Double life of China's beggars

CHINA - Dressed in rags and tatters, seriously ill, he was lying on the ground, watching his "sister" kowtowing and reaching out for alms from sympathetic passersby; hours later, he became magically cured, got up and stretched his legs, then went to a restaurant for a big dinner.

This is a typical day of some beggars we may run into at every corner of the city, according to a report by CCTV.

The report released several photos shot by Cui Guanghua, a photographer, who has been following a group of beggars for a week in Zhengzhou, Central China's Henan province.

According to Cui, the group has about 10 members.

Usually, they work in shifts and beg on streets, parks, subways and other public places until 11 pm and reward themselves with a rich dinner.

After the dinner, they put their money together and share the fruit of a day's labour.

"They can make about 2,000 yuan (S$410) a day," Cui observed. The next day, the beggars will exchange partners and stage a different yet still heart-breaking trick to take money from Samaritans' pockets.

The members of this group are not alone in becoming better off by begging.

An old beggar came into the public eye this week when a photo of him counting change in a post office was posted online.

The man earned so much this Mid-Autumn Festival that it took him three consecutive days to count the money he was to remit. Staff at the post office said the beggar offered a 100 yuan ($16.3) tip to those who would help him count the money.

Earlier reports revealed that beggars who have made a career out of begging can earn more than 10,000 yuan ($1,617) a month, carry real estate certificates and even entry permits for Hong Kong and Macao.

"They have damaged trust in the society", said Li Qiang, a professor in sociology at Qinghua University. If the good-doers are regularly cheated they will not help those who actually need it.

But it can be really tricky to deal with the "professional beggars," Li admitted. Many beggars who are physically capable of doing work don't want low-end jobs because they earn more from begging.