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Shanghai publishes guide to spot beggars
Updated: 2005-09-25 10:20

Find it hard telling needy beggars from the swindlers? Shanghai's new manual tells you how.

The illustrated guide, "Recognizing Phonies," lists popular scams, from women faking pregnancies, to counterfeit monks and bogus students asking for tuition help.

"Amid the great army of city vagrants, there is a cadre of professional beggars who prey on the sympathies of citizens," reads the manual, issued last month by the city's Civil Affairs Bureau.

"There isn't a trick they won't try," it adds above a drawing of a kindly looking elderly couple forking over cash to a grinning scam artist.

A Chinese man walks past a beggar sleeping on the street in Beijing. [Reuters/file]
A Chinese man walks past a beggar sleeping on the street in Beijing. [Reuters/file]
The guide is just one of the ways in which Shanghai and other cities in the country's booming east are struggling to cope with an influx of beggars and vagrants following a 2003 decision to eliminate police powers to detain them.

The effort's primary result has been to stretch already scarce social services to the breaking point and stir resentment among city dwellers.

Shanghai officials say they are trying to improve a system of voluntary aid centers to help the homeless with immediate needs and send them safely home. Helping out with a little change is not a bad thing either, they say.

"We don't want to discourage people from helping beggars," said an official with the Civil Affairs Bureau, who like many Chinese government officials, asked that he only be identified by his surname, Ding. "We just want to make sure they don't get tricked and end up helping a cheat."

But the manual also reflects common Shanghainese suspicions and prejudices about people from China's rural areas, blamed here for everything from traffic congestion to crime and dirty streets.

Shanghai's gleaming skyscrapers and designer-clad shoppers are a world away from the underdevelopment and poverty of the vast rural regions. 

In Shanghai, beggars are regularly shouted at and sometimes shoved out of the way by busy commuters. Newspapers carry accounts of wealthy panhandlers who take taxis to work and entire villages whose residents fan out across the country to beg on city streets.

But many more of Shanghai's beggars are like Mr. Liu, a grizzled old man who sits each morning on a highway overpass, tooting occasionally on a flute and collecting change in a tin can.

"I'm not trying to fool anyone," said Liu, who would only give his surname. "I've got a sick wife and son at home."

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