A report by a 17-year-old high-school student has provided an interesting insight into the city's so-called "begging phenomenon".
Huang Yan, a student at the No 2 High School of East China Normal University, spent eight months interviewing and photographing 265 beggars for her 48-page report, which was completed earlier this year.
"I was a little shocked to discover that more than 40 percent of the beggars I spoke to were earning more than 1,000 yuan per month," said Huang.
"They were also very different from the traditional image of someone begging for food to stay alive. In fact, 221 of the 265 beggars I interviewed said they bought their own food with the money they collected. They beg for money as well as food," she said.
According to Huang's figures, about 38 percent of beggars earn 41 to 60 yuan ($5.26 to $7.70) a day, while 9 percent make more than 80 yuan ($10.26) a day.
"Of course, they wouldn't tell me exactly what they were making, but I would follow them for several hours and then estimate their daily income," said the young student, who is both talkative and confident.
Huang said that 63 of the people she interviewed were "occupational beggars", who had made a conscious choice to live that way. They were not forced to do so because they were poor or homeless, she said. Staff at a government homeless shelter told Huang that about 80 percent of the street people in Shanghai were occupational beggars.
"But I am still sympathetic towards beggars," said Huang. "Not only because they live such poor lives, but also because they lose their sense of being a real person."
Huang said the idea to conduct the research came to her last July, while she was riding the metro with a student from Britain who was accosted by a young beggar. She said the situation was embarrassing but also made her think. She became inspired to find out why beggars are like they are.
"At first, I was really shy and frightened to talk with them. I only spoke to the kind-looking ones," she said.
On one occasion, a male beggar almost smashed her camera while she was taking a picture of him and his young son on a metro train.
Others, she said, insisted on payment for answering her questions, so she would give them a few yuan for their time.
"Then I would ask questions until they became impatient," she said.
Huang's parents were initially against their daughter's decision to compile the report, but later came to see the value of the project and even provided her with financial support to pay the beggars.
Huang's completed report was recognised earlier this year with a prize at the 22nd Shanghai Technology Creation Competition for Students.
But while her work might be finished, Huang says she continues to talk to beggars on her way to school.
"It has become almost a hobby," she smiled.
Source: China Daily