Chinese beggars brought to book

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The Independent Online

The illustrated guide, Recognizing Phonies, runs through a laundry list of popular scams, from women faking pregnancies to counterfeit monks and bogus students asking for help paying their tuition fees.

"Amid the great army of city vagrants, there is a cadre of professional beggars who prey on the sympathies of citizens," reads the manual, issued by the city's Civil Affairs Bureau. "There isn't a trick they won't try."The guide is just one of the ways in which cities in the country's booming east are struggling to cope with an influx of beggars following a 2003 decision to rescind police powers to detain them.

Supporters hailed the reform as an advance for human rights, but its main effect has been to stretch social services to breaking point and stir resentment among the city's inhabitants.

"We don't want to discourage people from helping beggars," said one official. "We just want to make sure they don't get tricked."

But while many Shanghai beggars seem able-bodied, more are like old Mr Liu, who sits on an overpass, toots on a flute and collects change in a tin can. "I'm not trying to fool anyone," he said. "I've got a sick wife and son at home."

More than half of China's 1.3 billion population live on less than £1.30 a day.