I came across this image on Jim Gourley's blog Tianjin for the last decade and spent much of that time in Beijing, watching both cities boom around him. To me, this image of a beggar in Beijing's West Train Station brings to mind parts of China that are being left standing while the race for wealth and modernity passes by in a blur. To see more of Jim's pictures, click here.
Beggars are a common sight across China and with the gap between rich and poor widening daily, thousands of people displaced to make way for modern new developments and a social welfare system that can't always offer support when its needed, there will doubtless be many more joining their ranks.
Tales of mafia-style begging gangs and fake beggars make it difficult to know how to respond when asked for money on the street. Some have small children sleeping in their arms (are they drugged?), others horrific scarring or amputated limbs (inflicted by their ganglords?), some are so old and frail it seems they could disintegrate before your eyes. Some threaten, some plead, some cling, some insult. All are insistent... but to give, or not to give? That is the question.
Unfortunately there's no real clear cut answer. Fake beggars and horrific gangs abound but their tactics are often easier to spot and to fend off with a clear conscience--aggressive and rude, they don't want to take no for an answer. Hand over a penny and you'll quickly be surrounded by others clamoring for a handout. Then there are those who are genuinely and desperately in need, who can make a few pieces of loose change go a long way. If you're not sure but can't just walk on by, stop at the next food stall and grab thema couple of jiaozi, at least that way you know your money is going in their belly rather than someone else's pockets.