Beggars in China and People’s Attitude

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.

People’s Attitude

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.

18 thoughts on “Beggars in China and People’s Attitude

  1. For the beggers, I do agree writer’s pov: “have respect for people who are down in their life but still doing what they can to survive”, for these ppl, i’m willing to help! however, for some beggers, young and strong, I really look down upon them and not willing to give them any cents.

    25RMB could buy me a good lunch or dinner set! yes, that’s the gap….

  2. Some reasons:

    1) a lot of the beggars now in the streets are forced to do so. Some beggers are organized by the mobsters, the mobs take all the money the beggars get, and just give little food to them. some of them were beaten to be handicapped by the mobs.

    2) some beggars are fake indeed, they change old clothes on to be a beggar. they make money by cheating.(these kind of beggers usually have ability of labor, and photoes were taken to uncover this matter, they can be found through the internet )

    3) some beggars are not good for pity. If you give a beggar 1000RMB, the money is enough for he or she to make his life for about more than two months–during this time he or she can find a job. but you will see him or her somewhere begging just the day after you give him or she the money.

    4) some children were taught to be a beggar, if you have been holden by a 3-5 years old child in the street, you will see that if you don’t give the child a mount of money(usually more than 5 RMB) you can not move on. i think it’s a kind of rob~>_<

    in short, some beggers(maybe the most of them) are not begging money to survive, they are begging more money than they need.

    But, still a lot of the beggers are real ones. we chinese often have some rules to recognize them. in the other side, i was sorry about the way the kids treating the old lady who asked them for the bottles. and i often feel really bad when i see real beggars in my sight, if i got some changes in my pocket i would give them.

    Any way, there is an old saying in china. pathetic men is also hateable somedeal (可怜之人必有可恨之处)


  3. Hi Jianshuo, there must be laws in your country to save and protect the Child beggars. It is really sad to see the poor children being abused.

    Many years ago, I had seen a lot of Child beggars on my first trip to China after finishing high school. It was terrifying when all of them about 10 surrounded me and begged for money, later the hotel security came to the rescue.

    Two years ago in Suzhou, I was told by my Taichi teacher not to give money to beggars, they were not local and some were pick-pockets. Through out my stay in Suzhou for 1 month, I was harassing by the Xinjiang kids or beggars at least 2 times per day, Whenever I need to travel further, my teacher would accompany me. Sometimes, I felt so sorry for them when my teacher was so harsh on them.

    Too bad, I am not the resident here. I really want to help these poor children. Where is the “Muhammad Yunus” of China?? Where are the wealthy men?

    I want to work for them if they are setting up a charity organisation to help the unfortunate. “Give them a fish they eat for a day. Teach them to fish they eat for their whole life”

    Shanghai here I come! May be next year, have to save money for the airticket.

  4. This whole thing is sad. I wonder what the government officials are doing, with all these underweighted kids and adults hovering on the streets, i didn’t even see the government doing anything practical to alter the situation. And also i guess without a nation wide social welfare system, things wouldn’t get any better even if they have a good one in shanghai or suzhou the more developped cities, the homeless or extremely poor from rural areas would soon flood all these places.

  5. I try giving a little help every time when I am approached by a bagger. I must have been cheated a lot of times. It makes me feel sad and even angry sometimes.

    Just last night, I was approached by two young couples carrying a little child. They asked for some money for their supper. I give them a few changes. They asked for more. I give them more. They ask for more again. I told them I have got no more change left. They asked me to take out my wallet and let them have a look. I took it out. There was 10rmb paper bill in it. They ask for it instead of the coins. I gave them the 10 rmb bill and the husband handed me my coins. While I was leaving, the wife asked again, can you give me those coins.

    From the way they spoke, the way they demanded the money, I knew I must have been cheated once again. They must have been able to read my mind to know I would yield to their demand. I really regret giving them money. I should have just taken them to the store and buy them supper and watch them eat it. I feel really sad and angry toward those two couples. It’s them that changed people’s attitude toward beggars.

    I still remember when I was a little child and living in a small villages in north west china, whenever beggars knock on the doors, my mother always managed to give something, even though we are very poor and short of food ourselves. If there is nothing to give, people will always try to invite the beggars into the house and offer some water. But nowadays, knocking on doors randomly in a village will only get the dog out barking at you.

    China used to be a beautiful country to live in.

  6. Hello Jian Shuo,

    My name is Kevin and I am writing to you from the United States (San Antonio, Texas). I am very impressed by your blog! I am 43 years old, married to Priscilla (15 years) and we have two wonderful children, Christian and Hannah. I came across your site because I was searching for an English speaking site based in China. I desire to learn more about China, the people of China, Chinese culture, etc. Some time in the future, when my children are older, my wife and I would love to come to China and spend a month touring the country. My question/comment is related to how to best engage in dialogue with people from China. I will continue to read your blog and post from time to time as well. I believe that such endeavors will only help the relations between our two nations.

    I appreciate your blog. If you have any further advice as to engaging China in dialogue, I would be most appreciative. If you have the time, you can check out my blog as well (It certainly is not as nicely developed as yours, but I am a writer and do enjoy blogging). The site address is below:

    Have a great day!


  7. All folks in China, read the China Daily today !

    Jianshuo and this blog is featured !

    See the last pages, there’s a half page.

    Jianshuo, the last word at all is “Wendy”.

    I think she deserves a more forwarded place in your life…

    I’m in Dalian now, just spended the last 5 days with Xiuying in Shanghai.

    I got the newspaper on FM9191, so I saw your face in that paper !

    If you guys see this issue of China Daily, another article is on the front page and page 5 about health care in China.

    Please think of how the government money is spended in this society !

    By the way, thanks to the Maglev extended hours, I succeeded to catch my plane today ;-)

  8. carsten, thanks for notifying me about the feature. What is the “last word” you mentioned? Didn’t catch your meaning. I didn’t have that newspaper yet, and don’t know how it looks like.

  9. Hi Jian Shuo,

    Thank you for taking your time to write up and share your thoughts with us. I really appreciate your views. Thanks also to the readers who have commented.

    I agree with your point that the issue of how to help homeless population is a complex one. There is no ideal solution because each homeless person’s case is different.

    In the UK, there is a fairly comprehensive social benefit system that, in theory, works well. People with low incomes can claim from a benefit called ‘Income Support’ which is funded by tax payers (i.e., everyone who works in the UK contributes a little to help). In order to claim, they need to prove their income is below the national minimum, and additional information such as why they can’t work. The current rate paid out is 57.45 UK Pound per week, per person – not a lot but enough for the bare necessities to live on.

    In addition to the money from Income support, there are ways to claim additional funds, for example “Job Seeker’s Allowance” is set up to help people get back on their feet by providing money to aid them getting a new job. The person who is claiming this money will need to prove to the government that he is actively seeking a new job, otherwise the payment of the benefit will be terminated. Job Seeker’s Allowance is also 57.45 UK Pound at the current rate.

    For people with special needs – elderly people, very young kids who have lost parents, disabled, pregnant woman etc, there are additional benefit funds and money to increase their income.

    As I said, in theory, this system sounds like a great way of solving the problem, but in reality it can (and is) abused by many who simply are too lazy to work, or for various reasons refuse to work for an income. They have become so dependant on the benefit system that they will often fake medical conditions, lie, or even getting pregnant just to avoid work so they can claim the benefits. They can sit at home, and enjoy the free money. In essence, they are the faking beggars of UK – equivalent of those who fake to beg in China. They both take advantage of people or society’s kindness. I found people like these quite despicable.

    Similarly, there are also young and able-bodied people who beg for extra money on the streets of UK. I usually ignore all these beggars, as I found it morally wrong to provide for them when they can easily provide a living for themselves by working.

    Disabled people usually are very well looked after in the UK, not only they can claim benefit from the government, many services, such as bus and train companies, also provide discounts for them. There are laws that protect them from getting unfair treatments (for example a computer software company can’t refuse to hire a person because he has to use a wheelchair to get to work). I think as a group, the disabled are much better off in UK than in China.

    For those who genuinely needs help, I tend to give them help unconditionally, whether be it buying them dinner or give out money (I prefer providing food rather than money).

    I applaud the way Muhammad Yunus helps people, but I can’t agree on his view of absolutely not giving out money whatever the case – sometimes people needs more immediate help. For example, what’s the use of giving a weakened elderly person who is severely dehydrated a mobile phone and ask him to hire it out? Not only he will become an easy target for robbery (a mobile will be a nice thing for yobs to have), he would benefit from a bottle of water or money to buy water a lot more than a long term scheme. In this way Muhammad Yunus is just as short sighted as those who only give out money. I believe a combination of his plan, plus in certain cases, more immediate help is the better method. The actual form of helping will need to be decided on individual case bases rather than a blanket style ‘one for all’ kind of approach.

    In the long term, offer employment to those who can work, and provide the minimum living standard to those who can’t work sounds like a good plan. I totally agree with you Jian Shuo, on employing A’Yi rather than just offering her money. This would be what I’d do as well. I believe in people should work for what they earn.

    That’s why I have so much respect for those who struggles forward despite the hardship – the street musician who plays Er’hu, the man who collects bottles and cans for recycling, the little old ladies who sells flower bunches outside the underground tube stations. (Are those flower bunches 玉兰花? This really brings back memories as I remember my grandma used to wear them when I was a kid living in Shanghai. The flowers can’t sell for that much, 1, maybe 2RMB each? Watching their old, fragile stance sitting on little stools brought up emotions I had with my past which I thought had been long lost. Sometimes I buy a few bunches off them – offering them the money, keep one then just return the flower to them so they can sell them again. Maybe I’m just getting too nostalgic? The passing of some of the old ways of how people lived in China is saddening as they are my only connection to my past).

    Are there any organizations, privately funded or sponsored by the government that looks after homeless people in China? In the UK there are charities such as Oxfam, Help the Aged etc that volunteers run to help those in need. I’d love to join as a volunteer to help out in China too on my travels.

    Again, thanks for proving a space for us to discuss thought provoking topics.

  10. What are the Maglev’s new service hours? Maybe I can actually use it next time I visit.


  11. >Do you, or have you done anything personally to give them a little help?

    Sounds like Jian Shuo should take responsibility to those homeless people, I guess he wishes, but he just can’t afford to do that by himself. It’s not Jian Shuo or any other individual’s fail, it’s government’s.

    If one in 100 people is poor, everyone else would like to help, but if 30-40 people are poor, the rest of people are likely not to help, or just can’t help.

    It can be totally another story about the rude keens mentioned in your email, they just reflects another government’s big fail: education.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, I’ve come up with a chinese translation for this great post, I just hope more people know how many strange things happening daily in china but people just well trained to ignore all that facts.

    Chinese translation at:

  12. I applaud the way Muhammad Yunus helps people, but I can’t agree on his view of absolutely not giving out money whatever the case – sometimes people needs more immediate help. For example, what’s the use of giving a weakened elderly person who is severely dehydrated a mobile phone and ask him to hire it out? Not only he will become an easy target for robbery (a mobile will be a nice thing for yobs to have), he would benefit from a bottle of water or money to buy water a lot more than a long term scheme. In this way Muhammad Yunus is just as short sighted as those who only give out money. I believe a combination of his plan, plus in certain cases, more immediate help is the better method. The actual form of helping will need to be decided on individual case bases rather than a blanket style ‘one for all’ kind of approach.

  13. im from a nearby country here in southeast asia..and just like you..our countries biggest problem are the beggars…….. media even called them “the poorest of the poor.” needless to compelled most of the time to give some money especially to the very old..but restraint from giving money to children for the reason that theres always a crook behind them, but not all…my reason for this parent of such a child could allow this small angels to roam around the streets…not to mention the danger they pose on themselves, so there must be a crooked parents or a mobster , behind..after reading all this blog by accident ….i played a scene in my mind..what if my government relocate this homeless beggar to one of our islands that need people, of course this island is promsing in the sense that its near the ocean, and fishing would be good way for themto start, however not everyone has a talent for fishing but if you need to survive, you have to learn..the island can offer them a respite from the dirty place they are used to…from them a new breed of generation would surface, people who had survive and who had reinvent themselves, the question is how many among them is willing to do it..or are they lure to the easy(small money that the civilized city accorded them)…my thoughts sometimes is, being a beggar is more of a choice…..unless you are someone very old, and your family have turn their backs on you…then you are a beggar not only for money, but from love..therefore it is not money that brings forth this beggar on the street…it is a lack of love from someone, or anyone higher who failed to give the simplest thing in this world..and that is LOVE.

  14. Having just returned from my trip to China and Hong Kong, I am shocked by the number of beggars that have obviously been disabled by thugs / gangs. I am chinese but live in the UK. Every 4 years I return to China and Hong Kong and I am even more shocked that nothing has been done about this in this time. I have ‘researched’ the subject of Chinese Disabled Beggars with my relatives, both young and very old. It is their belief that these people were sold when they were children. The parents have been duped to think that they’ve sold their child to a factory boss when infact he is part of a gang that ‘recruits’ children for begging. To ensure maximum sympathy, these children are beaten half to death and have either a limb or two cut off or have bones broken and reset in a deformed / twisted position. To see an elderly gentleman, probably in his 80’s begging with both his legs twisted around his back and the heels of his feet touching his shoulders on a makeshift skateboard is heart wrenching. To think that he has probably been begging all his life for these gangs. How scared must he had been when he was ‘sold’? How much pain did he go through when they broke both of his legs and tied them behind his back? Please take a minute to think about this. I am asking you to think about this as whilst I saw this elderly man, who never looked up always looking down at his plastic bowl to collect money, at least several hundred people passed him from all walks of life, the young, the old, the rich and the poor. Many tourists also walked past with just a fleeting glance. Not one person actually paid attention to him it was as if he was invisible. You know, this person was once a bouncing baby, a child that laughed and played, a person that has emotions. Why is it that because his is a disabled beggar he becomes invisible? Is everyone scared to go near him? I bet that this elderly gentleman has had no one even speak to him for decades and in the evening, he is spoken to by his thug for the money in return for half a bowl of rice, enough to keep him alive for another day’s begging and beaten daily. If this was you and the whole world turned a blind eye, how would you feel? If you saw this person in your UK or USA high street begging for money, you wouldn’t turn a blind eye would you, you would help him. This beggar still has feelings and this beggar is still a person. I am so angry that the chinese government turn a blind eye too. Until approximately 10-12 years ago child abuse in the UK was also ignored until one person recognised the extent of this and did something about it. Nowadays in the UK, child abuse is taken so seriously that even teachers can’t check childrens heads for lice. OK this is going a bit far but for all of you posting messages on this site, why can’t WE ALL collectively do something about this. I don’t know the answer but I do know that if I was a millionaire / wealthy businesman, I would use all the money and have the disabled beggars kidnapped from the streets of China / Hong Kong and have them put in a safe ‘nursing’ home in the UK where they would be fed and looked after around the clock. If anyone out there reading this think they can make a change, please please please let me know. As I said earlier, I don’t know what the answer is but the answer is to not continue to turn a blind eye. Thank you for reading.

  15. The peoples want keep to great treat of with another. So that avoids to offensive attitude and control to his abuse. Some people want to present with great treat.

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  16. Hi!Jian Shuo!I am a high school student. Now I am doing a investgation about beggars.So I have to read a lot of informations about beggars.I have already read your article.I think your opinions are very good.It helps me a lot.As I have to do this investgation for six months may be I need your help.I am sure you will be happy to help with me.

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