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Beijing’s Subway Beggars

Glimpse into the workings of Beijing's professional subway beggars


Beijing’s Subway Beggars

Glimpse into the workings of Beijing's professional subway beggars


On Beijing’s various subway lines, passengers race for seats, get pushed, squished, and sometimes  get into fights during different times of the day. There are various forms of sexual harassment,  free riders, people with disabilities who can’t get on, middle-aged dama (大妈, older women) in safety jackets, security, and beggars. BJ News recently investigated the phenomenon of subway beggars in Beijing, a piece that reveals many astounding underground realities.

“According to the report, a police officer surnamed Sun was observed shouting at one of the beggars to stop pretending to be disabled. Accompanied by the passengers laughing when the beggar then stood up on both legs.

At 8pm on June 24, a homeless person called Wang Yongquan was seen wrapping both his legs in a plastic sheet and getting on to a train by supporting himself on his hands. He is not the only person to pretend to be disabled in order to earn the sympathy of passengers and beg for money, the report said. On the afternoon of June 27, Shu Xin, in her thirties, was also seen holding the hand of a four-year-old and begging for money after narrating her predicament as a single mother.” (via Want China Times)

Wang Yongquan is one of those beggars that you sometimes encounter on the subway, blasting an old song from his portable and low-quality sound system, dragging himself across the floor with his arms, asking passengers for money. Three hours of this work brought him 200 yuan, as Wang tells BJ News reporter “This is the only way I could make a living”. He is only one of the many fake handicapped beggars in Beijing. Along with teenage children singing in choir-style, grey-haired old women, and scar-faced men, they beg professionally around the capital city’s underground tunnels. These professional beggars are usually from rural areas and have come to Beijing to make a living. A mother-daughter begging duo tells the reporter that after her husband divorced her, and she has nowhere to go. For her, begging is easier than waitressing, and she earns the same amount of money. Wang Yongquan remembers that hundreds of women with children swarmed into Beijing subways in the year of 2010, when Shanghai started relief measures for the Expo. However, not all of the children of these “mother” beggars are their own. Most of them are “rented” rather than abducted though, as WCT continues:

“…police officers said that most female beggars bring their own children, and that so far no one had been charged with child abduction.

Wang said that there were several beggars, who discouraged others from bringing children along with them.

He added that he could earn at least 7,000 yuan (US$1,100) a month from begging on the subway and is thinking of recruiting apprentices to help him.”

A “mother” explains to the reporter that people usually rent children around their poor hometowns for 800 to 1000 yuan a month, and return them when school resumes. The subway beggars have certain rules that they obey, including pausing when the train pulls into the station in fear of police, but there are other threats as well:

“Another beggar also told BJ News that the police frequently target and remove them, but said that police patrolling the platforms are not a strong enough deterrent. The plainclothes police officers on the trains were far more threatening, he added.

He explained that it was not easy to spot them because there are often too many passengers on the trains and beggars are automatically fined if they get caught. They also face punishment if they break the rules set by senior beggars.”

Sometimes they get beat up by passengers for hassling them. The “richer” lines of Line 1, Line 2, Line 5, and Batong are territories of senior beggars where newbies are instructed to stay away from. Senior beggars also make up rules designating which stops to get on, to get off, and how to beg. When a beggar meets a turf owner on the same subway, the beggar should stop immediately and get off the train when it stops because it is not polite, a beggar says.

Although subway beggars are rampant and cause passengers’ annoyance, there are already regulations against begging in the subway. According to the law, beggars could face up to 15 days of arrest and 1000 yuan fines for constant hassling. Subway companies refuse to ban beggars because they do pay for their tickets. Regulations do not scare them off, however. Compared to begging in underpasses and on streets, the subway is air-conditioned, and it’s confined space leaves passengers nowhere to turn a blind eye.

Image courtesy of BJ News.