This essay starts with an analysis of mendicancy as a competitive urban profession in modern Shanghai, a city that had one of the nation's largest armies of street beggars and was in many aspects the best case to reveal mendicancy in urban China. This is followed by a glimpse of the rich variety of public views on mendicancy that, taken together, formed a culture on poverty. Most of the public views and images of beggars were skillfully exploited by the beggars themselves to develop begging tactics and techniques. This in turn affected the image of beggars in the public's eyes. Finally, by examining the relations between the state and vagrants, the author suggests that the absence of state intervention in the beggars' world brought forth begging rackets and politics. Beggars organized and governed themselves to achieve some degree of control over competition and to establish social order among themselves. In this respect, beggar society was not unlike other social groups in China, such as trade organizations, native place associations ( tongxiang hui ), professional societies, and the like, which existed to secure some degree of autonomy in their own domains in order to help with their members' success--or in some cases, sheer survival--in an increasingly competitive urban world.

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pp. 7-36
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