Shanghai (China Daily/ANN) - A list ranking the beggars most frequently caught on Shanghai's metro trains since 2008 has caused controversy, with many people saying there should be greater sympathy toward this disadvantaged group.
The list was recently published online by the Xujiahui police station of Shanghai public security bureau urban rail and bus corps.
Topping the list is a 22-year-old illiterate man from Liaoning province who lives near the train station, has broken legs and a record of being caught begging on metro trains by police 309 times.
Ranking second is an 88-year-old woman from Anhui province who has been caught 303 times. Police said she would beg whenever she lost money from "her mahjong gambling party".
The release of the list coincides with the launch of a campaign by the Xujiahui police station called "Say No to Beggars On the Metro".
The campaign encourages metro riders to send an instant text or voice message through Weixin, a popular social networking application on mobile phones, if they spot a beggar on the train between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. These are the peak hours for beggars to "work" on the metro.
Alternatively, they can also call the hotline to report beggars.
Stressing it is just a test run on Metro Lines 1, 5 and 7 between Aug. 6 and today, the police station's official weibo, a Twitter-like micro blog service, said that urban rail police are trying the new methods due to complaints from subway users about begging on metro trains, which is illegal. Police have been cracking down on begging activities for many years but there is no effective way to stop the activity.
"Our plainclothes police officers are on duty whenever beggars are on duty [at metros]," said a 28-year-old metro staff member surnamed Zhao, who is in charge of maintaining safety at Xujiahui Station.
According to Zhao, the beggars' "working time" can be as late as 7 p.m. or even 8 p.m., so the plainclothes police officers also have to work till 9 p.m.
"But the police officers sometimes feel helpless because they cannot do too much about the beggars, as no 'strong-arm tactic' is allowed. We can only educate the beggars," Zhao said.
Usually, beggars are taken to the metro police station, have their violations recorded and are warned to stop begging.
But as the toughest penalty is just a fine, many beggars continue to return to the metro trains and end up being caught again.
"The metro trains have become a big stage for the beggars, despite regulations saying they are forbidden on the train," Zhao said.
The release of the list of the most frequently caught beggars on the city's metro has stirred up a heated debate about how police should treat the beggars.
Following massive coverage in the local media, many netizens have expressed sympathy toward "the disadvantaged group", and criticised the police for being "mean" to beggars.
Some netizens even said the list was humiliating to the vulnerable people.
"We could be nicer to those older and disabled beggars. Their physical or mental imperfections catalogued them to their current social positions. Rather than kicking them out of the metro train, the police could be lenient when treating them," said Dong Jieyu, a retired woman who often rides the metro in Shanghai.
The urban rail police refused to comment further on their ongoing campaign yesterday, except to clarify some rumours.
"We did not arrest any of the beggars. Instead, we treated them with food and water at our office," explained Li Lu, spokeswoman for Shanghai Public Security Bureau Corps Urban Rain and Bus.
Yang Chao, a lawyer with Beijing's Huawei Law Firm, said the motivations behind begging in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are complicated, and the public should not sympathise with all of them.
"Some beggars are forced to become beggars for bread, while others regard it as an occupation to make money. The police are only against the latter ones," Yang said.
Metropolises including Beijing and Shanghai have their own rescue stations and systems to return migrant beggars to their homes.
Chen Jing contributed to this story.