Usually, there’s this unfair stigma in society that homeless people are stupid, lazy, or somehow defective.
With his unkempt beard and scruffy long hair, Shen looks like any stereotyped homeless person on the street. Except he’s far from the stereotype.
Squatting on the busy streets of Shanghai, this vagrant has been spotted shocking people with his wisdom and eloquence. He went viral after videos of him explaining Great Chinese classics and sharing words of wisdom to captivated audiences had spread online. The videos also show him quoting philosophers like Aristotle, Confucius, and Dante, according to a report by Straits Times.
He even advised them to spend more time reading instead of taking videos of him. Apparently, he spends his time reading Chinese classics and other books, bought with the pay he gets from garbage collecting. Living in an abandoned building, Shen refuses to receive any help and says that he provides for himself.
He admires Gandhi and wishes to live an ascetic life like his. “I was destined to be a trash collector,” he says. “I don’t want to be famous and I like a quiet life, I’m getting old and know my destiny. What’s more, life is so turbulent. For so many years, the principle I have been holding to is that people should not waste things unscrupulously.”
Gaining the nickname Vagrant Master or Master Shen online, he became an overnight sensation, with people coming from all over China to speak to this unlikely sage, as well as curious netizens just seeking to find out more about this mysterious man.
“Extraordinary hair worthy of a Taoist priest, eyes brimming with radiating vigour, and the conduct of a real gentleman, This is what a true master should look like!” said one comment online.
His fame grew to the point where crowds now gather around his usual squatting spot in an unremarkable neighbourhood and a woman who live-streamed his daily routine quickly got over 300,000 followers on TikTok. Apart from that, there’s also a road sign that points to his location, his name has topped Chinese search engines, and police have cordoned the area around his squatting space off with metre-high wood fences.
However, his fame has not done him any favours. Opening the door each morning, he finds hundreds of people waiting for him and every time he speaks, there’s a cacophony of applause and cheers as every word is captured by smartphones. A picture of him surrounded by fans is eerily reminiscent of Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount.
However, Master Shen would quickly tire of the tirade, feeling exploited.
“I know people are treating me like a monkey… Nobody came to see me with a pure heart. You did this for money,” he is seen speaking to a room full of smartphone-wielding spectators.
Indeed, certain parties around him have had their own agendas, feeding off his fame. For instance, a woman had claimed to be Shen’s girlfriend to get massive amounts of followers while another man followed suit, claiming to be his son. Some calligraphy doodled on scrap paper by Master Shen was even reportedly sold online for USD13,000 (approx. RM53,000).
Gathering outside his dwelling, they knock on the windows and swarm the door early in the morning, depriving the poor man of both sleep and privacy. “I’m standing here. I don’t care how you would like to film me to make money. Honestly, I can’t do anything about it. You don’t even give me the slightest of respect,” he lamented.
Shen has since taken drastic measures – showering, cutting his hair, and getting a new outfit, as he is determined to deny the crowds leeching off his personal journey. A Weibo user aptly comments, “One man is sane, but the rest are out of their minds.”
Since Monday (1 April), a note left on his usual squat cheerily notes: “Mr Shen is exhausted, both mentally and physically, and will be away for a while. Thank you!”
You can watch some clips of him here.
What an inspiring story! We wish Mr Shen all the best and hopes he enjoys peace and happiness wherever he is. What are some stereotypes you’ve seen broken lately? Tell us your stories in the comments!
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