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UPDATED: October 6, 2014 NO. 41 OCTOBER 9, 2014
How Many Beggars Are Truly in Need?


Recently, there have been a number of reports on China's "professional beggars"—those who beg for a living during the day, and then spend their earnings at nice restaurants or out shopping in the evening. This lifestyle can sometimes yield more money per month than an ordinary white-collar salary, as it was reported that in one of Beijing's railway stations, a regular beggar could earn enough money to afford to send 10,000 yuan ($1,630) back home every month.

Reports like this have understandably angered many, especially those with a tendency to help beggars in public places. Their sympathy has potentially been taken advantage of by swindlers, and thus they may decide not to offer money to any beggars in the future.

Of course, few beggars are professional ones. Many do need help, and beg due to various difficulties. If passers-by begin refusing to donate to beggars just because a few are preying on public sympathy, those who are really struggling will suffer the most.

As for what individuals and the government should do about this issue, commentators have offered up several different opinions:

Stricter regulation

Qu Zhengzhou (Huashang Morning Post): Professional beggars take advantage of people's sympathy by cheating them. To help the needy is a deed that deserves praise. But when ugly things like this are exposed to the public, people become more cautious and refrain from donating—even to the beggars who legitimately need help. As a result, the atmosphere of indifference increases throughout society.

Sympathetic people still wishing to help beggars in need must learn to tell the real beggars from the "professional" ones, the latter trampling their own dignity while deceiving others. Meanwhile, it's important to develop an effective supervisory and monitoring system to crack down on those beggars taking advantage of kind-hearted people. Swindling money could allow for them to be punished in accordance with the law. Professional begging is an ugly phenomenon that should be eliminated.

Wang Changlian (www.gmw.cn): Professional beggars tend to gather in railway stations, subways and other public places, blocking foot traffic and affecting public security. The number of professional beggars seems to be on the rise, as those who are unable or unwilling to work now have a convenient alternative. Thus, this issue poses an urgent question to urban administrators: How can they strengthen the supervision and management of this group?

Begging exists in countries around the world, both developed and otherwise, and many complicated and difficult choices lead people to beg. Some do so because they are incapable of working due to a disability or protracted illness; some because they are alone, without a family to support them; some because they are too old to make money doing traditional work—the list goes on. Meanwhile, there are also people who are more than capable of working to support themselves, but choose not to do so. In this way, begging becomes their "profession."

This damages a city's image. It is on the government to take action and help those in real need. The Central Government has long adopted administrative measures on assisting vagrants and beggars in cities. These measures must be implemented to the letter. It's as difficult, however, for urban administrators as it is for passers-by to tell professional beggars from the real ones.

Professional beggars are not only cheating people out of money and taking advantage of people's kindness, they are also stealing limited aid resources from those who are truly struggling to survive. We need a wide-reaching law to regulate this situation, so that good deeds no longer pad pockets.

Wu Xiaowei (www.gmw.cn): I can't help but ask: How can a professional beggar manage to earn more than 10,000 yuan in a month? The answer: easily. Typical methods used include all kinds of tricks, from pretending to be disabled or gravely ill to forcing children to sit alongside them and beg. The professionals are so good at acting, in fact, that most people can't tell whether or not they are really in need. Thus, reports like the ones coming out recently tend to turn people away from donating to beggars at all.

It is important to remember that some people do slip into deep poverty because they are disabled or their families suffer from immense health or economic problems. Begging becomes the only viable choice, and they must rely on the kindness of others to help them survive. The fact that people show sympathy to beggars illustrates how much our society takes care of its disadvantaged.

However, when someone begging on the street brandishes a brand-name cellphone or is seen depositing lots of cash at a bank, people begin to lose trust. It is not just the feeling of being cheated; many realize their sympathy was for naught. If there comes a day, sometime in the future, where no one will any longer believe a beggar's story, this will prove disastrous to the ill and impoverished. Professional beggars are damaging age-old societal goodwill. Therefore, we must find a way to control this kind of behavior.

More tolerance

Liao Dekai (China Youth Daily): If vagrants and beggars can manage to survive in a city thanks to people's kindness alone, then that is truly a "loving" city. Cities everywhere should show more tolerance toward these helpless people.

Developing a certain understanding of what leads people to beg and the ways in which they raise enough money to survive is something a city must learn. Some places treat the issue too lightly, by simply setting up "begging forbidden" areas within the city limits. This is not an effective way to solve the problem for the needy. If beggars are driven away from one community, they will move to another.

In crowded places, there are more opportunities to receive money. As long as begging does not interfere with the normal social order, urban administrators and the public should not treat it as a nuisance. If you feel like giving them money, you can; if you don't, that's also all right. China's laws and regulations encourage and support social organizations and individuals who help vagrants and beggars. People's kindness toward these disadvantaged people is immensely valued. Therefore, no one should be discouraged from offering assistance to beggars just because a small few are disingenuous.

Bi Xiaozhe (www.gmw.cn): When it was revealed that some professional beggars can earn more than 10,000 yuan a month, people developed a misunderstanding toward begging as a whole. In reality, only a few seem to be using "begging" as a way to make easy money.

Many beggars do need help. Desperately. Reports of professional beggars could destroy the lives of those in real need, as more people will potentially choose not to give money to anyone on the street, regardless.

The media should therefore be more cautious in airing reports of professional beggars. Before there is a proper method to separate those truly impoverished people from those who simply choose not to work, it is to the benefit of a kind-hearted society not to make a fuss about individual beggars' wealth.

Until begging is no longer necessary for some to make a living in our society, it will be an unavoidable and potentially divisive issue. At present, you might miss the opportunity to help someone in dire need just because of a couple of isolated reports.

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