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January 18, 2011

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80-year-old cobbler becomes overnight web star

AN ELDERLY cobbler has become an overnight Internet sensation after a photograph of him working on Shanghai's freezing streets was posted online.

The picture of 80-year-old Zhang Tianyuan on a microblog has been retweeted thousands of times and led people to seek him out at his spot on Guangyuan Road W. in Xuhui District.

Zhang, from Jiangsu Province, who lives alone in rented accommodation, has been repairing shoes there every day for more than 30 years.

He said he had been named a "distinguished private businessman of Shanghai" on four occasions. Nominations for this award were based on praise from customers.

The image of the old man sitting on a bench at a street corner wearing a worn hat and jacket with a piece of ancient canvas on his knees as his worktable struck a chord with many web users.

Since the picture was posted on Sunday night, it has been retweeted more than 3,800 times with more than 500 comments. The "Old cobbler" has become a topic keyword on the microblog of

Xu Baocheng, a netizen, said after seeing the picture she took a pair of shoes to Zhang and paid more than required as she could not give him money directly.

But others criticized the cobbler's relatives for allowing the old man to still work.

"Many people come to ask me why my children have left me working on the streets, but I have been alone for more than 20 years since my wife died," explained Zhang.

The old man has two sons. His elder son, now 60, had polio as a child and lives in a nursing house in his hometown of Gaoyou in Jiangsu.

His younger son, now aged 50, was raised by another family and visits twice a year.

Zhang said he makes about 700 yuan (US$106) every month, which covers his living expenses. He does not apply for government subsidies.

The cobbler said his work keeps him healthy and that he can see well and hear clearly.


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