Down and Out in China

As chinaSMACK and others have reported, a homeless man has become a hot item on the Chinese Internet, due to his sultry good looks. Asia Times looks at the phenomenon of “Brother Sharp,” who became homeless after suffering from schizophrenia, and the mental illness crisis in China today:

China’s most popular shopping portal,, introduced a Brother Sharp fashion line, with a jacket inspired by the tramp’s motley wardrobe priced at nearly 9,000 yuan (US$1,318). The mainstream media picked up his story, and speculation about his background became rife. Was he a university graduate who had given up on socialism with Chinese characteristics? Was he a jilted lover? Perhaps both? The stories multiplied.

As it turns out, however, Cheng is nothing like the Brother Sharp depicted on blogs and in Internet chat rooms; he is a schizophrenic who had been separated from his family with no idea of how to get back home. After his wife died in a car accident 11 years ago, Cheng left his home in the city of Shangrao in Jiangxi province, which borders Zhejiang, to become a migrant worker. At some point, his family lost track of him.

Now, thanks to his unwanted fame, they are reunited.

While that outcome should be celebrated, the dark side of this story should not be ignored. It is unfortunate that the revelation of Brother Sharp’s schizophrenia has caused most of the millions of people who followed his story to lose interest. The story continues, and it is much bigger and more important than a beggar chic fashion line.


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