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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 15:24 GMT
Shanghai police call for beggar taskforce

Tim Luard
BBC News Online

Shanghai is considering setting up a special taskforce to control its huge numbers of homeless people and beggars.

It is a problem China's largest city was famous for in its wild pre-communist days when it was known by such names as the City of Adventurers or Paris of the East.

child migrant at Shanghai railway station
Shanghai has a floating population of three million migrants
Stark divisions between rich and poor have reappeared now that Shanghai is leading the way in the revival of no-holds-barred capitalism espoused by today's Chinese leadership.

"We are coping with an increasing army of beggars on the streets of Shanghai," senior police officer Pan Zihan was quoted as saying by the Shanghai Daily newspaper.

Police have asked the city government to set up a new team to deal with the problem, made up of officers from the Public Security Bureau and officials from the Civil Affairs Bureau and the Construction and Management Commission, said the paper.

Part of the problem stems from the large number of migrants coming from rural areas to the city in search of work. Many end up begging on the streets.

China's migrant population is currently put at 130 million, including 50 million registered as temporary residents in urban areas.

Shanghai, with a total population of nine million, has a floating population of some three million migrants.

Until recently, police in China tended to give beggars short shrift - either arresting or deporting them to their home provinces or simply chasing them away from main streets and busy stations.

Welfare centres
You can't walk down the street without being accosted by lots of people, young and old, asking for money
Shanghai resident

But new rules governing police behaviour came into force in August after a national scandal over the fate of a young graduate, Sun Zhigang, who was detained as a vagrant and beaten to death in official custody.

Under the new regulations, arrest or forced deportation of beggars is illegal. Those who cannot afford a ticket home must be given a certificate to cover the cost of the trip by train or bus.

Police are also obliged to help anyone who is homeless or disabled and any wandering children and elderly people and send them to welfare centres, where they are entitled to free food and shelter for limited periods.

The more generous treatment is said to have encouraged even more people to try begging for a living.

"You can't walk down the street without being accosted by lots of people, young and old, asking for money," one resident told BBC News Online.

Articles in the state-run media have been complaining that beggars have become more "presumptuous" and often pretend to be what they are not

Fakes

Criminal gangs press young and economically disadvantaged children to beg in exchange for food, room and board, said one report.

Shanghai skyline
How the city would like to be seen - "clean, modern and civilised"
Disabled children are being "taken care" of by a boss beggar who uses a taxi to send them out onto the streets and pick them up after a 12-hour shift, said another.

The former detention system should not have been abolished until a workable new system had been set up, said Zhang Henian, a researcher with the Population Institute of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

"It's such a big issue in China because of the huge size of the floating population. You can't say we will improve it by looking at it on a day-to-day basis. It's been too sudden and there should have been a better designed system ready to start," he said.

The city government says it is aware of the scale of the problem and is working on measures to deal with it.

"We need to learn from the successful experiences of cities in other countries facing similar issues. But we also need to proceed according to China's specific conditions and laws," Shanghai government spokeswoman Jiao Yang told the BBC.

China's richest cities often display big posters with slogans extolling their desire to be "clean, modern and civilised".

"It sounds as if this taskforce is part of that trend," said Louise Beynon, an anthropologist based in China for the past ten years.

"The authorities have a sterile vision of modernity, and want to sweep away anything they regard as 'dirty' - including street stalls and beggars, " she said.




SEE ALSO:
China calls for migrant back-pay
25 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Legal aid for China's workers
05 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
China boosts migrant protection
23 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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