Police in Shanghai published a list of beggars who have been caught most often on metro trains over the past four years on 21 August 2012, sparking
debates about the problem of “professional” beggars. The scorekeeper, who has been caught 308 times, is 22-year-old young man from Anhui province in perfect health, following by an 88-year-old woman with a record of 292 times. Of the various problems which our country faces today, the problem of begging is one of the most acute ones. Every one of us has seen numerous kinds of beggars.
Some are blind, lame or crippled, and so take to begging. Child and orphan beggars also are very common. However, others, who are physically sound before they join the begging “career” but undertake is as their profession, for it enables them to earn their living easily. The causes of begging are many, and they are very similar between inland China beggars and those in other developing countries (e.g. India, Pakistan etc.
). First of all, some people, mostly the elder and the very young, are physically incapable of doing any work and have no other skills.
The only way of getting food open to them is begging. They also deserve the sympathy of others. Secondly, some people take to begging due to natural disasters. Thirdly, some criminals when they come out of jails are not treated sympathetically by society. They are not given any chance to begin their life afresh. Becoming a beggar is the only way to find a shelter. On the other hand, mostly in the big cities, some people, who do not suffer from poverty and handicap, see the trade of begging flourishing and beggars earning their livelihood in a very easy way, they just enter the profession. In order to earn more sympathy, they broke their own legs or putrefied their own skin; or even worse, some kidnapped other people’s children and handicapped them. There are also illegal organizations which train children in the art of begging. One can argue that improper social rehabilitation and salvage mechanism may cause the problem in the above paragraph. But the truth is the mature Homeless Shelter & Aid Station system in China’s big cities leaves little room for criticism.
We not only provide food, water and shelter in these aid stations, we also provide job consultancy service for the health ones and train tickets to send them home. So, what is the motivation of these people (some even with a college degree) to become professional beggars? Let us compare the following two income numbers first. The average monthly income of a middle-level manager in Beijing is around US$1440 ($65 daily) before tax; the average daily income of a professional beggar who “work” on metro trains in Shanghai is US$130, and tax-free.
To top it all, on 13 November 2012, a male beggar carrying a kid was spotted getting on his Audi A6 sedan after “work” in Qingdao city, east China’s Shandong province. These professional beggars also refuse any kind of help from the social and private charity groups. In China’s big cities, the professional beggars seem to live a better life than ordinary working class people. Based on the evidence and arguments above, we will now use the PATH model to find out the truth beneath the problem and try to find a way (or several) to tackle this conundrum. Why does the problem of professional beggars so severe in China’s big cities? What is the motive under the career choosing? Can we help them to establish a correct value of wealth?
1. PATH-Problem: Identifying and defining the problem
According to Buunk and Van Vugt (2008)’s PATH protocol in order to fully understand the root of the problem, we need to diagnose it with brainstorming and various background data. For the professional beggar problem specifically, here is what we need to know: a. What is the central problem that needs to be understood and addressed? Unlike real beggars who are unable to support themselves, professional beggars take begging as a profitable career. Their willingness to beg is the key problem lying behind the social phenomenon. (Hong Ying, Li 2000) Many news reports and social policy articles (Zhi. Li 2006, Chao Li 2005, Jiaqing Zou 2003 etc) have pointed out that the low sense of dignity versus the high income the beggars get may be one of the core issues needed to be tackled in the problem.
We also consider this as our central problem in our PATH model. b. Why is a particular issue perceived as a problem in the first place? The beggars’ personal unwillingness to change their career path is not only the core issue in the begging problem, it is also the root of several other detrimental social problems which we’ll illustrate later in the paragraph. If we cannot change their value, any aid and help from other people and the government will eventually end in vein. As we posted in the introduction part, even though the Homeless Shelter & Aid station mechanism is quite mature (Liulu Zhang 2009) in China’s big cities, the professional beggars still won’t accept these help. c. For whom is it a problem?
We found out besides that the whole society which will be indirectly affected by this problem; there are three types of people/organizations that suffer directly from it. First, are the beggars themselves. Since they have chosen that as their career, they lost chances to be employed as full-time workers with sufficient welfare benefit and medical insurance. In china, the composition of the professional beggars is mostly the floating population, meaning they cannot get the citizenship in the cities they beg and their original places will terminate their pension supply or even their ID after certain years. Second, are the beggars’ families. Their begging behavior humiliates the whole families, even the whole village, sometimes. On practical level, since they may lose their ID after several years’ begging career in big citers, their children will miss the education opportunity due to black hukou (residence registration). Third, the governments of big cities are victims, too.
Not only because the professional beggar damaged the city image and wasted public resources, but they also rose the crime rate especially in child-kidnapping and street violence. (Xiangyu Chen, Na Li. 2011) d. What causes the problem and how do these causes affect the problem? On the larger scale, the mammonism (money worship) of the whole country is the culprit. Just as the ancient Chinese saying goes “prostitution is better than poverty” became the firm belief of the professional beggars (Daming Zhu, 2010). They witnessed the gap of wealth when they arrived at the big cities, in order to attenuate the relative deprivation, they might have tried several job and then found that begging is the easiest way, which leading to another cause. That is the laziness rooted in them. Why is that the case? In most small town people’s child memories, big cities were heavenly places filled with gold. They were never aware of our hard-working principles.
From generations to generations, they enjoy their lay-back lifestyle and envy others’ wealth in the mean time. They just cannot get the simple logic of the positive relation between hardworking and wealth-gaining. However, we cannot simply blame this wrong idea to the professional beggars only; their family education and grow-up environment have a lot to do with. As the floating population, many migrant workers choose to leave their young offspring with their old parent. The lack of parent-child interaction unfortunately causes the apathy among family members. That is why when some professional beggars were interviewed; they said they feel abandoned by the family so there is no need to feel shame in their career. e.who should be convinced of the problem?
Besides the professional beggars, their families and the city government we mentioned above. The citizens and the workers of the Homeless Shelter & Aid Stations are also need to be convinced of the problem. They should form the idea that their sympathy and help to the professional beggars are encouraging postures, which, in the long run, will deepen the problem. f. Whose cooperation is necessary to help solve the problem? The professional beggars themselves, their families, the workers of the aid stations, citizens with superfluous sympathy as well as the city governments. g. Can a social psychological intervention be helpful to tackle the problem at hand? Absolutely.
As mentioned in previous paragraphs, the existing regulations and the help mechanisms do not work in a sufficient way. According to the law, begging is not a crime thus so as to respect their human rights the enforcing authority can only send them to the aid station. However, they will come back to pursue their begging career in big cities after the aid workers send them home again and again. Embracing a social psychological intervention will help us to figure out a solution that may tackle the core of the problem (i.e. the beggars’ willingness to give up begging voluntarily). By applying this, we aim to shift their begging behavior through rectifying their attitude and cognition towards wealth gaining.
The outcome of the problem definition:
Most of the professional beggars are healthy people or the self-mutilated ones who choose to be beggars. Their willingness to beg is solely based on the twisted wealthy-oriented value. (problem) Why do these self supportable people (target population) beg rather than work (behaviours) and what can we do to change their mind and live a normal life? (solution)
2. PATH-Analysis: Formulating appropriate concepts and developing theory based explanations 2.1 The outcome variables In the previous problem-definition chapter we named several variables that influence the behavior of the professional beggars. In this paragraph, we’re going into detail to put these variables into three categories: predisposing factors, reinforcing factors and enabling factors. On the larger scale, the predisposing factors the general money worship mood of the society drive these professional beggars to choose begging as a career path. Besides that, other citizens categorize the problem as separate from their own; they have no incentive to care or to help the government solving the issue.
On the personal scale of the beggars, the gap of wealth they witnessed is one of the strongest drivers for begging behavior. The family pressure can be considered as the main reinforcing factor that influences the begging behavior which has a strong encourage effect. For the beggars themselves, the substitutability of their previous normal jobs will enhance their continuation of begging. Although, tremendous effort has been put into the social aid system, there is always some room to improve. If a social psychology perspective help can be added in the system, which will sure be more helpful than mere material and advising aid.
2.2 Brainstorming: Explaining “willingness to live a self-support life” For the professional beggars themselves, no trust in the welfare system, lack of work motivation and the “easy money/ quick money” that they can acquire through begging largely weaken the desire to give up. For their families, fear of poverty is the largest negative factors which influence the willingness. At the other end, the shame they feel when they get to know that their family member is a beggar might pressure these professional beggars to live a self-supported life. To the city governments, how to increase the willingness of the professional beggars to give up the career voluntarily is a thorny problem. Because on one hand, stricter regulation and laws will violate their human rights, on the other hand, the current rules and aid system do not seem to work in a productive. The governments need to find a way that can produce positive result as well as minimize the waste of public resources.
2.3 Provisional Explanation
Based on the above analysis and brainstorming, we came out with the provisional explanation of our professional beggars’ problem which shows the graph below: On the left hand, five personal and external determinants are listed that will directly influence the willingness to live a self-support life. The environmental conditions with the outcome variable (i.e. give up career begging) is showed to the right. [pic]
2.4 Issue related approaches
Several study papers written by domestic policy researcher have shown us certain possible reason for this existing phenomenon: – Instability of job position (Wei Guo, 2012). A lot of people can find a labor job, but since it is mostly not skill related and therefore they are highly replaceable. In comparison, being a professional beggar, they are at least “self-employed”. – Lack of understanding from the society (Xiangyu Chen, Na li, 2010). The society mostly fails to really understand the difficulty of professional beggar without having been in similar situation.
With the idea of not being understood, professional beggars then have doubts about the readiness of social help, which negatively effects their willingness to try to start a self-dependent life. – Polarization of social wealth (D Xue-hui, 2003). As a popular theory goes, 20% of the population possess 80% of the resources, so that the rich become richer, the poor then poorer. The professional beggars in this environment face a higher likelihood to think they are lower level human being and of no use to the society. That’s why they also have only little willingness to give up the begging career.
2.5 Conceptual approaches
To incorporate to the social psychological level, we try to look at this problem with some field related theories: – Emotion on decision making. One of the braches of it is Self Defense Mechanisms (Phebe Cramer 2006). SDM in simple words are psychological strategies brought into play to maintain a socially acceptable self-image. In our case, choosing the professional beggar career is a cause of shame and embarrassment. When they categorize themselves in a lower level of social life, they have doubts about the truthfulness of the society. Thinking that they are only pitied and not understood, they become closed to themselves and fail to trust in the true kindness. As consequence, they are not ready or open to accept possible help which could help them to start a independent life. – Social comparison (Naomi Ellemers, 2002).
To be more specific for our case, we need to understand Relative Deprivation Theory. It refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled than those around them. Most professional beggars are not enough educated or maybe even have not been through the obligated education phase, which leaves them with no competitive skills to set food in the job market. They also don’t see themselves with any potential success in the society. Alone with this, they still need to face the unrealistic high expectation from the family.
When they want to go back home, in order not to “lose face”, they will need to have enough money, which, considering their situation, is hard to earn other than being beggars. – Risk perception. Affect being a important part of the risk perception, we will here take a look at how Mood Congruence Effect (Seo et al., 2010) can influence our problem. According to this effect, if positive feeling responds to positive outcome, a prospective positive outcome will be rated as more likely. In our case, the amount of money earned is very close to the amount of a normal employee, which for the beggars is a surprisingly good income level. Combined the positive income and the happy feeling, they are more convinced about the “bright future” in the begging career, and therefore not willing to give it up.
2.6 General theory approach
At the end it all comes to expectation: individuals expect a higher social status; families expect the children to be successful; the society expects the professional beggars to disappear. We will see a bit closer from these three aspects: – Personal: individuals leave home to try to make a career so that they can feed their family, make them proud and be useful to the society. But having a goal without having corresponding skills to actually live up to their expectation, leaves them in frustration. Being a professional beggar in this situation becomes their lifebuoy. The money they earn from it in some level creates them the illusion of having a career and it amends for the feeling of losing social status. – Family: every parent thinks that their children can be successful in the society one way or another.
The money the beggars bring home is the “proof” of their success, which, when the family is not aware of the method how they earn it, is sometimes more than enough for the family to believe that their expectation has been met. – Society: the society deep down wishes that the professional beggars won’t, one day, be a problem anymore. With this in mind, people try to donate material or offer voluntary help. The material/monetary help in some way actually assures the beggars that they will be able to make a life being in the career. When the society doesn’t see the improvement of their expectation over time, they lose the motivation to keep on helping.
3. Test – final answer
Before we can come to the final graph, we go through again all the possible relevant elements with 2 criterions: relevance and changeability. The same time we try to eliminate the elements with low relevance and/or low changeability, also the ones that overlap with others. – Substitutability (in a job position): it means that it’s hard for the beggars to find a stable job. It then overlaps with “easy money”, which says that the beggar career offers them the possibility to have a “job” that also earns them money easily. – Experience similarity (from the social help side): having a similar experience brings a bigger chance to actually understand the difficulties that others are facing. With appropriate understand the help can then be genuine. It therefore overlaps with “sympathy”. But then in order to understand most of the time is a issue of willingness. The society has already rated the beggars negative without seeing the actually reasons of the phenomenon.
Some who have faced the same situation but came out being actually successful may despite the others who couldn’t. In the way, the similar experience is not so relevant to solve the problem. – Skill learning opportunities: as the quote goes, you give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, you teach a man to fish and you feed him for lifetime. Learning a practical skill is the approach which will eventually have huge impact on this issue. The opportunities are actually widely offered, but then the beggars are not willing to take them, since they think the learning then finding a job process is taking the time away from them earning easy money. So the skill learning opportunities is here not so relevant. – Awareness of manipulation: some beggars did not start the beggar career on their own intention. They might have been talked into the line of work. Those people who talked them into form this company-like group, they act like their “manager”, assign their tasks, location etc and also take profit from them.
But then it’s hard to notice that they are manipulated while they are actually having income. This element is hard to be changed. – Over-valuation of material life: in the big environment money talks. Money can’t do everything but then without money nothing can be done. Generally accepted idea is that a good material life is the basis of a successful life. This element exist worldwide so that it would be really difficult to change people’s believe in it. |Determinants |Changeability |Relevance |Overlap (Y/N) | |Substitutability |+ + |+ |Y | |Experience similarity |- – |+ |Y | |Learning opportunities |+ |/ |N | |Awareness of manipulation |- – |+ |N | |Over-valuation material life |- – |+ + |Y | |Establishment of dignity |+ |+ + |N | |Disbelief in society |- |+ |N | |Easy moneys |+ + |+ |N | |Empathy/Real solicitude |+ + |+ + |N | |Family pressure |+ |+ + |N |
After the eliminations, we can now here draw a final graph:
As illustrated above, there are three main variables (Establishment of dignity, Empathy/Real solicitude and Readiness to accept help) hold positive relation with the “give up begging” outcome, and two negative ones (Family pressure and Easy money). [pic]
We believe that “Establishment of dignity” from the personal side of the sbeggar and “Empathy/ Real solicitude” from the society/government side serves as the most important positive fact in the whole relationship. Not only because they are more initiative variables than others, but also, as shown, they get more positive determinants.
With the final graph presented, now we will incorporate the social psychology theory and the real life issue together to understand the existence of the problem and eventually find out the possible solution to solve it. – Readiness to accept help. If the beggars get to earn more self-esteem, it will reduce the feeling of embarrassment or shame. Alone side they will more likely to think the society is not just pitying them but instead try to understand and help them. With these two influences, the self defense mechanisms would play a less important role. In the end they will be more ready to open themselves to the help. – Family pressure. The high expectation from family doesn’t match with the actual skills is the core reason why the beggars experience the relative deprivation. If they feel that there are no ways that they can be useful or appreciated, they will lose the willingness to improve themselves. In this case the families need to understand them too.
They should not only compare the monetary income but more the skills learned and the independence of their lives, to value the individual improvement more. – Easy money. Compared to the income of a normal low skill required labor work, the money they earned being a professional beggar is rather nice. Therefore, their belief in future gain becomes a strong moderator in the relationship between easy money and the willingness to live a self-support life. The unexpected income level leads to positive emotions, with which they have more expectation towards the continuation of this career. If they think they can earn a living from it, then they won’t be willing to give up and try to start a self-supported life.
PATH – Help
4. Hypothetical conclusion
After trying to analyze the phenomenon, we came across some possible steps that we can take to improve the situation, among which the measures on a personal base seem to have the ability to create the biggest impact. It means a change of their way to think. Only when they believe in self value, in the genuine help from the society, can the other measures or policy do their work. To do that, truthful communications between families and individuals as well as between individuals and the society should be encouraged t to take place. The openness will improve the understanding, which eventually improves the social situation.
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