Awkward beggars

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2005, 12:00am

Shanghai is testing out a new set of tactics to manage its vast army of beggars, telling citizens it's all right to be sympathetic but warning them to look out for frauds. A booklet just published by the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau identifies seven types of 'fake beggars', who pretend to be destitute to fleece the unwary.

Such people are actually professional beggars who tell sob stories using 'tears and nasal mucus' as their weapons, the booklet cautions. Authorities said all seven are based on real cases:

Type 1 - The pregnant mother. Typically a young woman in her early 20s who stuffs a pillow inside oversized garments to fake the belly of an expectant mother. She tells passers-by her husband is dead, sick or disabled.

Type 2 - The student. Usually a young person who says his or her family has run out of money to pay tuition. They offer fake student ID or a false notice of acceptance from a university as evidence.

Type 3 - The physically disabled. Usually 'healthy men', they tie one leg to their body to give the appearance of missing a limb, and wear long pants to emphasise the empty leg.

Type 4 - The relative searcher. An elderly woman who stands near the entrance of the subway station saying she has come to the big city to visit relatives, but has misplaced their address. She typically targets young women, asking for money for food.

Type 5 - Orphans. Teenagers, sometimes working in pairs, cry and tell stories about losing their parents.

Type 6 - Mourners. Typically two young people or a parent and child, they hold a picture of a 'dead' relative and bow their heads to the pavement, asking for money for the funeral.

Type 7 - Monks and nuns. Dressed in traditional Buddhist robes, they work singly or in groups asking for alms. Old people with religious beliefs are most vulnerable to the pleas, but the monks and nuns are not actually affiliated with any temple.

Focusing on frauds neglects the very real problem of the people who have been left behind by the mainland's economic boom. As for real beggars, Shanghai cautions against blindly offering them food or money, saying it is better to let the government handle the problem. The civil affairs bureau recommends calling city authorities, to let them take beggars and homeless people to aid stations.

Shanghai took nearly 34,000 vagrants and beggars - including 1,000 children - into custody from August 2003 to December last year. This booklet is just another way for Shanghai - keen to show itself as an 'international city' - to put the problem out of sight.