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These two YouTubers (among many other influencers on Twitter and Reddit, etc.) claim that homelessness in China is very rare or almost non-existent after intentional searches. Almost all of their audience believes that there are no homeless people in China.

Both walk the streets in Chinese cities with cameras, looking for homeless people, and finding the streets are clear.

Does China really have no homeless people?

According to Wikipedia, there were millions of homeless people in the early 2010s, and efforts have done in recent years. I have not seen any evidence there that supports the claim that there are no homeless people in China.

Based on my personal experience, the answer is no, and they are not rare. I saw them in parks of Guangzhou years ago when I was there, and I still often see them hiding in/around railway stations, in 24-hour running restaurants or cybercafés, in cars stopping by streets, under bridges or in other places at night in the city where I live in 2023. And it is hardly common sense that the homeless can be allowed in China to stay in streets (where those influencers have searched) as they are in free countries.

Is my suspicion correct?

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  • 3
    Deleted a lot of people sharing opinions or posting pseudo-answers in the comments. If you have references, use the answer box. If you don't, go get some.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 5, 2023 at 12:01
  • 42
    I'm confused by this question. In title you ask if there are "no homeless people" in China, then in first paragraph you change the claim to "homelessness is rare" and in the last paragraph you say that you see the homeless people under bridges and around railway stations yourself, answering your own question. Is there something more specific you wanted to ask? For example "Why people say there is no homelessness in China"? Dec 5, 2023 at 12:47
  • 8
    Any claims about "no one" or "everyone" should generally be treated as approximations. No matter how hard a society tries, it's practically impossible for a policy to be complete. So something like "no homeless people" should be interpreted as "a negligible amount of homeless people".
    – Barmar
    Dec 5, 2023 at 16:00
  • 1
    @Lzn I see, so you want to know if the homeless people you see are an exception or if the claims of low homelessness are false. Personally, I would write "Where I live, I often see them hiding themselves ..." but I don't know if that's an actual improvement or just pedantism on my part. Dec 6, 2023 at 14:35
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    The people making the claim are "influencers", people paid to spread a message or promote a brand. If they make a video about nothing else than living conditions in a specific country and shine a good light on it, it's probably because someone paid for that message to be published... it wouldn't be the first time falsehoods are spread by influencers (or China).
    – Aubreal
    Dec 6, 2023 at 19:34

4 Answers 4

33

According to the following photos (Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty’), there are probably homeless people: (at least until 2015-2018 -- the article date)

The Guardian: Sculptor Fabian Brunsing brought a satirical eye to the issue by creating the “pay bench”, an art installation of a park bench that retracts its metal spikes for a limited time when the prospective sitter feeds it a coin. Chinese officials, completely missing the joke, thought that this was a great idea and installed similar benches in Yantai Park of the Shangdong province.

enter image description here

Also see Anti-Homeless Poles in Guangxi Render Sidewalk Unusable which includes the image below: (Date: 2015-2018)

According to Guangxi News, a small community of approximately 10 rough-sleepers had begun to make the covered walkway their home in 2016, sleeping on cardboard pallets and using the area to store collected recyclables for future sale.

The method that the Liuzhou authorities employed is known as ‘hostile architecture’ – a technique long ubiquitous in the UK and parts of North America and now slowly gaining ground in China – wherein everyday objects are deliberately made less comfortable, useful or accessible in order to bring about a desired social effect.

Take this underpass in Guangzhou for instance, where intimidating concrete spikes have been installed to discourage so-called vagrants, or anyone else for that matter, from stopping for a rest.

enter image description here

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    The "anti-homeless poles ... render sidewalk unusable" photo is slightly misleading, for which I blame the article being quoted. It is possible to see that it is not uniformly flat hence is actually an apron in front of the building, and in one of the original photos it is possible to see that the bollards do not continue beyond the far edge of the property. Hence, blaming "the authorities" is unfair in this specific case. Dec 5, 2023 at 10:17
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    @MarkMorganLloyd I'm confused by your statement. Are sidewalks always "uniformly flat" where you are? Dec 5, 2023 at 15:16
  • 3
    @AzorAhai-him- Yes. They certainly don't have steep car ramps crossing them like that. Dec 5, 2023 at 15:32
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    @MarkMorganLloyd it's unclear what issue you're raising here. Are you saying the bollards serve a purpose other than hostile architecture against rough sleepers (which is their relevance to the question) or that the claim they were installed by public authorities is questionable because it looks like private land?
    – Will
    Dec 5, 2023 at 17:37
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    @MarkMorganLloyd I see, but I don't see how that makes the photo misleading, as you put it. It quite straightforwardly demonstrates the presence of rough sleepers seeking shelter. It's unfortunate that it's sourced from an article that describes the site as a sidewalk in its title, which as you say might not be accurate, but at worst that's a minor point of distraction
    – Will
    Dec 6, 2023 at 12:55
29

There are homeless people in China.

For example, this video creator is a homeless man in the suburbs of Hangzhou and living in an abandoned villa. After neighbors called the police, he provided his ID card and confirmed that he was not a fugitive. The police reminded him not to light a fire at home and to be careful of fires.

  • Using Google's "transate to English" option translates the comments and the title and provides some English subtitles. These all serve to confirm that the video's subject is as claimed.
    The heading is "You always like to see me sleeping in the stairwell, but now I am kicked out of the big villa by the police, so I can only sleep in the stairwell."

The Sanhe Masters operate in places with concentrated manufacturing industries such as Guangzhou because there are many job opportunities there. They adhere to the principle of "one day of work, three days of play".

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    Welcome to Skeptics! We require answers to include references to support your claims. The parts of this question which are about what you saw (in China and Europe should be removed. The parts of this question which are about what you think the causes are should be removed. Unfortunately the two videos are not in English, so it is hard for many of us to judge whether they are relevant or accurate.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 5, 2023 at 3:39
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    @Oddthinking It seems to me that requiring a particular language for a source would just introduce unnecessary bias. Evidence is evidence regardless of the language or how easily someone can judge it, and ruling out an entire category of evidence doesn't seem an effective way to arrive at the truth.
    – JBentley
    Dec 5, 2023 at 13:18
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    An answer written in Mandarin might also be perfectly correct, but that doesn't mean we must accept it here either. If we can't check the evidence for credibility and accuracy and relevance, it's simply not evidence at all.
    – Nij
    Dec 5, 2023 at 19:21
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    @JBentley: Please read what I wrote again. Sources do not need to be in English. However, typically we recommend that a snippet of a source (e.g. a transcription of a video) be included in the answer so we can see it matches the claim the OP is making. If that is not English, we suggest it be translated (by the OP or a later editor) so it can be judged by a majority of the audience. Finding obscure evidence and making it available to our readers is a key job of someone writing an answer here.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 5, 2023 at 23:18
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    @A.R.: This question made it to the Hot Network Questions list. (Welcome to all the new Skeptics readers!) As a result, the voting can be quite skewed - I wouldn't read too much into it.
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 5, 2023 at 23:20
19

I searched out the Ministry of Civil Affairs documents 《2022 年民政事业发展统计公报》 (and similarly for other years) wherein we have statistics for the number of homeless shelters and how much they're utilized in China (links to the pdfs are given after the Chinese quote):

截至 2018 年底,全国共有其他提供住宿的民政服务机构 1824 个,床位 12.7 万张。其中各类救助管理机构 1534 个,床位 10.2 万张,全年救助生活无着流浪乞讨人员 155.0 万人次(在站救助 119.8 万人次,站外救助 35.2 万人次)。 (pdf)
[Google Translate:] As of the end of 2018, there were 1,824 other civil service agencies providing accommodation across the country, with 127,000 beds. Among them, there are 1,534 various rescue and management institutions with 102,000 beds, and 1.550 million homeless and beggars were rescued throughout the year (1.198 million people were rescued on site and 352,000 people were rescued outside the site).

至 2019 年底,全国共有其他提供住宿的民政服务机构 1828 个,床位 12.2 万张。其中流浪乞讨人员救助管理站 1545 个,床位 9.6 万张,全年救助流浪乞讨人员 131.5 万人次(在站救助 98.3 万人次,站外救助 33.2 万人次)。 (pdf)
[Google Translate:] By the end of 2019, there were 1,828 other civil service agencies providing accommodation across the country, with 122,000 beds. Among them, there are 1,545 homeless and beggars rescue and management stations with 96,000 beds, and 1.315 million homeless and beggars were rescued throughout the year (983,000 people were rescued at the station and 332,000 people were assisted outside the station).

截至 2020 年底,全国共有其他提供住宿的民政服务机构 1793 个,床位 10.4 万张。其中流浪乞讨人员救助管理机构 1555 个,床位 8.4 万张,全年救助流浪乞讨人员 83.2 万人次。 (pdf)
[Google Translate]: As of the end of 2020, there were 1,793 other civil service agencies providing accommodation across the country, with 104,000 beds. Among them, there are 1,555 homeless and beggars relief and management institutions with 84,000 beds, and 832,000 homeless and beggars were rescued throughout the year.

截至 2021 年底,全国共有其他提供住宿的民政服务机构 1780 个,床位 10.0 万张。其中流浪乞讨人员救助管理机构 1562 个,床位 8.5 万张,全年救助流浪乞讨人员 73.9 万人次。 (pdf)
[Google Translate:] As of the end of 2021, there were 1,780 other civil service agencies providing accommodation across the country, with 100,000 beds. Among them, there are 1,562 homeless and beggars relief and management institutions with 85,000 beds, and 739,000 homeless and beggars were rescued throughout the year.

截至 2022 年底,全国共有其他提供住宿的民政服务机构 1756 个,床位 9.5 万张。其中流浪乞讨人员救助管理机构 1573 个,床位 8.1 万张,全年救助流浪乞讨人员 75.1 万人次。 (pdf)
[Google translate:] As of the end of 2022, there were 1,756 other civil service agencies providing accommodation across the country, with 95,000 beds. Among them, there are 1,573 homeless and beggars relief and management institutions with 81,000 beds, and 751,000 homeless and beggars were rescued throughout the year.

I note here how the Chinese 人次 is a unit meaning "visits" which counts duplicates (like how "views" of a website counts duplicates). So Google Translate does not precisely translate e.g. 75.1 万人次; it should be "751,000 visits" rather than "751,000 people".

These are up to date, official Chinese Government statistics; I didn't find the 2023 data here, and it'll likely be published in 2024. We can conclude that the number of people using homeless shelters in China is somewhere in the ballpark of 100,000 to 1,000,000. I.e., it's nowhere near 0.

4

The social credit system in China, which gives 1,000 points to all citizens and then adds or deducts dependent on conduct, is reputedly causing homelessness on a huge scale. This situation has been developing since 2018.

Dropping to the lowest possible score of 600 can ban you from using public services, buying plane tickets, deny you a loan or even result in a public shaming campaign with your face and ID number displayed in public places.

China's Social Credit System

However, it is hard to find out the real homeless statistics within China. Much of it is anecdotal.

Tens of thousands Chinese people with low social credit scores are becoming homeless now.

With a low social credit score in China, you cannot find a decent job, book a hotel room, travel by train or plane... You are excluded from society!!

Songpinganq on Twitter - April 16 2023

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  • "With a low social credit score (...) You are excluded from society!!" - If the social credit system punishes for antisocial behavior (at least in principle), such as littering, it serves its purpose. Offenders themselves are to be blamed, not the system.
    – Trang Oul
    Dec 8, 2023 at 12:11

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