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Shanghai targets ‘phony’ beggars

Sun., Sept. 25, 2005, midnight

SHANGHAI, China – Find it hard telling needy beggars from the swindlers? Shanghai’s new manual tells you how.

The illustrated guide, “Recognizing Phonies,” lists popular scams, including women faking pregnancies, 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.

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. “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 civil problems including traffic congestion, crime and dirty streets.

In Shanghai, beggars are regularly shouted at and sometimes shoved out of the way by busy commuters.


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