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Georgia Institute of Technology

New Year's pictures (nianhua), a form of Chinese folk art primarily used as wall decorations and on calendars, often have as their subject matter daily life, customs, and folkways. In the 1920s, a series of New Year's pictures entitled "360 walks of life" (360 hang) were issued in Shanghai. Each picture in the series was an image of a profession or job, and the artists tried to draw hundreds of such pictures to illustrate the "360 walks of life," meaning, "every walk of life" or "all professions."

A beggar was one of the subjects in the series. Contrary to the common image of beggars as wretched-looking tramps dressed in rags, the series presented a gentry-like old man attired in a long gown with decorations on the front, wearing a skullcap and cloth shoes; there was not a single patch on his apparel. Why did the artist chose to portray the beggar in this way? It was, obviously, not because of the nature of New Year's pictures, in which an artist may sometimes artificialize a subject to meet people's concern that everything associated with the New Year be auspicious. The whole series was for the purpose of collection, and was plainly drawn, in a realistic style. A number of characters in the series, such as the pear seller and the goldleaf maker, appeared in patchy clothes and looked poorer than the beggar.(1)

The picture of beggar, perhaps unintentionally, reveals some important but overlooked aspects of the urban poor. If street beggars in China were a group comparable to hobos, tramps or homeless people in America, then, Chinese beggars drew less public attention and social concern than did their American counterparts, but provoked more "imagination" in culture (or, more specifically, in folklore). Scholars in America have used terms such as the "truly disadvantaged," the "dispossessed," the "Underclass," and so on, to refer to inner city urban poor.(2) While these terms might well fit conventional images of street people in China, they cannot convey some important components of the Chinese beggars' life and their ambiguous social status.(3)

This essay starts with an analysis of mendicancy as a competitive urban profession in modern Shanghai,(4) a city that had one of the nation's largest armies of street beggars. This is followed by a glimpse of the rich variety of public views on mendicancy that, taken together, formed what might be called a culture on poverty.(5) Most of the public views and images of beggars were skillfully exploited by the beggars themselves to develop begging tactics and techniques. This in turn affected the image of beggars in the public's eyes. Finally, by examining the relations between the state and vagrants, I wish to suggest that the absence of state intervention in the beggars' world brought forth begging rackets and politics. Beggars organized and governed themselves to achieve some degree of control over competition and to establish social order among themselves. In this respect, beggar society was not unlike other social groups in China, such as trade organizations, native place associations (tongxiang hui), professional societies, and the like, which existed to secure some degree of autonomy in their own domains in order to help with their members' success - or in some cases, sheer survival - in an increasingly competitive urban world.


Chinese beggars were associated with or referred to as liumin ("floating people") or youmin ("wandering people"). In casual use, these words overlapped to mean "vagrants" or "vagabonds." These terms started to be used no later than the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D.220). Most of the people so described had been peasants driven by catastrophes (such as natural disasters and wars) in their native places to leave home in search of richer or safer areas.(6) However, there were subtle distinctions between the two. Liumin refers to vagrants but implies a tide of refugees which arises suddenly and on a large scale, and to people who have no choice but to flee their homes. As quickly as liumin tide arose, when trouble subsided, the tide receded and most of those who had fled returned to their homes. The liumin tide could also include seasonal beggars who regularly, almost as if on schedule, poured into cities from poor rural areas.(7) However, for various reasons, part of the liumin chose or were forced to choose vagrancy as a way of life and became so-called "wandering people" (youmin). Thus, when serious liumin problems evaporated, the youmin phenomenon lingered.(8)

While beggars were related to these groups, they were distinguishable as what could be called a recognized urban-based profession. Beggars, in particular professional beggars, took up residence in an urban setting, and became part of the on-going urban scene. In his research on the rural economy of Jiangsu in the late Qing, David Faure has noted the difference between youmin and beggars: youmin were a "perpetual phenomenon in 19th century China," and the term itself implied that the people so referred to "did not have a steady position" and "did not belong to the city." "Beggars, like all professions," on the other hand, were recognized by the state as part of the settled urban population and "could be banded into pao-chia [baojia] under a beggar chief."(9) William Rowe notes the same sort of phenomenon in Hankou.(10) Apparently, by the nineteenth century, Chinese beggars had long been regarded as part of the urban community. According to a Qing administrative regulation, each professional beggar was to be registered under the baojia system and issued an identification board by county yamen. Beggars were required to carry the identification board at all times; the purpose seemed to prevent wandering people from other areas mixing with the beggars.(11) Although we do not know if this regulation was actually carried out or, if it was, how effective it was, the rule itself indicates that beggars were considered by the authorities as a part of the city population.(12)

The beggars in Republican Shanghai were viewed by the city's Chinese authorities not only as part of the youmin problem but the worst type of youmin because these people were not temporarily out of their home villages but had become permanent vagabonds in the city.(13) These vagabonds were mostly unskilled, illiterate, and at the beginning found themselves total strangers in the city. A survey on 1,471 vagabonds conducted by the Shanghai Municipal Social Bureau in 1929 identified 818 of them or 60 percent of the people under the survey as illiterate.(14) An investigation conducted in 1933 of 700 professional beggars in Shanghai found that most of them were rural immigrants and about a quarter of them were driven directly by natural disasters and others by war, banditry, bankruptcy, unemployment, disability, dysfunctional family, and so on.(15) Earlier, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of China (Zhonghua hunu jiezhi xiehui), a Shanghai-based Christian organization that was active in creating social relief programs, reported that there were five major causes of begging in China, all of which were quite consistent with the 1933 survey: natural disasters; civil war; handicaps and disease; bad habits; family heritage.(16) Driven by various reasons, these people became street beggars.

Although according to conventional wisdom becoming a street beggar signalled an obvious failure in life, I wish to emphasize that mendicancy was nevertheless a job option for the poor. This is why many beggars were found among family members of rickshaw pullers, unskilled workers, peddlers, and other low-income occupations. Here mendicancy was a job and a way to supplement family income. Here beggars were not, as they were commonly presumed, homeless people or people who had lost all family ties.(17) It was observed that Chinese beggars did not resent being called "poor people" (qiong ren), but one had to be "very careful" not to use the word "beggar" to address them, "for many of them resent very much being called 'beggar' for they claim that they are not beggars, but that they are only poor people, using this means of getting a little of something to enable them . . . to live." This resentment was caused by, according to one explanation, the general assumption that "the beggar had no home and no family ties . . . whereas the poor man had some place to call home and some family ties."(18) Of course, family and kinship ties were exceedingly important in the Chinese tradition, although in modern China "the line between extreme poverty and beggary is frequently so narrow that the passage from one to the other is an exceedingly easy one."(19)

Mendicancy was thus frequently a method for the urban poor to eke out an existence in the city. In China's chaotic modern period, even skilled workers sometimes became street beggars. For instance, during the Sino-Japanese War when the Japanese occupied Shanghai's Jiangnan Shipyard, many skilled workers left the shipyard, partly being forced out, partly out of patriotism. These workers made their living in the city by various means, of which the most common were street peddlers, garbage gleaners (gleaning trash for something to sell), rickshaw pullers, and so on; a number of them simply earned a living by begging.(20) But there was mobility in the other direction also. Some thrifty and shrewd beggars were able to save enough capital to open their own businesses such as a sesame-cake store or a barber shop, or to become street peddlers selling small commodities such as sweet potatoes or fried dough sticks. Some beggars managed to spin yarn or make toys at home to sell. When business was bad, they returned to street begging.(21)

According to the 1933 survey of the previous occupations and incomes of 700 beggars, the great majority (over 77 percent) had an occupation prior to becoming beggars. In the process of losing or giving up one's previous occupation to become a beggar, there was no "grace period" (such as being unemployed). Because of the low income of these occupations, the investigators explained, these people "had been almost as poor as beggars, and once there was an incident in their lives they simply became beggars."(22)

Well over a quarter of the beggars came directly from peasantry; many of the other occupations listed were also rural-based. But the beggars of Shanghai could not be described as just a group of former farmers. One is struck by the great variety of the beggars' previous callings: not only unskilled laborers became beggars, but what might be described as elite occupations such as doctors, school teachers, private advisors (shiye), and shopkeepers were also on the list.

Another survey on Shanghai beggars (conducted in 1927) highlighted the complexity of beggars in so far as their background is concerned. Of the 122 beggars surveyed, 11 had been unskilled workers, 10 had been farmers, and 10 had been cart or rickshaw pullers. The remainder ranged from personal servants, bricklayers and snake hunters, to policemen and merchants.(23) Although beggars came from a wide variety of walks of life, most had been poor before slipping into beggary. According to the 1933 survey mentioned above, before becoming beggars, the average monthly income of those surveyed had been $9.68 ($10.28 for men, and $7.40 women). By comparison, the survey found that the average monthly income by begging was about $4.(24) This figure may not necessarily indicate a decrease in real income, because the food, clothing and other daily necessities of beggars came entirely from alms - i.e., on top of the $4 in cash. In addition, while a beggar's previous occupation was a one person's job, begging was frequently an entire family's business, which means the $4 income could be multiplied by family members who were begging. Indeed, women and children were found to earn more alms than adult males, because of the general sympathy toward female and child beggars.(25) Under the circumstances, being a beggar represented no significant slip in income. As we shall see, in some cases beggars earned much more than four silver dollars a month. Mendicancy in fact could be remarkably profitable.


Poor Creatures

In Shanghai as elsewhere in the world, beggars were commonly regarded as the utterly destitute. An old popular saying in China paired death with begging: "[in human life] There is no catastrophe except death, one cannot be poorer than a beggar."(26) Such a dim view of beggars combined with the ubiquity of mendicancy in Shanghai led the creation of a local name for "beggar," a name which soon become common throughout the country.

There is more than one Chinese word for "beggar." Qigai, a rather literary term, was often found in formal writings.(27) A much more commonly used term was, and remains, taofan (begging for food, or more specifically, begging for rice). Beggars were also commonly called "jiao huazi" or "huazi," a name which originated in Beijing and other North China cities.(28) In the early twentieth-century, Shanghai produced a new word for beggar, biesan, which, like many other terms that emerged in the city, had its origin in pidgin English. "Empty cents" was an expression created by Shanghai compradores to mean "one who has no money." Through mispronunciation, the word "empty" became "biede," "cents" became "shengsi," and "empty cents" became "biede shengsi," which, in Shanghai, connoted that "there is not a single penny in one's pocket." The expression "biede shengsi" was simplified into "biesan" which simply meant beggar.(29)

Here, the first character, "bie," means shrivelled and blighted, and the second character, "san" (three), was often used in slang to refer to vulgar figures.(30) Once combined, these two originally unrelated characters convey a graphic image of a wretched-looking tramp who lives by begging or stealing. The term was soon current nationwide. Mao Zedong once (in 1942) used the term as a figure of speech to criticize stereotyped Party writing (or dang ba gu, the "Party eight-legged essay") that was in fashion among Communist cadres in Yan'an. Mao remarked that the drab writing "reminds one of a piehsan [biesan]. Like our stereotyped Party writing, the creatures known in Shanghai as 'little piehsan [biesan] ' are wizened and ugly. If an article or a speech merely rings the changes on a few terms in a classroom tone without a shred of vigor or spirit, is it not rather like a piehsan [biesan], drab of speech and repulsive in appearance?"(31) Mao's satiric tone reflected the power of a popular image: the stereotype of the urban poor in the mindset of this great revolutionary was virtually no different from that held by the public.(32)

Cunning "Parasites"

The popular image of Shanghai's beggars was, to say the least, complicated, even contradictory. According to conventional wisdom, beggars were utterly destitute, but they were also frequently perceived as cunning and brassy people who took advantage of human compassion to make a fortune. This view of beggars had a long history elsewhere in China? but the prosperity of Shanghai and the fact that it was "full to the brim" with beggars made this uncharitable sentiment especially strong and common. Such a feeling was found prior to Shanghai becoming the leading metropolis of the country, and it continued into the twentieth century.

In 1842, right after the Opium War, during which the city was occupied by British troops, a scholar, Lin Yuancun, observed a group of beggars who lived in a temple near his home inside the old walled city of Shanghai. Lin observed that all the beggars he saw dressed in silk and wore boots. A pavilion attached to the temple was used by beggars as a place for gambling, and rice, woodchips, coal, silk, clothes, and bedsets were "piled up there like hills." While adult beggars were gambling, "child beggars attended wine jars and three big cooking pots, from which wafted the delicious aroma of hams, dog meat, edible seaweed, chickens and ducks." Around the same time, another Shanghai resident, Zhu Ye, observed a group of beggars who lived in Dongjiadu, a ferry place south to the walled city. The living conditions of the beggars that Zhu observed were similar to those observed by Lin, except that Zhu noted that the beggars had all types of fine tables and chairs, and had a mechanical clock, which was surely a luxury at that time.(34)

The wealth of the beggars could have been a result of the war; that is, the beggars might have taken advantage of the chaos created by the foreign invasion (say, to steal or to rob). But the county seat of Shanghai was a wealthy and prosperous commercial center in the Qing period, and this had made the walled city a favorite place for begging long before the Republican period. After the Taiping Rebellion, Shanghai became viewed as a land of opportunity - opportunity for everyone. Precisely because of the popular notion that beggars were utterly poor, they were used as a powerful example to illustrate "rags to riches" transformations. A late nineteenth century poem entitled "Oh, Shanghai is good" described thirty different aspects of life in Shanghai, of which one reads:

Oh, Shanghai is good!

You worry about being rich but not being poor.

Great savings and fortune can be lost suddenly

while a street beggar may become a new person beyond your recognition.

- (the rich and the poor) are same: human beings!(35)

Such dramatic social mobility was not merely poetic; as we have noted, well off beggars were frequently observed in the city. Xu Ke, a Shanghai-based scholar, wrote in the early Republican period: "It is common that beggars are unable to get enough to eat after they have dried and exhausted their mouths by begging on the streets. But this cannot apply to the beggars of Shanghai. . . . The daily income of those canny beggars of Shanghai is more than double that of ordinary coolies." Xu also recorded some street scenes that were similar to what Lin described: beggars sitting on the roadside, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, beside a stove and cooking utensils with fresh cooked foods - chicken, hams, beancurd - in front of them. Such picnic type of roadside eating led Xu to comment that Shanghai's beggars were only poor in housing and clothing but their daily diet might have been better than that of an average Shanghai family.(36)

Xu's observations were echoed by his contemporaries. An article solicited by Shanghai zhoubao (Shanghai weekly) on the topic of various aspects of winter life in Shanghai reported the beggars who roamed around the area of the Temple of the City God (Chenghuangmiao) inside the old Chinese city were the "most joyful among Shanghai's beggars." On normal days, the candles and food for sacrifice brought by pilgrims became the income and food of beggars. On festival days and in winter when the old city was a resort for shopping and entertainment (such as listening to Suzhou story tellers in teahouses or eating winter specialities in the old city's famous restaurants), beggars wheedled delicacies from pilgrims and stole wallets in the crowd. "When evening is approaches, these biesan gather in a broken-down house behind the City God's Temple where they sit in a circle around a fire made of straw, and drink wine and eat pork. After drinking, they sing songs . . . then they break into groups - three to five persons in each group - to play poker until midnight"(37) This was observed more than ninety years after Lin Yuancun watched beggars in roughly the same spot.

A Cantonese published an article in 1920 in the journal of a Cantonese native place association in Shanghai, attacking his fellow provincials who begged on Shanghai's streets in order to earn a "living without working." The author wrote indignantly: "Beggars are poor creatures in the world and we ought to have sympathy for them. If we do not have compassion for them, we should still not have the heart to attack in the least. But I was astonished to find that . . . although these people dress in rags and look extremely poor and sad, their daily expenses for 'white rice']food] and 'black rice' [opium] are no less than a silver dollar or so, which is in fact the same as that of the middle class." In another example, a beggar told a reporter in 1926 that from Chinese New Year's Day to the Lantern Festival, and on the first and fifteenth days of each lunar month (traditional dates for pilgrimages), he could get at least three silver dollars a day by begging in the downtown area of Shanghai's old Chinese city. Other days during the year, his daily income from begging was over one silver dollar.(38) These figures were quite consistent with Xu Ke's estimation that Shanghai beggars' daily income was about one silver dollar.(39) By comparison, the average monthly wage for a factory worker in the textile industry (which was the largest industry of Shanghai) at that time was about 10-15 silver dollars, barely half of a beggar's monthly income.(40) How is one to reconcile this with the average income of $4 mentioned in the 1933 survey discussed above?

First, it may be unrealistic to speak of an "average" beggar. For instance, the Cantonese mendicants begged mainly in North Sichuan Road and Wuchang Road in Hongkou (which had the largest Cantonese community in Shanghai), and the Cantonese were a relatively rich group in the city. The downtown area of the old Chinese city was a resort for Buddhist and Taoist pilgrims and consequently a favorite place for begging, and the area around the Temple of the City God's Temple - the haunt of all those "joyful" mendicants - was known for its "big beggars."(41) On the other hand, stories of comfortable, even well-off, beggars should not be judged simply as product of the elite's bias against the disadvantaged. According to a variety of sources on this subject, in the 1920s and 1930s (i.e., before the outbreak of the 1937 war), on average, a street beggar's daily income in cash varied from 500-600 wen (this applied mostly to new beggars) to 2,000 wen, which was equivalent to about two-thirds of a silver dollar (and more than the monthly income of an average factory worker).(42) And, as mentioned earlier, these incomes were in cash and did not include food and other alms. As we have noted, some beggars were able to save enough money to go into business. One aged beggar, who died in 1936, left almost 800 silver dollars. Since he did not have an immediate family, he left the money to his brothers' sons who then fought over how to divide the money.(43) Tales about thrifty beggars saved money and eventually had a "moderately comfortable home" (xiaokang zhi jia) were not sensational and isolated news in Shanghai; stories about beggars becoming usurers, owning a private rickshaw, hiring servants, or having concubines were not unusual.(44)

Tales like these naturally reduced sympathy for beggars. When Lin Yuancun observed the wealth of his beggar neighbors he could not help say with a sigh that "[the life of] people of my kind is not as good as that of the beggars."(45) Over the decades, such public sentiment about beggars continued.(46) The "well being" of beggars was a topic that popular magazines such as Shanghai shenghuo (Shanghai life) did not miss. One article labeled the mendicant "Emperor Beggar," which was in fact a popular metaphor in the city.(47) Another article used a similar metaphor. It called the beggar a "genuine and truly veteran Great General of Stretching Out the Hand" who levies taxes on the city people without any sanction. This General often patrolled the Nanjing Road area where he acted as if he had the right to levy a variety of taxes: a "wealth tax" on well-dressed shoppers, a "property tax" on relaxed pedestrians who were taking a stroll, and a "love tax" on dating couples who were exchanging amorous glance. Such taxes, the author satirized, did not need to be passed in the parliament or provincial legislature but they were nevertheless more effectively imposed on the city people than those that had been duly legislated.(48)

Deities Incarnate

In addition to the conventional view of beggars as poor creatures, or, alternatively, as cunning "parasites," there was yet another popular view that was rooted in the Chinese tradition but continued to prevail in modern times in this "treaty port" city. Mixing together history, legends and folklore, traditional Chinese society produced some rather imaginative images of beggars, which to some degree "upgrade" a disadvantaged social group to a level unimagined in the West.(49) One of these traditions was to see beggars as mysterious figures who disguised themselves to test the conscience and compassion of mankind. From the late Han dynasty to the Ming-Qing period, Chinese literature is rich in stories of deities incarnated as beggars, the aged, the disabled, or otherwise poor creatures who sought help in human society. Those who gave alms to the poor received salvation or were unexpectedly rewarded, and those who refused to help were punished, often in mysterious ways.

Such a tradition was well reflected in a story related to the Eight Immortals, who in Chinese popular religion often appeared as beggars.(50) One of the best known immortals was Tieguai Li or Li Tieguai, who always appeared as a lame beggar with an iron crutch, hence the name Tieguai Li (lit., Li with the iron crutch).(51) According to one story about Tieguai Li, a restaurant owner, Eu, in Suzhou once treated an aged and sick beggar kindly by providing free room and board. When the beggar was fully recovered, however, he departed one morning without saying good-bye, leaving Lu only the straw mattress on which he had slept. The next year, a shortage of firewood in the area led Lu one day to use the mattress as fuel to stew pork. When the mattress was put into the oven, the pork suddenly sent forth a delicate aroma that made everybody's mouth water. From then on pork stewed in Lu's restaurant was always better than elsewhere and stewed pork became a specialty of the restaurant. Lu renamed the restaurant the "Lu Gaojian" (lit., Lu's straw mattress), in memory of the beggar who was believed to be the incarnation of Tieguai Li.(52) Later this anecdote gained commercial value. By the twentieth century, Lu Gaojian had become a famous delicatessen, particularly in Shanghai, where competition over using the name led store signs that read "false Lu Gaojian," the "Original Lu Gaojian," the "Old Lu Gaojian," the "pioneering Lu Gaojian," etc., each seeking to assure customers that it was not an imitation. The name Lu Gaojian itself almost equated with "delicatessen." A standard Shanghai guide book listed 28 delicatessens; among them, 24 bore the name of "Lu Gaojian."(53) A typical Shanghai street scene of the late nineteenth century, such as those drawn in the Dianshizhai huabao (The Dianshi Study pictorial), included such a Lu Gaojian store. Naturally, the story about the mysterious beggar who came to fathom human conscience spread with the fame of the restaurant.

Another image of beggars was as fairy-like figures who could pass messages between the real, human world and the mysterious world of ghosts and deities. This view of beggars was most often revealed on the occasion of festivals, especially on Chinese New Year when worship and communication with deities were the major elements of celebration. From the early 12th lunar month to the Lantern Festival (yuanxiaojie, the 15th of the 1st lunar month), preparation for and celebration of the New Year lasted for about one and half months, and beggars were a visible and active part of the events. In fact, beggars' masquerading as deities was one of the principle techniques of begging in Shanghai.

One of the major preparations for the New Year was a ceremony called "sending back the Kitchen God" (song Zaoshen). It was customarily believed that the Kitchen God, residing by the cook stove of every household, watched over the family all year around until the 24th day of the 12th lunar month when he was sent back to heaven to report on the family's behavior to the Jade God. On New Year's Eve, the Jade God would assign a new Kitchen God to the family. It is therefore important to please the Kitchen God in his final days on duty.(54) During the year, the image of the Kitchen God was no more than a printed picture posted on the kitchen wall or a ceramic figurine placed over the stove. But in the "sending back" ceremony, the Kitchen God was "incarnated" by street beggars who dressed up as deities, mostly the Kitchen God (Zaoshen or Zaogong) and his wife (the Kitchen Goddess, or Zaopo), and their runners. These beggars sang, danced, and chanted in residential areas, as if they were deities who were on their way back to heaven. In the mood of New Year's celebration, residents were more willing than usual to give alms to send the Kitchen God incarnate, or the beggars, away.(55)

After the 24th day of the 12th month, beggars took one week off, probably to prepare for their own celebration. But from New Year's Day on they reappeared on the streets. Ironically, this time beggars were the incarnation of the God of Wealth (caishen) who was welcomed with ceremony by most families on the first few days of the year (the exact date varies by place). Beggars solicited door-to-door, crying "Caishen dao" (here comes the God of Wealth), and giving people a picture of the God of Wealth on which were written two big characters, cai shen (the God of Wealth). In the mood of the New Year and for the sake of auspiciousness, shopkeepers usually grasped the Caishen slip in haste, and threw a few copper coins to the beggar.(56) For the people of the city, beggars' wandering life and eccentric behavior, their unknown past and unpredictable future, their strange chants and weird attire, and so on, all contributed to the notion that tramps were connected to an unknown and, perhaps, awesome world, and were somehow mystical and spiritual. In the popular imagination, the God of Wealth appears as his opposite: the poor beggar. Alms given to beggars would bring luck and forestall disasters; thus, awe for gods has been transformed into mercy for beggars. As one Chinese author on the history of beggars has pointed out, beggars in China played a role of linking up ordinary people and spirits, and in New Year's festivals, they became a sort of deity intermediate between man and ghost.(57)


Begging, like any profession in the world, has its techniques. No matter what the origins of the customs mentioned above were, that beggars masqueraded as deities reflects their cleverness in utilizing superstition and folk beliefs and seizing the opportunity of festivals and rites to beg. But these were just part of many professionalized and highly unified begging methods in China. Philip Kuhn suggests that Chinese beggars persisted in their way of life because "they had the power to make the public fear them," and he specifies "contamination" and "ritual sabotage" as "the social terrorism of beggars" in the Qing society.(58) David Schak summarizes the great variety of begging methods in promodern China into three broad categories: positive appeals and tactics, by which beggars maximized and exhibited their pitifulness (in particular, handicaps) to arouse human compassion; remunerative appeals and tactics, by which beggars provided some services (such as performing certain functions at wedding and funeral ceremonies) for alms; and negative appeals and tactics, by which beggars deliberately created nuisances and asked a potential aim-giver pay them for their leave.(59) Although the last category is the closest to Kuhn's "social terrorism of beggars," the other two could easily fit it: the presence of a miserable beggar was itself a "contamination" and to a refuse a beggars' service in a life-cycle ceremony often meant the ceremony would be sabotaged by a huge crowd of unruly beggars.

The begging strategies of the late imperial period continued into the twentieth century. From 1917 to 1935, social investigators of Shanghai's beggars counted up the various popular begging tactics in the city: depending on who did the counting, the number varied from seven to twenty-five. Each tactic or technique had a name in the beggar's argot. Still, none of these investigations was inclusive of all begging methods in the city. Many begging tactics in Shanghai were universal in China and could be found elsewhere in the country for centuries, such as (in the beggar's jargons) "ground petition," "snake playing," "sing the lotus songs," "deformed devils," "opening sky windows," "silence," and so on.(60) The prevalence of these traditional begging methods in Shanghai, of which even the terminology was identical or akin to those in other cities, suggests that begging was a well established and highly consistent profession in China, and modern Shanghai, in spite of an all powerful western cultural presence, was not immune to the contagion of the culture of an indigenous underclass.

All of the begging appeals and tactics or "social terrorism" were made effective, if not possible, only by an urban environment. The prosperity of Shanghai created a favorable environment for begging, and made the city into a "beggars' paradise."(61) The most popular or frequently employed begging tactics in Shanghai were, in particular, based on two key elements: population density and prosperity. In 1935, population density in the International Settlement was 51,317 per square kilometer, and 48,747 in the French Concession. By the early 1940s, population density in these areas had increased to 70,162 and 83,599 respectively. The 1953 census found that the average population density per square kilometer in the city proper was 46,500, and seven out of the city's twenty-one districts had an average population density over 100,000. Population densities in Nanshi (the old city) and the downtown area around Nanjing Road were as high as 159,000 and 148,000.(62) The begging methods discussed below are a few examples of how beggars took advantage of Shanghai's population density and prosperity.

Midnight Beggars

For its bustling night life Shanghai was nicknamed "the city without night." Numerous theaters, cinemas, and other places of entertainment that spread over the city often remained open until midnight or early morning. Among the crowd that always congregated in front of the theaters were beggars. Their targets were fairly clear: rich courtesans and young dating people. Usually, rich women in Shanghai only carried silver coins in their purses since copper coins were often seen by them as filthy. This, of course, was good for the beggars. Writing in the early 191 Os, an author described the so-called midnight beggars in Shanghai:

It is a great opportunity for the [midnight] beggars when a theater empties after a show. On that occasion, as long as the beggars follow the courtesans' rickshaws most closely, they can get a considerable amount of income. In most cases, courtesans go to the show to seek a date and to be in the limelight. When they are not lucky enough to meet a favorite young man, they are surrounded by dirty and smelly monsters who are always reluctant to leave. For the sake of the 'limelight' and for the sake of dating, these courtesans would generously give one or two silver coins in order to get the beggars to leave as quick as possible. Some courtesans, who are afraid that the beggars would not leave quickly enough and want to make them leave immediately, give a good amount of money. The beggar who gets the money heads away to 'take care' of other people.(63)

When Shanghai became more cosmopolitan in the thirties and forties, night clubs always attracted numerous beggars who waited in the front in order to implore the rich patrons. Occasionally, Russian beggars were found in these places.(64)

Bridge Helpers

There was no clear line between beggars who wandered on the street seeking for alms and beggars who offered some sort of service for the purpose of receiving a gratuity. The latter included such things as opening the door of private cars in front of a hotel or a theater, carrying baggage for passages on docks, pushing rickshaws over a bridge, etc.(65)

One of the most popular ways of begging in Shanghai was to be a "helper" on the bridges over Suzhou Creek. In the first half of the twentieth century, on the eastern end of Suzhou River, which was about two miles in length, there were eleven heavily travelled bridges that connected the central part of Shanghai to the northern parts of the city (i.e., Yangshupu, Hongkou and Zhabei).(66) On both sides of the bridges there were always beggars who waited to help rickshaw pullers or pedicab drivers to push the vehicle up the bridge. With a helper, the vehicle smoothly reached the top of the bridge. Before it could run down the other side of the bridge, the beggar would ask the customer for a tip, usually a copper coin. A good business day for these beggars was a rainy day. The rain made streets slippery and it was harder than usually for the rickshaw men to pull the rickshaw up the bridge. In heavy rain, a helper could earn 30-50 copper coins in two to three hours.(67) In the beggars argot, this type of begging was jokingly called Zhang Fei pushing Zhuge Liang,"(68) a metaphor that conveys a sense of humor or self-esteem of the beggars: in Chinese popular culture, the heroic warrior Zhang Fei (d.221 AD) often served a handcart puller for Zhuge Liang (181-234 AD), a statesman who was most famous for his brilliant military strategies. Here, as the rickshaw rider was "Zhuge Liang," the beggar had become the valiant hero, Zhang Fei.

The "Red and White" Events

During xishi ("happy events"), such as weddings, celebrations of birth, birthday receptions, etc., Chinese families by custom welcomed people who had come to offer their "congratulations," even if the congratulators were strangers to the family. Likewise, few would refuse a stranger who had come to a family funeral to pay their respect to the dead. These occasions, known as the "red" (weddings, births, birthdays) and "white" (funerals) events, were important opportunities for begging. It was part of the beggars' profession to know of these events in advance and to be at the right place at the right time to say "congratulations!" or to mourn the dead. It was tacitly understood that the family should give a gratuity to these uninvited guests, and most families did so for the sake of decency and auspiciousness. Those who were reluctant to do so would bring themselves trouble and embarrassment. For instance, a rich merchant, Yang Gengguang, married a courtesan in 1935. On his wedding day, he could not get out of his luxurious hotel which was encircled by a mixed crowd of beggars and others who were asking for gratuities. His friend Du Yuesheng (1888-1951), one of Shanghai's top gang bosses, came to give $3,000 to the crowd to rescue Yang from the siege.(69) In another case, a very wealthy family had a funeral parade (known as da chusang or great funeral), and the family's mansion was besieged by beggars for a whole day because the beggars were unhappy about the amount of gratuities they received. Policemen were called in but they failed to drive away the beggars. The family was relieved only after they gave the amount of money that the beggars had asked for.(70) This kind of "ritual sabotage" was a very old and typical begging tactic in China. Here, as Philip Kuhn points out, the "respectable society" was most vulnerable to attack of the "social outcasts" who "seemed to care neither for social 'face' nor for cosmological fortune" since they had already been so unlucky.(71) Because of the importance of the "red and white" events in Chinese society (in particular, they were regarded as a matter of social status and "face"), most families, including some poor families, usually spent a great deal for these occasions, and the dense population of the city made "red and white" events so frequent that they became one of the major and regular incomes of Shanghai's beggars.(72)

"Following a Dog"

One of the most common ways to beg on the streets was to follow pedestrians, calling them "master," "madame," "uncle," or "aunt" and asking for money. The crowded streets of Shanghai were indeed a "paradise" for such begging. Although any pedestrian might be the target, women were usually the favorite target of begging. One of the frequently used entreaties went like this: "Madame, miss, for mercy's sake, please do something good. No money is spent in vain - it goes in the open and comes back in secret. A good turn gets a good reward. Oh, show your kindness! Open your golden dragon-like [noble] hands! Please give a copper coin so a poor person can have a bowl of gruel."(73) All versions of standard begging entreaties served the purpose of making people feel flattered, sympathetic, disturbed, or unsafe (i.e., to make people felt that "God might punish me if I am unsympathetic"). Any one of these feelings might prompt a person to give alms.

A beggar who used to beg in the Temple of the City God in Shanghai's old Chinese City once recalled: "Begging had its technique. For example, to old women, I said: 'Good madam, like the Goddess of Mercy [Guanyin]! Mercy! Salvation for all living creatures! Madame, reward poor people! I wish your madame double fortune and happiness and long life! Have great offspring!' I loudly repeated these chants like crazy. Because pilgrims came with the will for good deeds, once they heard my chant they all gave money and had an easy conscience. When I follow a young miss (about age 17 or 18) I quickly changed my tone, saying: 'Good miss, I wish you to have a good husband and soon give birth to a lively baby.' Young ladies are always sensitive to the mention of things like this, especially in front of a crowd. When I yelled these words they got really embarrassed and their faces turned to red. But their fury made me chant even louder. In order to get rid of the harassment, they gave money immediately."(74) In the beggars' argot, this type of begging was called "following a dog" or "driving a swine."(75)

Public Lavatory Beggars

Shanghai's beggars exhausted all public places for mendicancy, including public lavatories which were often crowded, especially in the morning. There was no toilets in these public facilities. All they had was a ditch that was compartmentalized into a number of spaces for people to squat over. The compartments had no doors for privacy. If a space was occupied, the next person just had to stand by and wait for his turn. For some male beggars it became a daily routine to go to a public lavatory and occupy a space there. The beggar would not yield the space until the next person in line could wait no longer, and then the beggar would start asking for money. The person indeed had little room to bargain but to give a copper coin or so to get his turn. Having got money from the desperate man, the beggar would wait to find another space to squat and start the game all over again.(76) Such blackmail was a long-standing practice among some hooligans in the city and was occasionally mentioned in popular literature, such as the "Mandarin Duck and Butterfly" types of novels, in the early twentieth century.(77) But it became a "newly invented" method of begging in the early 1940s - a revealing example of how the congestion of a city could serve the purpose of mendicancy.


In the eyes of the Chinese state, liumin that arose suddenly and in large number were a problem that demanded immediate attention. Regular beggars, however, were not an issue on the official agenda. In a nation that believed it was best "to rest content with one's native land and leave it with great trepidation" (antu zhongqian), the state had long regarded vagrants as part of the so-called "you" people, or the bad people who were like the "green bristlegrass [in rice fields; i.e. weeds] ." However, as long as such people did not cause major threats to public security, no serious measures were taken either to contain them or help them.(78) The Qing administrative regulations on beggars, including bonding beggars into the baojia system and issuing an identification board for beggars, therefore, were more for the purpose of preventing liumin from becoming regular beggars than anything else.

Charities for beggars heavily depended on private sponsorship. Regular or standing shelters for beggars provided by local gentry or wealthy families were common in the Qing.(79) In theory, all districts in the Qing had state-funded poorhouses - an institution inherited from previous dynasties - where clothing and food were to be dispensed to the destitute during famines.(80) However, as early as in the late seventeenth century the system had already became decrepit. Many of the poorhouses were uninhabitable and the rations of clothing and food were often misappropriated by officials in charge. But even this type of state aid was in principle for emergencies only and denied to regular or professional beggars.(81) Such a institution, insufficient and defective as it was, lingered on through the Qing period, and by the late nineteenth century, although it afforded "unmistakable signs of general mismanagement and decay," was still operating, primarily in big cities and in the winter season, and for the purpose of preventing social unrest. As the missionary John Gray observed:

When at Shanghai, in the winter of 1875, I observed a notification issued by . . . toutai [daotai], setting forth that certain houses had been set apart for the reception of homeless wanderers. The vagrants frequenting these houses were, I found, provided with bundles of rice straw, on which they slept, and, twice daily, small quantities of boiled rice were doled out to each inmate. This refuge, I believe, owed its origin, not to any feeling of benevolence of the toutai, or of the government which he represented, but to a well-grounded fear that burglaries and other serious offenses might become rife, unless the numerous wanderers traversing the streets of Shanghai were provided with a home. The notification stated that those who did not avail themselves of the refuge would be regarded as bad characters, apprehended, and punished severely.(82)

The end of the Qing regime brought to an end state aid measures, leaving relief almost an entirely private undertaking. In Shanghai, prior to the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937, shelters, soup kitchens, and other social relief programs for beggars were all sponsored by private institutions and donations.(83) By no means were such efforts sufficient to deal with the large number of the beggars in the city.(84) The only governmental measure to aid vagrants was to found the "Shanghai Institution of Practicing Diligence for Vagrants" (Shanghai youmin xiqin suo) which sought to reform vagrants by putting them in some sort of job training program in two boarding houses. Founded in 1929 as part of the Nanjing government's plan to establish such institution nation-wide, these boarding houses were in fact semi-prisons where inmates were strictly disciplined, and introspection, repentance, and inculcation with the (Guomindang) Party principles were the daily routine.(85) The assumption here was, clearly, that the cause of vagrancy was more of an individual's moral defects than an objective social problem. In any case, one of the boarding houses was leveled by Japanese bombs during the Shanghai War of the early 1932, leaving only one institution operating, with a capacity of housing 500 male inmates aged from 12 to 60.(86) A plan to reduced the number of beggars and establish a Municipal Institute for Reforming the Poor were detailed on paper by Shanghai's Chinese city government in May 1932 but was not realized.(87)

With an estimated 20,000 beggars or more regularly roaming the city's streets, such feeble governmental measures could justifiably be criticized. However, in intention at least, the Chinese authorities in Shanghai had tried to assume some responsibility for beggars. No such intention was found among the authorities of the concessions - the core of the city that was the premier attraction to the vagrants. The only policy regarding street beggars pursued by the foreign authorities in Shanghai (both in the International Settlement and the French Concession) was to drive these public nuisances out of the concessions. As a matter of daily routine, the police in the concessions drove beggars off the streets of the foreign concessions in order to maintain the "decency" of these areas. However, the boundaries between the Chinese and foreign districts were merely ordinary streets, and usually there were no roadblocks on these streets - to enter the foreign concessions was just a matter of crossing the street.

Most of the city's beggars lived outside the concessions but worked the busy and prosperous areas inside the foreign concessions. "As far as beggars are concerned," E. W. Peters, a Shanghai policeman, wrote in 1936, "all that worries the authorities in the International Settlement is that they should be expelled, forcibly if necessary, and driven into Chinese Territory."(88) The "clean up" of beggars, therefore, turned to be a ritual between the police and the beggars. "[T]he governmental authorities are busy at their tasks too!" One author wrote in a satiric tone, "This is what they have been doing: In the International Settlement, numerous motor-vans are being sent out daily with policemen in them to patrol the city. Beggars, or those who resemble them, are forced to get into the vans. When the van is full, the driver would quickly run it to the conjunction of the Chinese territory and Concession where they consider their task well done by dumping the daily riders on the roads. The usual places for such action are Hung Jao Road, Ferry Road and Chung Kung Road. But it is ridiculous to watch that after less than half an hour or as soon as the policemen leave with their cars, these riders would roam back to their original place." The French Concession did "exactly the same wasteful, foolish and ridiculous thing as did its neighbor."(89)

Such a policy was criticized as "draining the water into other people's fields,"(90) but in any case, expelling beggars had little if any lasting effect. Beggars considered themselves unlucky if they were thrown out of the concessions because it would take an hour or so to walk back to their favorite spots for begging. Other than that, however, the police patrols were not a threat to the beggars.

Thus the divided city administration of Shanghai proved to be an exceptional advantage for mendicancy. In a way, we can say that the Chinese sections of the city were home to the beggars and the foreign sections were their work place. Neither the Chinese nor the foreign authorities felt an obligation to deal with street beggars with a real sense of responsibility. Unwittingly, the lack of governmental concern and control helped to create one of the largest beggar kingdoms in modern China.

To some extent, begging in Shanghai was not only an occupation but also a profitable business, and consequently, like anything profitable, it engendered competition. Largely because the state neither showed concern nor exercised control, beggars organized themselves in order to survive and maintain some sort of order among themselves. As David Buck has pointed out, "A beggar contingent organized under a leader was a regular feature of Chinese cities."(91) In the early thirties, paralleling Shanghai's rapid transformation into China's biggest city, beggar organizations in the city grew to include about 16,000 members, or 80 percent of all beggars in the city.(92)

The organization of beggars was regarded by the public as something shadowy, and local newspapers and publications tended to describe it as mysterious. But in fact it was not at all a secret. In the May Fourth movement of 1919 when Shanghai was on strike, for a week or so few beggars were seen on the streets. Local newspaper reported that this was because beggar ringleaders, together with pickpocket chieftains, had banned begging and theft in order to demonstrate their patriotism. During this "strike," beggar ringleaders distributed food to their followers.(93) The Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury reported in 1933 that "The beggars are well organized, each faction 'controlling' a district. They live in their respective districts and do not trespass [on] other districts unless invited, or permission [is] given in advance."(94) A book on various aspects of daily life in Shanghai published in the 1940s contended that "It is officially denied, but often proved, that there is a well organized beggar-league in Shanghai, headed by a beggar-king or chieftain who rules his ragged people with justice and autocratic power. Nobody knows him or could tell where he lives. Nevertheless his activities are obvious in the admirable manner in which he distributes the huge army of cripples, blind people and other wretches throughout the town. There are never two 'parties' working on the same spot; but on the other hand, there is hardly any spot without a beggar."(95) A contemporary commented satirically that for Shanghai's beggars, "the begging divisions in the streets are more important than territory to China's warlords."(96) The American journalist, Earnest Hauser, mentioned in 1940 that "the King of Beggars" in Shanghai was so effectively ruling the mendicant army behind the scenes that he would be able to help a person to find his missing briefcase left in a public rickshaw.(97)

Not only the beggar chiefs, but average beggars too knew their begging boundaries and few infringed on others' territory. For instance, leftovers from restaurants were one of Shanghai beggars' main sources of food. Those who had the privilege of gobbling leftovers from restaurants in Nanjing Road could not do the same thing on Jiujiang Road, which, although it was just one block south of Nanjing Road, belonged to another beggar group.(98) The game of "following a dog" also had its rules. For instance, the area from the Central Theater to Avenue Edward VII in the French Concession was one begging zone. A beggar would not continue to "follow the dog" if his or her object crossed to the other side of the street. A smart pedestrian therefore could get rid of a beggar simply by crossing the street, if it happened to be the boundary of a beggar's turf.(99)

In the 1930s, the city had eight major beggar ringleaders, known as the "Eight Brothers." In a standard Chinese gang hierachy known as bei or generation, they were the senior generation whose given names were earmarked by the character tian (heaven). Only their last names were known: Lu, Zhou, Zhong, Wang, Shen (two), and Zhao (two). The "Eight Brothers" divided Shanghai into four districts (East, West, South, and North). Each of the four begging turfs was headed by two "brothers" of the "heaven" generation (bei).

The qualifications for being a beggar head primarily involved personal charisma. Toughness and aggressiveness, organizational skill, connections with the city's broader gang organizations such as the Green Gang, and some sort of "chivalry" usually were the keys that allowed a beggar to rise above his peers. Sometimes the chieftainship was also involved a recommendation from dibao (local constable or land warden) or local gentry. Once a beggar was acknowledged as a ringleader, he could pass the position on to his offspring or relatives (such as a nephew), but a weak successor was subject to being replaced by a stronger rival. One of the Shanghai's beggar chiefs, Zhao, could trace his family back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) when his ancestors were beggars in Songjiang (near Shanghai, but at that time a larger and more important place than Shanghai). It was said that one of his ancestors heroically saved the life of the son of the governor of Hunan. The son later became the magistrate of Songjiang prefecture. Out of gratitude, the new magistrate appointed Zhao the head of local beggars. By the 1930s, the position had been passed down for nine generations.(100)

Each ringleader appointed and controlled about six "Big Heads," each of whom in turn had about five "Little Heads." According to their place of origins, Shanghai's beggars were divided into five groups (bang): Fengyang (of Anhui province), Huiyang (of Henan province), Shandong, Jiangbei (northern Jiangsu province), and Shanghai locals. Each group had a "Senior" to represent the gang's interests and to communicate with the top beggar ringleaders.(101)

Thus, here we have a hierarchy. At the top of the structure were the "Eight Brothers." Their main responsibilities were, in addition to supervising beggars, "fund raising" and distribution. The main source of income for the beggars came from the alms of stores, and hence the importance of the begging turfs. A ringleader's major work was to contact the storekeepers in his district, negotiate the amount of alms that each store or shop was to contribute (which was mainly based on the size and type of the store or shop, usually no less than three silver dollars every six months). The alms from stores became so regular that they came to be known as "the beggar tax." Twice a year, on the first and fifteenth day of the second and eighth months of the lunar calendar, the beggars collected the "tax." Once the agreed upon alms were received, a sign would be posted on the wall of the store which would effectively save the store from further begging. Stores that refused to give alms would encounter endless begging and harassment; the owners often ended up by paying more "tax" than usual to have that important poster on the wall.(102)

The next day (i.e., the 2nd and 16th of the second and eighth months) allowances were distributed among the beggars according to their begging performance during the year. The favorite spots for this great gathering were the desolate old drill ground in Nanshi and deserted temples in Zhabei. Needless to say, the ringleaders kept a large portion of the "tax" for themselves. It was reported that each of the eight leaders had over 100,000 silver dollars of wealth. Less powerful beggar heads were often able to accumulated enough wealth to build houses and have concubines.(103) Under the direct control of the ringleaders, the big heads' responsibility was to patrol the streets to supervise the beggars under their jurisdiction, especially to prevent beggars from disturbing stores that had paid the "tax." The little heads' duty was usually to act as night guards for these stores that paid large amount of money ($80 annually or more). The lowest beggar head was called an "uncle." The uncle was not appointed by the ringleaders but was an experienced beggar who achieved his power among new and child beggars by fighting and toughness of personality. The uncle's position in theory was below the lesser head but his actual power was close to that of the bigger head. He had a few followers known as "little users" (xiaoyong) who were mostly children, and he himself in turn served a gang boss as his "master" (laotouzi), who was usually not a beggar at all but a local tough. At the very bottom of the hierarchy were ordinary beggars and the "little users." A new beggar in Shanghai first had to find out who was the ringleader of the area where he or she wanted to beg and to get permission from him. This process involved a ceremony to bind the newcomer as a follower of the ringleader. Gifts, usually cigarettes (the most popular brand was "Great Britain"), were presented as a token of respect to the leader by the new beggar. At a lower level, a little user usually gave 360 sesame cakes as a gift in order to be accepted. Unacknowledged beggars were bullied by other beggars and driven out of the area.

Once accepted, a beggar had to obey the rules of the gang, which included not disturbing the protected stores (i.e., stores with the ringleaders' sign), not entering other beggars' areas, not raping and stealing, etc. Violators were punished ruthlessly, tortured and even murdered. Beggars who kept a perfect record for the whole year were rewarded by receiving a double allowance in the 2nd or 8th month distribution. The beggars' rules also included a sort of insurance or, to use a contemporary phase, a "social security tax." Beggars were expected to contribute a certain percentage of their daily gains to the beggar heads to be saved for emergency needs, and they were entitled to use the funds in case of sickness and death. This rule obviously benefited the beggar heads most, but it also gave an ordinary beggar a sense of security and protection. Some beggars were therefore not willing to work in factories or workshops that were set up for vagrants, feeling that "those factory owners and hypocritical gentlemen exploited them more than their heads did."(104)

It was said that the ringleaders were able to call together all beggars in Shanghai in ten minutes, which, considering the size of the city and its complicated transportation system, was quite unlikely.(105) But the beggar heads clearly knew their kingdom, and their knowledge of it was by no means vague. In an interview in the early 1930s, the ringleader Zhao was able to estimate the total number of beggars in the city, and the numbers he quoted tallied with figures reported by other more "scientific" sources such as surveys by officials and sociologists.(106)

Still, that there was a hierarchy among the beggars should not lead one to conclude that there was a centralized system within which every level was clearly ordered nor that every beggar felt authority from the top. The "cell" of this beggars' "body politic" seems to have been the "uncle," a man who tended to be more or less independent. Consequently the structure of begging was decentralized. The uncle had his own followers (the "little users"), and monopolized begging on a block or a few alleyways. Since he had his own "back-ups" among local bullies such as a member of the Green Gang, few people could infringe upon his turf.

For a new beggar or a "little user," the uncle was the boss, guide, exploiter, and protector. To become an "uncle" was a future that they had hundreds of reasons to dream of. Once becoming an uncle, a beggar would not have to beg. His income came from several sources: 1) The little users had to give their "uncle" a certain daily fee, which varied from 20-50% of their daily income. A beggar who failed to submit the fee without reason would be tortured. 2) Like storekeepers who paid the "beggar tax," street peddlers who set a food stand on street corner or alleyway entrance had to pay a "beggar tax" to the uncle in order to avoid troubles made by his little users, such as eating without paying or even throwing the food stand to the Huangpu River. 3) Weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations on his turf were good opportunities for the uncle. He came to say "congratulations" and other sweet words and ask for money. 4) Other events in the neighborhood, such as moving, store openings, changing shop signboard, gang negotiation in teahouses (known as chi jiang cha, or drinking conversational tea), and scuffles were also opportunities for the uncle to beg or extort. 5) In summer, fruit stores (which were very common in Shanghai) often piled up fruit on the sidewalk in front of the store and hired an "uncle" to watch the goods overnight. The uncle took the money and assigned a little user to do the job. On the next day, as a reward the little user's daily fee would be waived. 6) Having served as a little user for a few years, a beggar might feel strong enough to become independent, but he had to give his uncle about 4-5 silver dollars in order to "graduate." Once released from his boss, the beggar could recruit his own little users (i.e., become an uncle himself) and start to built his own turf.(107)


The story of beggar in Shanghai shows that urban poverty was primarily the result of rural depression and deterioration. Mendicancy was not necessarily, as generally thought, a downward movement in social status, a mark of improvidence, or the outcome of individual failure. Rather, with all its myths, tactics, and organizations, begging became an urban occupation and a part of the lure of the city in modern China. Mendicancy as a sometimes "preferred" livelihood or as an occupation that made beggars somehow "privileged," reveals more than anything else the depth of the rural-urban gulf in modern China.(108)

To some extent beggars were forced to organize themselves. In a society where the state was not much concerned with the welfare of vagrants nor with controlling them, these helpless and also in some ways "free" people had to hang together and "contract" with each other in order to maintain the basic social order that made begging possible. Here the line between the freedom of individuals to beg and the access to things public (e.g., begging zones and objects) had to be delicately drawn and maintained. All the begging turfs, rules, hierarchies, techniques and tactics, and so on reveal the remarkable adaptability and resilience of Chinese society: while the state was virtually absent, thousands of former peasants escaped from the disaster-ridden countryside and found a way to survive in the city by the means of mendicancy. Obviously, such resilience was powered by ordinary people's basic instinct for survival, which in many respects has been the theme of Chinese society since the middle of the nineteenth century.

Indeed, the struggle for a standard of living above the level of subsistence remains critical in Chinese society today. Mendicancy continues to be an inevitable part of that struggle. I do not intend to extend this study into the contemporary period, but a few remarks on the resurgence of mendicancy in China since the early 1980s may be relevant here. Given the sweeping changes brought by the Communist revolution and the dramatic development attendant on the current economic reforms, it would not be surprising to see certain differences between today's beggars and their counterparts in the Republican era. But behind often-told stories of change, today's beggars' world seems to bear some fundamental similarities to its pre-1949 predecessor.

Although begging did not completely disappear after the communist revolution, the PRC government's strict urban household registration and rationing systems effectively prevented population mobility from rural to urban areas. As a result, begging was rare in Chinese cities for about three decades. Underneath this artificial cover, however, the rural-urban gulf continued to exist, if not widen. This has been evidenced by the re-emergence of an army of beggars in the cities once the regime softened it migration policy. No official statistics are available on the number of street beggars in contemporary China, but the China News Agency estimated in October 1993 that the total number of beggars had reached a quarter-million, with over one fifth of the beggars in four cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. It was reported that in 1991 police arrested 28,000 beggars in the single southern city of Guangzhou alone. These beggars, however, were only a few drops in a sea of the so-called "floating population" (liudong renkou) or the "tide of laborers" (mingong chao).(109) The floating population mostly consists of peasants who have left their villages in search of a better life in the cities. By January 1994 their number had reached 20 million.(110)

Not only is the composition of beggars today very similar to that in the pre-revolution period (that is, beggars are former farmers), but the beggars' world is once again organized in much the same fashion as it was half a century ago. Virtually all begging methods that were practiced early in this century have been resurrected, as have the gangs and the beggar barons, who are now among the new elite known as the "ten thousand yuan" magnates. Although most of the beggar guilds are still local and small in scale, like the bond between the "uncle" and his "little users," the modern transportation system is making nationwide communication among beggars appear on the horizon. It was reported that if officials had not suppressed it, a national beggars' conference would have been held in Wuhan in central China in the fall of 1986. This conference was to have met at the resort of the famous historical site Pagoda of Yellow Crane (Huanghelou) to elect beggars' national leaders.(111)

Like its predecessors, today's Chinese government is not dealing with the social disease of begging or its larger background issue, the "tide of laborers" (which is indeed a contemporary version of the old "liumin" problem) with any efficiency or resolution. America's social policies toward the urban poor have been criticized for "losing ground."(112) In China, the government encounters a tougher job, for the ground has not yet been built, and the state is dealing with a new version of an old problem: the imbalance between the still poor countryside and the increasingly better-off cities. Ultimately, the three-decade-long suspension of the mendicants' world in China may only serve to prove the tenacity of a deeply rooted tradition.

School of History, Technology, and Society

Atlanta, GA 30332-0345


1. Lou Zikuang, Folk Paintings of 360 Workers in Shanghai (Taipei, 1984), 181 & 119.

2. William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: the Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy (Chicago, 1987); David Ward, Poverty, Ethnicity, and the American City, 1840-1925 (Cambridge, 1989).

3. Information about Chinese beggars can be found in the writings of Western missionaries, journalists, and travelers, but none treats the subject in any depth. Brief references to the subject are made in recent scholarly works, see for example William Rowe, Hankow: Conflict and Community in a Chinese City, 1796-1895 (Stanford, 1989), 236-37; Emily Honig, Creating Chinese Ethnicity: Subei People in Shanghai, 1850-1980 (New Haven, 1992), 66-7; and Elizabeth Perry, Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labor (Stanford, 1993), 52. Philip Kuhn's research on Chinese sorcery provides rich information on beggars in the Qing society, see his Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768 (Cambridge, MA., 1990). The single most important work on contemporary Chinese beggars is David Schak's ethnographic case study on a community of beggars in northern Taiwan in the period 1973-81, see Schak, A Chinese Beggars's Den: Poverty and Mobility in an Underclass Community (Pittsburgh, 1988).

4. By convention, "modern Shanghai" refers to Shanghai from its opening as a treaty port in 1843 to the Communist takeover in 1949. This essay focuses mainly on the Republican period (1911-1949), but also looks into the nineteenth century in order to trace back the historical roots of certain aspects of the world of mendicancy.

5. This phrase is, of course, derived from Oscar Lewis' "culture of poverty," see Lewis, La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty (New York, 1965) and A Study of Slum Culture: Background for La Vida (New York, 1968). For a discussion on the concept of the poor in Chinese history, see Liang Qizi, "'Pinqiong' yu 'qiongren' guannian zai Zhongguo sushi shehui zhong de lishi yanbian" (The historical changes of the concepts of "poverty" and "the poor" in common Chinese society), in Huang Yinggui (Ying-Kuei Huang) (ed.), Renguan, yiyi yu shehui (English title: The Concept of the Person, Meaning and Society) (Taipei, 1993), 129- 62.

6. The term liumin appeared in Hanshu, one of the twenty-four Chinese histories that was compiled by the Han historian, Ban Gu (A.D.32-93), and the term youmin was first used in the Liji (The classic of Ritual), a Confucian classic attributed to Dai Sheng of the Western Han. See Hanshu: shihuozhi, shang and Liji: wangzhi.

7. In Fengyang, Anhui, for instance, there was a tradition since the late Ming that in winter farmers left home to beg in rich Jiangnan cities and returned to their villages before spring. See Shen Ji, Dong Changqing, and Gan Zhenhu (comps.), Zhongguo mimi shehui (China's secret society) (Shanghai, 1993), 186-87; Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo" (The results come from an investigation of Shanghai s beggars), in Jiezhi yuekan (Temperance monthly) (November 1927), 21-22.

8. The contemporary Chinese scholar, Chen Baoliang, in his study on the history of Chinese rogues, also noted the distinctions between liumin and youmin: youmin were a huge and scattered social group that was separated from the traditional "four peoples" (si min): scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants. See Chen Baoliang, Zhongguo liumang shi (A history of Chinese hooligans) (Beijing, 1993), 21-22.

9. David Faure, "The Rural Economy of Kiangsu Province, 1870-1911," Journal of the Institute of Chinese Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, vol.9, no.2 (1978): 417.

10. Rowe, Hankow, 231.

11. Xu Dong and Ding Richang (comps.) Baojia shu jiyao (The essence of the book about the Baojia System) (1871), vol.2:32-4.

12. It should be noted that vagrants and the like could also be found, more than occasionally, in rural China. However, vagrants in the Chinese villages tended to use peremptory manners to solicit alms and hence they were frequently perceived as bandits rather than beggars. Kung-Chuan Hsiao has noted that many of the so-called beggars in rural China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were simply lawless marauders and bands who robbed rather than begged, see Hsiao, Rural China: Imperial Control in the Nineteenth Century (Seattle, 1960), 457-59. Philip Kuhn has found that even in the Prosperous Age of mid-Qianlong times, gangs of "beggar-bandits" (kai fei) who roamed in an essentially rural area "taking what they wanted by force" sometimes become part of the documentary record of the Qing court, see Kuhn, Soulstealers, 47. The Qing stone tablets that were founded in various countries in Fujian province bearing inscriptions of official documents indicate that "evil beggars" were frequently a knotty problem of the local yamen, cf. Eduard Vermeer, Chinese Local History: Stone Inscriptions from Fukien in the Sung to Ch'ing Periods (Boulder, 1991), 90-100. Putative beggars who were really bandits were found throught China, well into the twentieth century, see for example Amelia Stott, "Chinese Knights of the Open Palm," in Asia, vol. 27, no. 10 (1927): 830-33 and Qu Yanbin, Zhongguo qigai shi (A history of Chinese beggars) (Shanghai, 1990), 81-88.

13. Chen Lengseng, "Shanghai de youmin wenti" (The vagabond problems of Shanghai), in Shehui banyuekan (Social semi-monthly), vol. 1, no.4 (1934): 9-16.

14. Shanghai tebieshi shehui ju, "Yiqian sibai yu youmin wenhua de jieguo" (A survey on over 1400 wandering people), in Shehui yuekan (Social monthly), 1,4 (April 1929): 1-6.

15. These surveys were conducted in Shanghai in 1932-33 by Jiang Siyi and Wu Yuanshu, two female sociology students at Hujiang University as part of their joint graduate thesis. In addition to library research (which frustrated them because of the paucity of written materials on this subject) and visiting charity organizations and speaking with some sociologists, their research mostly involved visiting beggar' dens and interviewing beggars. They interviewed seven hundred beggars using a detailed, standardized questionnaire (see below). The result of this research was a two-part unpublished manuscript, Shanghai qibai ge qigai de shehui diaocha (A social investigation of 700 beggars in Shanghai) (with Wu Yuanshu as the first author, cited in this essay as "Jiang & Wu 1933a") and a published journal article "Shanghai de qigai" (The beggars of Shanghai), in Tianlai (June 1933, with Jiang Siyi as the first author, cited in this essay as "Jiang & Wu 1933b"). The manuscript is now kept at the Special Collections of the Shanghai Municipal Library. This is to my knowledge the most detailed and systematic social survey on beggars conducted

in twentieth century Shanghai. One may receive a glimpse of the survey from the following questionnaire that was used by the authors:

Table 1

Questionnaire for Investigating Shanghai's Beggars

1. Name: _____

2. Age: _____

3. Gender: A. Male B. Female

4. Native Place: _____ Province _____ County

5. Family conditions:

This column lists 11 categories of family members in the following order: Father, Mother, Elder Brothers, Younger Brothers, Elder Sisters, Younger Sisters, Husband, Wife, Sons, Daughters, Others.

Seven questions asked about each family member who is listed above:

1) Alive or deceased?

2) Age?

3) Your age at the time this person died?

4) Level of education?

5) Occupation?

6) Monthly income ?

7) Did this member have a history of begging?

6. What is your seniority among brothers and sisters? Are you married or single ?

7. Education:

A. No education

B. Old-style private school (sishu)

C. Elementary school

D. Middle school

E. Others.

If you ever had schooling, indicate how many years you have been in school and if you graduated.

8. What was you occupation prior to becoming a beggar?

A. Monthly income: ___ yuan ___ jiao ___ copper

B. Why did you lose that job [i.e., the one prior to begging]?

Bad Habits

A. Smoking:

a. opium

b. cigarettes

c. other

B. Alcohol:

a. regular drinker

b. occasional drinker

C. Gambling:

a. mahjongg

b. paijiu

c. huahui

D. Visiting brothels

E. Other

10. Handicapped by:

A. Hands

B. Feet

C. Blind

D. Deaf

E. Dumb

11. Diseases

12. Reason for becoming a Beggar

A. Unemployed

B. Handicapped

C. Bad habits

D. Natural disaster

E. Bankruptcy

F. Influence of friends

G. Influence of neighbors

H. Other

13. Beggar Life

A. How many years have you been in Shanghai?

B. Why did you come to Shanghai?

C. What was your occupation after you arrived in Shanghai?

D. Where are you living now:

a. renting a house


c. alley

d. street

e. straw hut

f. other

E. How many years have you been a beggar?

F. Where is your begging spot(s)?

G. What is your begging method(s)?

H. Daily income:

a. cash

b. clothes

c. food

I. Have you received any relief:

a. governmental

b. private.

J. Have you ever been arrested?

K. Have you ever been expelled from your begging spot(s)?

L. Do you want to be a beggar all your life?

M. If you do not like begging, what kind of job do you like to do?

16. Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo," 23-24.

17. Ibid, 22; Jiang & Wu 1933a: 63 & 1933b: 197; J. Macgowan, Men and Manners of Modern China (London, 1912), 291. Typically, beggars and their families lived in Shanghai's numerous squatters' areas located on the immediate outskirts of the foreign concessions. In someway these areas can be called the "home of the homeless." For an account on the living conditions in the slums, see Hanchao Lu, "Creating Urban Outcasts: Shantytowns in Shanghai, 1920-1950," in the Journal of Urban History, vol.21, no.5 (July 1995): 563-96.

18. Gist Gee, A Class of Social Outcasts: Notes on the Beggars in China (Peking, 1925), 3-4.

19. Macgowan, Men and Manners of Modern China, 290-91.

20. Shanghai shehui kexueyuan jingji yanjiusuo, Jiangnan zaochuanchang changshi (A history of the Jiangnan Shipyard) (Shanghai, 1983), 237.

21. Jiang & Wu 1933b:193-194.

22. Jiang & Wu 1933a:161.

23. Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo," 24.

24. This figure is calculated from Jiang & Wu 1933a, table on page 196 and page 290 and Jiang & Wu 1933b: 203-211. 233 out of the 700 beggars did not report their daily income.

25. Jiang & Wu 1933a: 207.

26. Wang Yingxia, Wang Yingxia zizhuan (An Autobiography of Wang Yingxia) (Taipei, 1990), 201; Shehui ribao (Social Daily), August 8, 1936.

27. Cen Dali, Zhongguo qigai shi (A history of Chinese beggars) (Taipei, 1992), 4; Yin Dengguo, Tu shuo 360 hang (Illustrating the 360 walks of life) (Taipei, 1985), 177.

28. Here jiao refers to the beggars' "shouting" on the street and hua was an abbreviation of "muhua," a term that refers to alms collected by Buddhist monks or Taoist priests. Jiaohua was also associated with or derived from the Buddhist term jiaohua (teaching and converting). See Xu Ke, Qing bai lei chao (A sorted collection of anecdotes of the Qing)(Shanghai, 1917), vol.40:6.

29. Qian Nairong, "Shill yangchang hua fangyan" (Dialects in the foreign concessions of Shanghai), in Archives and History (Dang' an yu lishi), no.4 (1989): 69-72.

30. For instance, a common name (or sometimes a nickname) for Subei People (i.e., people who originally came from north Jiangsu and were discriminated in the city) was Little Three (xiao san zi). See Honig, Creating Chinese Ethnicity, 52.

31. Mao Tse-tung [Mao Zedong] , Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung (Peking, [Beijing], 1975), vol. 3:59.

32. Mao should have had some first-hand knowledge about Shanghai's beggars, for he had visited and lived in Shanghai six times before 1927. Also, in the summer of 1917, motivated by the idea of learning how to overcome difficulties, Mao lived a beggar's life and tramped through five counties in his home province of Hunan without using a single copper. See Yang Jiayou, Shanghai fengwu gujintan (Historical narratives on the scenery and relics of Shanghai) (Shanghai, 1991), 263-4; Yu Siao, Mao Tse-tung and I were Beggars (Syracuse, 1959), 76-155.

33. In Hankou, for instance, local residents perceived rural refugees as "quartered as beggars upon the industrious portion of the population." See Rowe, Hankow, 231.

34. Cao Chen, Yi huan bei chang ji (A record of the sufferings from a barbarian invasion) (Shanghai, 1989 [1876]), 143; see also W.A.P. Martin, A Cycle of Cathay (New York, 1900), 77-78.

35. Ge Yuanxi, Huyou zaji (Miscellanies on Shanghai sojourn) (Shanghai, 1989 [1876]), 141.

36. Xu Ke, Qing bai lei chao, vol.40: 29.

37. Shanghai zhoubao (Shanghai weekly), vol.1, no.9: 176.

38. Qi Ping, "You qigai yueli de hua" (The talk of a person who was a beggar), in Shenghuo (Life), 1,26(April 1926): 160-61.

39. Xu Ke, Qing bai lei chao, vol. 40: 29.

40. Li Cishan, "Shanghai laodong zhuangkuang" (Labor conditions in Shanghai), in Xin qingnian (New youth), vol.7, no.6 (May 1920): 56-83; Luo Zhiru, Tongjibiao zhong zhi Shanghai (Shanghai as shown in statistical tables) (Nanjing, 1932), 74-6.

41. Yuan Zheng, "Yi xi tan" (An evening chat), in Shenghuo (Life), vol.1, no.11(1925): 70-71.

42. Shehui ribao, August 8, 1936; Jiang & Wu 1933b: 195-6; Yuan Zheng, "Yi xi tan," 70; Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo," 23; Chen Lengseng, "Shanghai qigai wenti de tantao" (An inquiry into the beggar problems of Shanghai), in Shehui banyuekan (Social semi-monthly), vol.l, no.6 (1934): 14.

43. Shehui ribao, August 8, 1936.

44. Jiang & Wu 1933a: 87; Chen Lengseng, "Shanghai qigai wenti de tantao," 14.

45. Cao Chen, Yi huan bei chang ji, 43.

46. Antipathy toward beggars has become common again in China since beggars reappeared on a large scale in the nation after the late 1980s. See, for instance, Shijie ribao, March 3, 1992.

47. Yiren, "Qigai 'Huangdi'" (Emperor beggars), Shanghai shenghuo (Shanghai life), vol.2, no.1(1927): 14.

48. Zhang Jiya, "Da jiangjun yan" (The say of the Great General), Shanghai shenhuo (Shanghai life), the first issue (December 1926): 20-21.

49. On the popular image of beggars as supernatural being, see David Schak, A Chinese Beggars's Den, 25-39 and "Images of Beggars in Chinese Culture," in S. Allan and A. Cohen (eds.), Legend, Lore, and Religion in China: Essays in Honor of Wolfram Eberhard on his Seventieth Birthday (San Francisco, 1979), 109-133.

50. Zhejiang wenyi chubanshe (comp.), Baxian de gushi (The tales of the Eight Deities) (Hangzhou, 1983), 24-27.

51. Schak,"Images of Beggars in Chinese Culture;" Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (London, 1993), 165-66.

52. Yang Wenqi, Zhongguo yinshi minsu xue (Folklore in Chinese food) (Beijing, 1983): 41-42.

53. Shanghai zhinan (Guide to Shanghai), 1919 edition: 20.

54. Hu Pu'an, Zhonghua quanguo fengsu zhi (Records of Chinese customs) (Shanghai, 1923), 2:1: 23.

55. Qu, Zhongguo qigai shi, 207; Yin, Tu shuo 360 hang, 187.

56. Huang Qiang, "Huashen wei 'qigai' de laifangshen" (The deities who visit in 'beggar' incarnation), in Shanghai minjian wenyijia xiehui and Shanghai minsu xuehui (eds.), Zhongguo minjian wenhua (di 9 ji) - minjian lisu wenhua yanjiu (Chinese popular culture [volume 9] - research on folk rituals) (Shanghai, 1993), 245-56; Jiang & Wu 1933b: 200; Hu, Zhonghua quanguo fengsu zhi, 2:6:23, 2:1:25.

57. Qu, Zhongguo qigai shi, 208. Anthropological studies of contemporary Taiwan have noted very similar phenomena. Arthur Wolf's pioneering research on Taiwan folk religions found that beggars and bandits were sometimes treated like ghosts, and that the social identities of the three often overlapped; see Arthur P. Wolf, "Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors" (in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society [Stanford, 1974], 131-182), 170-72. Donald DeGlopper reported that in Lukang, an old seaport on the west coast of Taiwan, the first day of the eighth lunar month was reserved for the beggars' festival, and in the seventh lunar month when traditional offerings were made to ghosts "it was their [the beggars'] habit to take the food set out for the hungry ghost, who in some ways could be considered the supernatural analogues for the beggars"; see Donald R. DeGlopper, Lukang: Commerce and Community in a Chinese City (Albany, 1995), 152.

58. Kuhn, Soulstealers, 115.

59. Schak, A Chinese Beggars's Den, 45-64.

60. For instance, a "ground petition" (gao dizhuang) was an appeal written on a piece of paper or a sheet of cotton cloth and placed in front of the beggar who usually sat on a sidewalk bowing or kowtowing. This was the most common method of begging among women, children and the handicapped. In "Snake playing" (wan qinglong) a beggar played with a blue or green snake in order to attract bystanders to give alms. This begging method was so common that it had made "a beggar with a snake in arms" a popular image of the calling (such as the beggars in the paintings of the early Ming artist, Zhou Chen), although sometimes other animals such as a monkey or a dog were substituted for the snake. Begging by singing was a centuries old tradition, especially among woman beggars. "Lotus songs" (Lianhualuo), among the most common types of begging songs, probably had their origins in the Buddhist "Songs of Awakening This Mortal World" (jingshi ge) of the tenth century. "Deformed devils" (sanjiao hama, or "three-legged toad") referred to handicapped children (who might have been deliberately disfigured) exhibited to arouse pity. In "opening sky windows" (kai tianchuang) beggars "created a bloody scene" (such as by cutting their head or face) as a way of exciting compassion. Smart beggars used pig's blood. In "silence" (bu kaikou, or "not opening the mouth") the beggar pretended to be deaf or dumb. On various begging techniques, see Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo," 22; Frances Liu, "Woman's Fight Against Beggary," China Quarterly (Shanghai, 1935), vol.1, no.4: 99-104; Jiang & Wu 1933b: 197-201; Shanghaitan heimu (Shady deals in Shanghai) (Beijing, 1992 [1917]), vol.2:115; John Gray, China: A History of the Laws, Manners, and Customs of the People (London, 1878), 62-63; Xu Ke, Qing bai lei chao, vol.40: passim.

61. Chen Lengseng, "Shanghai qigai wenti de tantao," 14. This was, of course, a figure of speech to emphasize the opportunities of begging in the city. With thousands of corpses found on Shanghai's streets some years in the Republican period, such a metaphor can easily run the risk of being criticized as an exaggeration from an unsympathetic elite. One should also note that the corpses found on the streets of Shanghai were mostly victims of rural famine (many were abandoned infants of the refugees) rather than the city's regular beggars. The increasing number of street corpses in Shanghai in 1930, for instance, was a direct result of the North China famine of 1928-30, see Wakeman, Policing Shanghai (California, 1995), 84. More than 34,000 of the 36,000 corpses picked up in Shanghai that year were infants, many had been killed by their desperate parents, see Harold Isaacs, Five Years of Kuomintang Reaction (Shanghai, 1932), 63.

62. Zou Yiren, Jiu Shanghai renkou bianqian de yanjiu (Research on population change in old Shanghai) (Shanghai, 1980), 21-22, 97; Hu Huanyong (ed.), Zhongguo renkou (Shanghai fence) (China's population, Shanghai volume) (Beijing, 1987), 172-74.

63. Shanghaitan, vol.2: 113-14.

64. Vicki Baum, Shanghai '37 (Hong Kong, 1986), 389-90.

65. For more examples of remunerative tactics, see Schak, A Chinese Beggars's Den, 49-55.

66. Yang Jiayou and He Mingyun, Ta qiao gujin tan (A historical narrative on pagodas and bridges) (Shanghai, 1991), 106-114.

67. Shehui ribao, May 5, 1936.

68. Shen et al., Zhongguo mimi shehui, 140, 175.

69. Hengshe lu Tai tongren, Du Yuesheng xiansheng jinian ji (A symposium in memory of Mr. Du Yuesheng)(Taipei, 1976), 37.

70. Jiang & Wu 1933a: 84.

71. 83. Kuhn, Soulstealers, 117.

72. Shen, et al., Zhongguo mimi shehui, 176-80; Weimin, "Suo heiqi" (On beggars), Guang Zhao zhoubao (The Cantonese Native Place Association weekly), no.77 (September 1920); Ying Dengguo, Tushuo, 190-92.

73. Yuan Zheng, "Yi xi tan," 70.

74. Qi Ping, "You qigai yueli de hua" (The talk of a person who was a beggar), Shenghuo (Life), vol.1, no.26 (April 1926):160-61.

75. Xu Yuanqing, "Diaocha Shanghai qigai zhi jieguo," 22; Shen, et al., Zhongguo, 174-75.

76. Xu Chi, Shanghai zhongsheng xiang (The faces of all living creatures in Shanghai) (Shanghai, 1943), 47; Shen, et al., Zhongguo, 168.

77. Wei Shaochang and Wu Chenghui (eds.), Yuanyang hudie pai yanjiu ziliao (Research materials on the School of Mandarin Duck and Butterfly) (Shanghai, 1984), vol. 2: 793.

78. In this regard, Philip Kuhn has noted the similarity of the bureaucratic attitude towards wandering beggars in the Qing to attitude in present-day China, see Kuhn, Soulstealers, 44 and 241(note 42).

79. Xiao Qian (ed.), Shehui baixiang (All aspects of the society) (Taipei, 1992), 62.

80. Gujin tushu jicheng (The Chinese encyclopedia) (Taipei, 1964 [reprint]), juan 815: qigaibu.

81. Huang Liu-hung, A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence: A Manual for Local Magistrates in Seventeenth-Century China (Tucson, 1984), 553-54.

82. Gray, China, 55-6.

83. For instance, the Green Gang boss, Du Yuesheng, had a reputation for dispensing charity to beggars during festivals and at New Year's. A standing facility for such charity was the Shanghai Beggars' Shelter founded in 1926. See Mei Zhen and Shao Pu, Haishang wenren Du Yuesheng (Shanghai celebrity Du Yuesheng) (N.p., 1987), 38.

84. According to a report of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of China, which was perhaps the most active organization in providing charity to street beggars in Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s, there were over sixty charitable institutions in Shanghai. However, the report lamented that "With all these charitable institution existing, except one or two, we are ashamed to report that none of them admit beggars, a class of people who need our care most urgently, not for their sake alone, but that of the society as a whole . . . "(Frances Liu, "Woman's Fight Against Beggary," 101-02). See also Ho Chieh-Shiang, "The Anti-Beggar Movement in Shanghai," The China Weekly Review, 32, 13 (May 30, 1925): 358-60.

85. One of the boarding houses was actually a former prison.

86. Jiang & Wu 1933a: 234-62.

87. Chen Lengseng, "Shanghai qigai wenti de tantao," 16-18.

88. E.W. Peters, Shanghai Policeman (London, 1937), 244.

89. 104. Liu, "Woman's Fight Against Beggary."

90. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 237.

91. David D. Buck, Urban Chance in China: Politics and Development in Tsinan, Shantung, 1890-1949 (Madison, 1978), 37.

92. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 50.

93. Zhongguo kexueyuan lishi yanjiusuo disansuo jindaishi ziliao bianjizu (ed.), Wusi aiguo yundong ziliao (The materials on the May Fourth patriotic movement) (Beijing, 1959), 507,514-515.

94. L.Z. Yuan, Sidelights on Shanghai (Shanghai, 1934), 57.

95. Ellen Thorbecke, Shanghai (Shanghai, 1941), 45.

96. Shehui ribao, February 13, 1936.

97. Ernest Hauser, Shanghai: City For Sale (New York, 1940), 241.

98. Yuan, Sidelights on Shanghai, 56-7; Shehui ribao, February 13, 1936.

99. Da wanbao, February 20, 1931.

100. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 38; Shen, et al., Zhongguo, 164-5.

101. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 61 and 78.

102. Shanghaitan, vol. 2:201-2; Bao Ying, Zhang Shijie, and Hu Zhenya, Qing Hong bang mi shi (Secret history of the Green and Red gangs) (Hong Kong, 1993), 242-44; Hanchao Lu, "Away from Nanking Road: Small Stores and Neighborhood Life in Modern Shanghai," The Journal of Asian Studies, vol.54, no. 1 (February 1995), 92-123.

103. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 85.

104. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 82.

105. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 84; Shen et al., Zhongguo, 166.

106. Jiang & Wu 1933a, 50.

107. Jiang & Wu 1933b, 207.

108. A popular saying dramatizes the "preference" for begging: "Having been a beggar for three years, one would decline an offer to be a mandarin." This truly happened in some cases. For instance, in the 1930s a beggar in Guangzhou once declined an offer from his brother-in-law to serve as an official in a county office, saying that he would rather "be accompanied by the Five Hundred Monks [i.e., his fellow beggars] than to bow himself down the Five dou of Rice [i.e., a salary] ." Shen, et al., Zhongguo, 188.

109. For an account on current Chinese "floating population," see Dorothy J. Solinger, "Job Categories and Employment Channels Among the 'Floating Population'," in Greg O'Leary (ed.), Adjusting to Capitalism: Chinese Workers and the State (Armonk, 1998), 3-47. For information on the "floating population" in Shanghai in the 1980s, see Shanghaishi tongjiju (Shanghai Municipal Bureau of Statistics) (ed.), Shanghai liudong renkuo (Shanghai's Floating Population) (Shanghai, 1989).

110. Shijie ribao, 3/3/92, 10/7/93, 3/22/93, 1/26/94. This does not suggest that begging is the primary goal for the rural people who "float" to the city. But a sizeable portion of the floating population ended up begging in order to survive. For a detailed account on the beggars' world in present-day China, see Liu Hantai, Zhonghuo de qigai qunluo (The beggars' community in China) (N.p., 1987), a 257 page record of actual events dedicated to the United Nations' homeless year.

111. Shuijinshi (Crystal), no.42:3-14; Fazhi yu wenming (Legality and civilization), no. 9 (September 1988):4-13; Liu Hantai, Zhonghuo de qigai qunluo, 21.

112. Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 (New York, 1984).
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