For many, fame is equivalent to fortune. They squander their hard-earned savings on opportunities and products they think will boost their profile. One extremely prolific homeless man dubbed “The Vagrant Master” is rueing his spotlight.
52-year-old Shen Wei doesn’t use social media or even own a smart phone. He leads a simple life and wanders around in unwashed clothes. However, a couple months ago he became a total Internet sensation.
Mr. Shen was recorded on Douyin video quoting various philosophies and great texts, including Aristotle, Confucius and Dante. His unpretentious yet intellectual manner of speaking was a huge hit with netizens. Many see him as a beacon of true wisdom and eloquence. With modern China’s continual and unrelenting obsession with wealth, the latest fashions, and technology trends, Shen’s voice and personality were easy to venerate Eventually, Shen became known as the Vagrant Grand Master.
Unfortunately, the price of fame was his beloved, humble lifestyle. Shen’s abandoned office dwelling in suburban Shanghai became set upon by eager fans as well as companies hoping to broker an advertising deal with the unexpected star.
Ironically, nobody who actually wanted to meet Shen sought guidance or learning anymore. They merely saw him as an object or steppingstone for their own fortune and success.
By March, Shen was despondent and despairing. In one widely circulated video clip, he can be bitterly heard lamenting “I know people are treating me like a monkey.” He continues to denounce the crowds, adding “Nobody came to see me with a pure heart. You did this for money.”
A flood of pretenders and opportunists have also sought to capitalize on Shen’s personal life. One woman masqueraded as his girlfriend for TikTok followers. A young homeless man claimed to be Shen’s son and started giving TV interviews. Calligraphy purported to have been written by Shen sold for almost $13,000.
A highly educated man, Shen was born into a privileged family and worked as an auditor for the local government. His penchant for collecting trash and other scraps led to him being fired and ostracized.
By 1995, he was living out his dream of being a “trash collector.” Shen has also stated “I admire Gandhi and want to live an ascetic life like him.”
Still, everybody needs a break sometime. People looking for Shen in April were disappointed to find a handwritten note in his stead.
Mr Shen is exhausted, both mentally and physically, and will be away for a while. Thank you!
He has also apparently cleaned himself up and gotten a nice haircut to compliment his hiatus.