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Begging gymnast helped by tycoon quits over insults

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 October, 2011, 12:00am

A former champion gymnast who went from begging to working for one of the mainland's richest men has resigned, saying he was insulted by two scholars and his boss' secretary.

Zhang Shangwu, who won gold medals in the rings and team events at the 2001 World University Games, submitted his resignation to Jiangsu Huangpu Recycling Resources, owned by flamboyant philanthropist Chen Guangbiao, last Monday and took a train to Beijing from Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

The 28-year-old said he quit after two Shanghai sociologists criticised him on a Dragon TV programme, saying, 'You think you are really a dish' (something that can fetch a good price) and, 'You are only worth 1,400 yuan [HK$1,700] a month'.

His monthly salary at Chen's company - 11,000 yuan - provoked much comment in the domestic media when it was announced.

'They said these insulting words to devalue me, especially on a TV programme,' Zhang said. 'It shocked me very much and my dignity has been deeply hurt.'

He said he hoped Dragon TV would make an apology to him and he sought 140,000 yuan as compensation from the two scholars 'for the public insults'.

Zhang was in the limelight in July after a fan recognised him as he begged while performing gymnastics around Beijing subway stations. Domestic media reported that following his retirement from sport in 2005, he had trouble getting a job because of his limited education and a leg injury suffered in training. He had to sell his two medals and in 2007 was arrested for stealing in Beijing. He spent almost four years in prison.

Chen said on his microblog that he was disturbed to read of Zhang's plight and decided to help. He called Zhang and offered him a job. Since starting work at Chen's firm, at the end of July, as the deputy director of its charity department and image ambassador, Zhang had received 110,000 yuan, including 80,000 yuan in one-off gifts for his poor family.

He said that in the past two months he had learned to sing, how to anchor TV programmes and drive. Chen had also promised to send him to classes to learn cooking, management and how to operate large machines. His department, with two staff, was in charge of receiving throngs of people seeking donations from Chen.

In the Dragon TV programme, Lu Zhen, from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, asked him: 'Do you think it's normal that you have only worked for a few dozen days but earn so much? You really think you are a dish?'

Professor Gu Jun, a Shanghai University sociologist, said on the programme: 'Charity is charity while business is business. You should pay an employee according to his talent and value. Since the average monthly salary in Chen's company is 4,300 yuan, I think up to 1,400 yuan for Zhang is fine.'

Zhang said he was later scolded by Chen's secretary, who said, 'You don't contribute any value, why are you paid so much?'

Gu said many others held the point of view he expressed on the programme and his comment was not meant as an attack on Zhang, but on Chen's controversial and high-profile charity tactics.

'I and several other commentators beset Chen and intended to show that it's unreasonable to hire a fresh employee on such a high salary,' Gu said. 'Chen definitely made use of Zhang to glorify himself.'

Zhang said he was now in Beijing and in no mood to think about his future.

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