Ying Zhang commented:
Hi Jian Shuo,
I have been reading your blog for a few years now, I found your blog while planning a trip to China in 2004, and your post on the Shanghai Beijing train time table really helped me. Keep up the good work.
I have always wanted to seek your opinion on an issue that troubles me – about the attitude people have, towards beggars and the homeless in big cities like Shanghai.
If I can’t finish the food in a restaurant, I tend to pack them up and give them to homeless people I met. On rare occasions, if the person is particularly venerable, such as an elderly woman, I will also give out some money. I have done this while I traveled in China, but I have been told by Chinese friends to not do this as ‘all those beggars are faking it’.
One particularly memorable example was when I traveled in the Anhui province. I saw this elderly lady collecting plastic drink bottles, to exchange for a little cash at a recycle point I guess, was teased upon by some youth. She was literally begging the kids (in their teens) to give her the empty bottle they have just finished, but instead of doing the decent thing, they kicked the empty bottle into a lake so she can’t reach it. I had to pull her away from the side of the lake when she tried to get to that bottle to prevent her from falling in. I was furious about this incident for a long time.
In my view she is doing everyone a favor by collecting these bottles and takes them to recycle. It helps keep the environment clean and free from plastic thatmall never be bio-degraded. I have respect for people like these – who are down in their life but still struggles on, doing what little they can (and must) do to survive. Which is the total opposite of a bunch of rich and spoilt kids who probably haven’t worked a single day and only knows how to spend mom and dad’s money. The attitude of people who tease those who are less fortunate than themselves are sickening.
I wonder if you can tell me if this is a common problem / view (that the homeless deserves it) in China. Do you, or have you done anything personally to give them a little help?
All these thoughts came up when I read your comments in today’s post about how Starbucks is the ‘cheapest’ place to enjoy the view of the Bund, and that a cup of coffee cost merely 25RMB (which I’m sure can buy a homeless person a few meals). This reminded me the gap between the well off and the poor are getting increasingly wider in China. I wonder if it will one day become an incurable problem?
Anyway, it’s a long rant, I hope you can give me your thoughts on these issues. Cheers.
Posted by: Ying Zhang on October 16, 2006 08:30 PM
Beggar is Always not an easy topic to discuss. It is a universally controversial topic. Let me try to add more to this heated discussion.
Beggars and People’s Attitude are Mirrors of the Country
Unfortunately, the current society has a lot of problems. Every society has its own problem, but China’s is more obvious. The fast changing pace in economy but slower pace in social insurance system and medical care system makes the life of many people very tough, and without the right supporting system, and common wealth system, it is easy that someone suddenly lose all their income and become a beggar.
The gap between the rich and the poor are bigger day by day, instead of smaller. I don’t want to pretend to know China well, since every time when I put my own steps into the vast west land of China, or even my home town, and see it using my own eyes (not from media inside or outside China), I realize how little I know about my own country. The reality is just worse than I thought. For a big country like China, we are always a learner to know more about it, and cannot claim to know it all.
In the last few years, at least, I witnessed my home town became poorer and poorer. The old houses look so nice with decent decoration, which is never seen in new (can I call it new?) houses. In cities, many workers lost their jobs, but have a family to support, they really don’t have too much choices to make a living. I believe a big portion of them are very risky to be a beggar.
There must be more beggars than before (the true beggars), and we should try everything to help them.
It is said: “The Media is the king without a crown”. It is so at least when the media attackes the weak – the beggars. I don’t know when it started, the “fake beggar” became a hot topic. In media reports, some beggars were caught blood-handed to be fake beggar. They either have luxurious life after “working hours”, or pretend to be disabled, or pretend to be stolen.
This kind of report appeared on newspaper and TV, and successfully bulit an evil image for the beggars as a group.
That must be one of the important reasons that people are more and more hesitate to offer some help. For them, beggars equal to fake beggars. I myself also held the opinion in 2003 when I wrote my first article on beggar (my current view changed a lot).
Among all the cheating beggars, there are even a group called “Child beggars”. Their stories are really heart-breaking. I believe many people experienced being approached by little child (5 – 8 years old), and embrace your legs so you cannot move, and beg for money. Chances are, the little poor children are just a tool for their boss to make money. They were beaten to work, and if they don’t get enough money back, they don’t have meal. How hard a decision whether to give money to them or not. On one hand, to give the money enables their “boss” to gain money and finance them to caught, or steal more children to do their business, on the other hand, if you don’t help the little children by giving them one or two RMB, they face starving that night.
OK. Enough about fake beggars. There are many of them. HOWEVER, my point is, fake beggars are not the whole story. There are so many people who need help and cannot find any help beside people on the street. The number of the later must be bigger than the fake beggars.No data to support. I just guessed.
How to Treat the Beggars?
In this diversified world, everyone has their own rules. This is my rule.
There must be someone who take beggar as a profession. They are mainly disabled people who cannot make a living. Their life line is maintained by small money people gave them. Typically, I unconditionally support them.
For many other beggars that you have no idea about whether they are truly in need of help or just pretend to be a beggar and take your money, currently I just gave coins without judgement. This seems stupid. I know many times I was cheated, but just according to the story of the movie Eight Below,
it is not about the beggars, it is about you.
Some people have strong rules, like this is very funny:
If they ask for money,
I gave them food;
If they ask for food,
I gave them money
Everyone has their own rules. For the matter of treating beggars, there is no universally correct answer. How someone behave is just how they treat their own lives, instead of the beggars’ lives.
How to Help Them?
Everyone wants to help. The question is, how to help? Giving some coins help (which I usually do), however, is there better ways to help?
I once wrote an entry in February 2005, named Life in a Low Cost Labor World. That is maybe the most criticised article on this blog. I wrote another article to clarify: Helping by Hiring. The point I’d like to make in the second article is,
Simply giving money does not help Ayi who need a job, only by hiring them, and encourage more people to hire them makes lasting and positive impact.
The rule also applies for beggars. There must be better way to help them.
Lend Money to Beggars? Sounds Crazy?
It is announced that these days, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Muhammad Yunus, who did microfinance for the poor, and those who need help. I studied his microfinance bank thoroughly, and found how amazing Muhammad’s idea is.
Muhammad never gave a penny to beggar. This is from a report:
So he never responds when a blind or crippled beggar or a mother cradling her baby holds out a hand for money. “I feel bad – sometimes I feel terrible – that I’m denying the person. But I restrain myself. I never give them anything” Yunus told Reuters in a recent interview at Grameen head office. “I would rather try to solve the problem than just give them a hand and take care of them for the day.”
He thought of the idea to lend (please note: not to give, but just lend) a mobile phone to the beggar, such enable the beggar to ask “Do you need to use a mobile phone?” before he/she ask for money. People can use the mobile phone and pay minimum money. This way, he helped many beggar to stand on their own, make a living and even get to a much better life.
This is the way I really admire and think about.
Coverage of Beggar, and other Dark Side of the City, on this Blog
I talked about beggar in this entry: Crime and Beggars in Shanghai, in which I claimed the even tough problem in Shanghai are the false beggars, or fake beggars who pretend to be beggars.
I was strongly against “No beggars permitted in Metro station” in 2005, but changed my mind one year later.
Again, beggar is not an easy topic to discuss.
In this blog, as everyone may notice (and some complained) that it focuses on Shanghai, especially some good part of it (the beautiful scene of the Bund is one example). This is true, and it is just my life. I don’t shy away to write about it, because one of the three principle for this blog is, “Be Truthful”, which means I don’t write down anything I know is not truth. (If you are interested, the other two principles are: Be Personal, and Show Details.) The light part is just as true as the dark side of a city.