worldwide on China Central Television Station's annual Spring Festival Gala in 2011, after a friend posted a mobile phone video clip of them singing on his microblog. These cases show how the mediated contexts provided by the World Wide Web, combined with the corollary growth of a young digital-technology–savvy population, are generating new entertainment-orientated communities and celebrity-making practices in China. It also shows how these seemingly apolitical entertainment practices are refashioning public debates about the politics of prosperity and equality.