When Chinese officials were deciding how to handle the over-100,000 visitors expected to show up for the Xishan Wanshou Palace Temple Fair, an annual religious festival held in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, there was one problem: what to do with the beggars?
The scale of the event in recent years has made it a magnet for the impoverished and homeless seeking alms and many visitors have complained the constant pleading for pocket change ruins the festive atmosphere.
Unable to just throw the beggars off the street (this is a religious festival, mind you), organizers decided to take the humanitarian route and erect a 165 foot-long iron cage to keep them in during the duration of the festival.
The festival took place on September 15 and is said to have brought in 200,000 tourists.
More than 100 beggars set up shop in the cages, which were placed around the event grounds and equipped with colorful tarp canopies to keep the inhabitants shaded—and match the festive atmosphere!
Photos of the cages hit China’s Twitter-like service Sina Weibo the same day, sparking a wave of criticism from Chinese netizens, many of whom accused the government of treating the beggars like zoo animals.
However, officials give their assurance that all beggars entered the cages voluntarily and were permitted to leave at any time—though they would be escorted out of the city and forbidden from returning to the festival grounds.
“We had to consider both sides: the pilgrims and the beggars,” the head of the civil affairs office of the Xinjian prefecture government told NBC News. “There are some fake beggars who just want to trick money from pilgrims. We did see the pilgrims were harassed by such beggars in the past. On the other hand, the temple fair is so crowded that beggars might be hit by cars or trampled by the crowd.”
Many netizens see this as nothing more than an excuse for the government’s inhumane behavior, though officials further point out that beggars were even given food and water, and many seemed to be very comfortable in the cages.
Judging from some of the photos, the beggars certainly don’t seem to be having too hard a time sitting in the shade. And there might be something to the idea of a designated “begging area,” but whoever thought of using cages to keep them together should perhaps spend some time behind iron bars themselves.