Brother Sharp (犀利哥) is the nickname given to Chen Guorong, a homeless man from the streets of Ningbo in China's Zhejiang province. The man became a national celebrity for his undoubtedly handsome face in February 2010 after a photograph of him wandering the streets was uploaded online. Eventually, the Chinese netizens tracked down and located the man through the means of Human Flesh Search Engine.
On the morning of January 30th, 2010, a photographer took his new Sony video camcorder to Tian Yi Square and decided to try out the new lens by shooting street scenes for the photography community forum Fengniao. The photographer, Mr. Tu, captured a few shots of a homeless man, who he said was "bearing dignification" as he walked down the busy streets.
"He has a very special temperament," stated Mr. Tu, "so I couldn't help but pick up the camera and take a few shots." Later that day, Mr. Tu went home and sent his photos to the website, but did not expect to receive any significant attention.
On February 21st, 2010, a Tianya Club forum user posted a thread titled "秒杀宇内究极华丽第一极品路人帅哥！帅到刺瞎你的狗眼！求亲们人肉详细资料," roughly translated as "Behold the number one ultimate, gorgeous, handsome passer-by! Blind your dog eyes! Seeking detailed information on his flesh."
"…a starkly handsome Chinese man walking with a model's measured gait, and wearing a rag-tag but well coordinated overcoat on top of a leather jacket. His eyes peer into the middle distance, in what one fan described as 'a deep and penetrating way', and he strides confidently forward."
Soon, other members of Tianya Club followed up with similar compliments noting his handsome facial features, such as his "sharp, penetrating eyes" and eclectic sense of fashion, and dubbed the homeless man "Brother Sharp." Forum users immediately started posting their own take on Brother Sharp.
By February 26th, the original Tianya post accumulated millions of pageviews and Google search for "犀利哥 (Brother Sharp)" yielded more than 463,000 search results. By March 5th, Google search for the same term yielded more than 15 million search results. The man quickly rose to the status of a fashion icon on the Chinese web, as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan.
Human Flesh Search Engine
While many netizens found it hard to believe that such a handsome man could be homeless, some Chinese netizens began organizing search parties to locate this mysterious man. The Tianya Club vigilante group "Human Flesh Search Engine" also launched an investigative campaign to find Brother Sharp and more information about him.
Some netizens even visited the city of Ningbo in search of the now-famous panhandler. One of the visitors found him near the East entrance of the Xinhua Bookstore and he was able to confirm that Brother Sharp is a genuine beggar and not an actor or a model. In addition, the netizen noted that the man appeared to be "mentally disturbed."
Amidst the growing attention from the Chinese web and the news media, the Ningbo government released a public statement:
"It's the local government's responsibility for everyone to experience the kindness of the people in this city. We will continue to care for the homeless guys. This is an essential part of the development of a civilized city."
Upon hearing the news of the famous vagabond, some local residents complained about his unwanted presence on the street and suggested he should be sent to a homeless shelter. However, many netizens opposed to this idea and others even criticized the mainstream media's overwhelming scrutiny of the man as "harassment." Officials in Ningbo were eventually able to find and contact a close friend of Brother Sharp known as "Cat," who said he began taking care of the man in 2008.
Brother Sharp made his first appearance in public on March 2nd, 2010. Due to Brother Sharp's heavy accent and ailing mental health, Cat provided translations of his words to the locals. In the interviews, he persistently refused to take help from the Ningbo shelter. According to Cat, Brother Sharp expressed feelings of confusion with the sudden, overnight internet fame and did not understand why they kept "visiting" and taking his picture. Respecting Brother Sharp's wishes, Cat also advised against admitting him into a homeless shelter.
The Story of Cat
Meanwhile on the Chinese forums, Cat shared the story of how Brother Sharp lived when they had first met in 2008. Cat said he had first asked Brother Sharp if he was hungry. Replying only with "hungry", Cat wanted to test his extent of self-care and gave him 10 yuan to let him buy food from a nearby store. Unexpectedly, he took the money and bought a pack of cigarettes. Cat asked him why he didn't buy food. Brother Sharp pointed to a trash can, and after a while, Cat finally understood what he meant: you can pick up and eat from the trash.
Cat also recounted how Brother Sharp was longing for a companion. HIs stories were immediately met by sympathetic responses from the readers, who pleaded the officials not to "cage this free bird" and demanded "please don't mess with his peaceful life!"
"He wanted to have a wife and a home. So, he puts on woman's clothing and imagine himself as a woman. That way, combined, he would have both happiness and a home. Some people may laugh him, some people would make fun of him. But who will go to help him? to understand him?"
On the morning of March 5th, a reporter received an update that the relatives of the Ningbo street beggar were contacted and they arrived in Ningbo to visit the man at the Ningbo City mental hospital. His younger brother met him in the hospital and recognized him as his long lost brother. Brother Sharp's real name was revealed as Chen Guorong, who was born on October 10th, 1975 and raised in the Boyang County, Jangxi province. According to his younger brother, Guorong left his hometown in 1999 with others to find work before losing contact with family in 2003. The family members explained they had been searching for his whereabouts as recently as in 2008. It was also reported that Guorong suffered heavy losses in 2009 when his wife and father were killed in a car accident.
On March 8th, 2010, it was reported that Brother Sharp returned to his home in Poyang with his family. Locals and authorities supported his homecoming by sending the family food and supplies. One local logistics company offered to donate 2000 yuan, while the local government helped the family apply for subsistence allowances.
In August 2010, Chinese film producer Deng Jianguo announced the launch of a biographic film about Mr. Cheng's life starring Hong Kong actor/model Carl Ng. According to the Telegraph, Mr. Cheng's relatives rejected the offer at first, but ultimately caved into producer Deng's persistent efforts:
"Deng Jianguo called and at first we told him we had no intention of making a movie," said the relative. "Brother Sharp then travelled to Beijing to do a job for a company and Deng followed him up there to ask again. Finally we went to Shanghai to do an interview for Shanghai television and Deng came there too."
"It will be a sad story, but at the end there will be the happiness of a family reunion," said the relative.
The script will be adapted from a book written by Mr. Cheng's cousin and the film is scheduled to begin shoot in September 2011.
Peasant Chic Fashion Line
On January 1st, 2011, fashion entrepreneur Zhuang Weiguo announced the launch of China's very first "peasant chic" fashion brand, a luxury men's clothing line entirely inspired by the vagabond style of Brother Sharp. At the press conference, Mr. Zhuang revealed that he had raised over 10 million RMB (roughly 1.5 million USD) in order to start up the line and renowned Italian designer Francesco Fiordeli had been hired to contribute in the designing process. The announcement of Brother Sharp's fashion line instantly spread across the Chinese web, rendering "Brother Sharp" the third most searched keyword on Baidu portal site at the beginning of 2011.