A decade ago, the plight of former champion gymnast Zhang Shangwu shocked China and made world headlines when he was discovered begging in Beijing, prompting a recycling magnate to give him a job.
That should have heralded a turnaround for Zhang, who had been imprisoned for theft after injury ended his gymnastics career.
However, after another stint in jail, Zhang is again making a living on the streets, doing handstands and singing for a live online audience in a parking lot in Baoding.
Athletes in China are often reared in special schools from a young age and can struggle to adjust to normal life once their careers are over.
Zhang appeared destined for the Olympics after he won two gold medals at the 2001 Universiade, but a year later, a tendon injury ended his career.
He took jobs as a waiter and a care worker, but injuries hampered his work and he turned to theft, spending five years in jail before being released in April 2011.
Zhang’s luck changed in July that year when he was recognized performing stunts and begging on the street. He was inundated with job offers and took up a post as a fitness instructor at the company of a wealthy recycling magnate.
However, in March last year, Zhang said on social media that he had again been released from prison after serving time for theft.
Zhang no longer talks to media, but recently in Baoding, he did handstands and chatted to online viewers, who send him virtual gifts that can be turned into cash.
On another occasion, he rigged up a microphone and small speaker, and sang for about 40 minutes, before his mobile phone ran out of data.
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