Former Chinese Gymnastics Champion Now Homeless Beggar

Zhang Shangwu being interviewed in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu being interviewed in a motel room.

From NetEase:

Former gymnastics champion turned street performer claims he was blocked from retiring to go to school

Summary: 2001 Universiade gymnastics champion Zhang Shangwu has been exposed making a living as a performer on the streets of Beijing. Zhang Shangwu says his Achilles tendon broke during training when he was 20-years-old, intended to retire and go to school but was met with opposition from his coach, but ultimately had to retire because his body was no good anymore, receiving about 30,000 yuan in compensation. Afterward, because life was difficult, he went to jail several times for stealing, and has previously sought help from various funds [organizations] without but without receiving any responses. With regards to this, his coach says Zhang Shangwu retired for personal reasons.

Videos featuring Zhang Shangwu performing and begging for money on Beijing streets have also been amongst this past week’s most viewed videos on popular Chinese video sharing website Youku. The above 8 minute video titled “Former National Team gymnastics athlete Zhang Shangwu performs and begs for money to provide medical treatment for his grandfather” reached over 2.1 million views 2 days after it was uploaded.

A copy on YouTube:

Can’t see the above video?

According to the video, since being released from jail, Zhang Shangwu has spent his time homeless in Beijing, sleeping in internet bars, on pedestrian overpasses, in the doorway of the hospital convenience store, spending his days in underground tunnels/underpasses performing for money, earning 30-40 kuai a day.

A shorter 4 minute video (copy on YouTube) titled “Former National Team gymnastics athlete sells performances and begs for money in tunnel/underpass” with similar footage and content reached 1.5 million views over 3 days. May other copies and videos of Zhang Shangwu have hundreds of thousands of views each.

Commments from NetEase:

推火车专业户 [网易广东省深圳市网友]:

This is the most realistic portrayal of today’s society.

毛脸鸡蛋 [网易江苏省苏州市网友]:

A lot of training is destructive to a person’s body. This guy is only 1.5m tall, while those who life weights may not even be 1.5m. The shorter you are, the less work to do, right? Simple physics. For female diving athletes, it is all about small waves, controlling splashes, and the coaches get their bonuses and are happy, but how come they don’t think about how her future children and husband are going to breastfeed!?

kenjirdp [网易浙江省网友]:

Still feel like donating money? Unless it is given directly to him, all the other funds and organizations [that solicit donations to help retired athletes] can all get the hell out of my way.

歌zhe [网易多哥网友]:

A perfectly good child ruined like this…

8378577621 [网易广东省珠海市网友]:

Heroes should not suffer this kind of treatment, so sad~


I support Zhang Shangwu, this is a problem of society, not entirely a problem of the individual.

1124447481 [网易福建省福州市网友]:

You have my sympathies!
Allow me to offer an suggestion: With that many past honors and medals, and still being able to perform for money now, what’s stopping him from finding a fitness club and becoming a fitness trainer? Even if you can’t find a good one, I trust there must be some who want you amongst even average ordinary fitness clubs. You should be able to support yourself and support a family this way!
It is your life, maybe you didn’t seize the right opportunities/choices in the past, but you can still get back on track now!


When I was small, I had a dream which was to be a world champion. Fortunately, I wasn’t that material. There was a sports school that could’ve selected/recruited me, but I don’t know why but maybe someone ended up being chosen over me. Now that I think about it, I was truly lucky!

3763932924 [网易火星手机网友]:

Gold medals and glory are ephemeral, only one’s body is one’s own. A gold medal exchanged for a life of suffering and helplessness, we can only say life is helplessness.

0753857472 [网易辽宁省网友]:

That a desperate person with no choice left resorts to stealing money is perfectly understandable. That’s human nature.


Selling performances and selling his medals both are him relying upon his own labor to feed himself, he isn’t an ordinary simple beggar. When compared to begging, I much more respect selling performances.


Don’t always think the son of a thief must be a thief too! That he would become like this must be because of some reason with society!

心清豪爽 [网易上海市网友]:

That a young guy with such prospects like this is forced to go on the streets to perform for money is heartbreaking. I remember watching him compete, he truly was very handsome, and his arm strength was especially very impressive! So what’s the reason for him to have found himself on this road!? I think it is still a matter of the coach not having helped him as he should, especially since he is a child from the rural countryside, who needed care and concern, and not demands! Strongly recommend that ZHang Shangwu be given the treatment he deserves! Did he not get any rewards for having earned a gold medal?….


The main reason is a lack of education, having only trained in athletics, so now he doesn’t have any basic life skills, and has become so down and out!


Now that the Red Cross scandal/controversy has ended, comes another one, this time with sports/athletic funds.


A former champion now street performer’s story

Several days ago, if you had passed by Exit A of the Beijing Wangfujing subway station, you may have seen a short and small but muscular young man propping himself off the ground with his hands performing a perfect Thomas circle/flair as spectators clapped and cheered.

Under his feet would be placed a printed and laminated self-introduction, claiming that he has won two gold medals for team gymnastics and the rings at the 2001 Beijing Universiade, but he owning to “a ruptured left Achilles heel, a fractured right foot, and torn lateral ligaments in both feet after retiring due to injury, is unable to undertake heavy manual labor”.

In front of this Hebei young man are also placed two photographs, with one of the photos capturing the glorious moment he and his teammates greeted the audience as they received their medals at the Universiade. The photo is worn and blurred from repeated folding, but his smile can still be seen, and beside him several faces everyone is very familiar with — later Olympic champion Yang Wei and Xing Aowei.

Handstands, Thomas circles and other moves that he was once unmatched in and with which he had brought glory to the country in the end have become reduced to all he has to make money through street performances. Relying on these clearly professional “performances”, Zhang Shangwu can occasionally receive one or two coins, or a five or ten yuan banknote.

But now, he can no longer be found at the subway station exit. At present, Zhang Shangwu is living in a motel room that several media organizations are successively paying for, every day giving interviews at different locations to over a dozen media organizations, his mobile phone often turned off or unable to get through, with news coverage of him all over the place. The keywords “champion beggar” has been amongst the top search terms for several consecutive days.

2011 July 18th, Having bought breakfast, Zhang Shangwu returns to the motel.

2011 July 18th, Having bought breakfast, Zhang Shangwu returns to the motel.

Zhang Shangwu eating his breakfast in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu eating breakfast in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu being interviewed in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu being interviewed in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu being interviewed in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu take a call from a journalist in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu in a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu inside a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu inside a motel room.

Zhang Shangwu inside a motel room.

Due to his body feeling unwell, Zhang Shangwu went to a community hospital near the motel.

Due to his body feeling unwell, Zhang Shangwu went to a community hospital near the motel.

Due to his body feeling unwell, Zhang Shangwu went to a community hospital near the motel.

Due to his body feeling unwell, Zhang Shangwu (middle) went to a community hospital near the motel.

Zhang Shangwu has received a lot of internet and then media attention over the past week. Initially, many people had sympathy for him, but there have also been questions and suspicions…

See also: “Zhang Shangwu, How Can I Believe You?” (EastSouthWestNorth)


Written by Fauna

Fauna is a mysterious young Shanghainese girl who lives in the only place a Shanghainese person would ever want to live: Shanghai. In mid-2008, she started chinaSMACK to combine her hobby of browsing Chinese internet forums with her goal of improving her English. Through her tireless translation of popular Chinese internet news and phenomenon, her English has apparently gotten dramatically better. At least, reading and writing-wise. Unfortunately, she's still not confident enough to have written this bio, about herself, by herself.


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