Adam Minter, author of the Shanghai Scrap blog, who has spent hundreds of hours wandering in China’s scrap recycling markets says he was intrigued by the large white sacks caught on the CCTV footage of the Yueyue incident. He says Chen Xianmei is more accurately discribed as a “scrap peddler” rather than a “trash collector” and offers the following reasons:
So: in the video, we see her approach Yueyue with a large white bag slung over one shoulder, and what appears to be a smaller handbag of some kind in her right hand. I don’t know what’s in either of those bags, but based upon the picture, below, taken of Yueyue’s parents bowing to Chen after the accident, and the open sack of used clothes in the background, I’d guess that she was carrying lightweight rags. A Chinese media report indicates that Chen is from Qingyuan (one of the world’s copper recycling capitols, north of Foshan), and that she collects screws and other metal in the market to make extra cash. That is to say, she’s a rag collector, a scrap peddler, a recycler. And, on the day that she happened upon Yueyue, she was walking through the market, collecting whatever rags had been discarded by others, or been lost in the process of shipment.
I’ll offer a couple of reasons. First, Chen’s dignity. The term trash collector implies a number of things, not least of which is that Chen is paid by others to pick up trash. After all, nobody picks up trash for free. But, in fact, Chen, and the millions of Chinese like her, are independent businesswomen who pick up recyclables for cash. That is to say, Chen supports herself, based upon her ability see and recover value where others only see “trash.” She’s nobody’s low-priced scavenger; she’s her own woman. Now, that’s not to suggest she’s living an easy life. But it does suggest dignity – dignity that’s denied when the term “trash collector” is thrown around, especially in China.
Second, context. The market in question has been described in the foreign press as a “hardware market,” and Yueyue’s parents have been described as owning a hardware store. Based upon video of the store, it’s obvious, to me at least, that what they actually have is a used hardware store where locals buy old, sometimes refurbished equipment. Where does that equipment come from? Some of it is imported (Japan is a major source). And, increasingly, some of it comes from the Guangdong area (as China becomes rich, it wastes). It’s the kind of business that migrants, with a little entrepreneurial instinct, can and do get into on a regular basis. With a little hard work, they can do well in it. But – and this is important – it’s only a few steps removed from what Chen Xianmei does. That is, Yueyue’s parents scavenge for re-sellable hardware; Chen scavenges for rags, screws, bolts. It’s a cut-throat, bare-knuckles business, capitalism stripped to its very bones. Lots of people fail, and lots of people try not to fail. It’s not always a very nice business, to be honest, and I can’t say that I’m surprised in the least that an incident like this took place in and around one of its markets.
Read his full post here.
UPDATE: Will a belief in God make more Good Samaritans out of us?
UPDATE 2: Chen Xianmei commended while murmurs abound she’s out to get famous
Previously on Shanghaiist
1. Watch: Toddler run over by two vehicles, ignored by all but one trash collector
2. Foshan toddler passes away [UPDATE: Toddler still alive]
3. Foshan toddler Yueyue still under intensive care
4. Meet: Chen Xianmei, the trash collector who came to the rescue of Foshan toddler Yueyue
5. Adam Minter: Chen Xianmei’s a “scrap peddler” not “trash collector”