Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Henry - 2009 - The Beggar's Play Poverty, Coercion, And Performance in Shenyang, China

Henry - 2009 - The Beggar's Play Poverty, Coercion, And Performance in Shenyang, China

Ratings: (0)|Views: 4|Likes:
Published by Ashlar Trystan
Henry - 2009 - The Beggar's Play Poverty, Coercion, And Performance in Shenyang, China
Henry - 2009 - The Beggar's Play Poverty, Coercion, And Performance in Shenyang, China

More info:

Published by: Ashlar Trystan on Aug 24, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





The Beggar's Play: Poverty, Coercion, and Performance in Shenyang,China
Eric Henry
Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 82, Number 1, Winter 2009,pp. 7-35 (Article)
Published by George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
DOI: 10.1353/anq.0.0051
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by University of Washington @ Seattle at 11/29/10 2:31PM GMT
The Beggar’s Play: Poverty,Coercion, and Performance inShenyang, China
Eric Henry
Carleton University 
 Anthropological Quarterly,
Vol. 82, No. 1, pp. 7–36, ISSN 0003-549. © 2009 by the Institute for EthnographicResearch (IFER) a part of the George Washington University. All rights reserved.
This article examines begging in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang as a form of street theater rather than as simply a sign of poverty. Begging  performances play upon key cultural scripts and anxieties to unsettle and disturb potential donors, thus increasing the size of the gift. Using the story of an encounter between a street beggar and a foreign English teacher, thearticle argues that for ordinary Chinese urban residents, begging is anuncomfortable reminder of the costs of development and modernization.
[Keywords: Begging, Performance, Poverty, Modernity, China]
The Beggar’s Play: Poverty, Coercion, and Performance in Shenyang, China
It is as if [the beggar] were saying, ‘But it is obvious, there is no gettingaway from it, here I am begging from you and by this fact alone I havea claim on you. So what can you be thinking of? Why don’t you dosomething about it?’ (Lévi-Strauss 1974:136)Beggars are a common sight on the urban streets of the northeasternChinese city of Shenyang; they include people from all age groups and bothgenders. Old people, their hair left loose, tangled and white, their clothesand shoes muddied and full of holes, sit on the sidewalks in front of shop-ping centers and fast-food restaurants, with battered metal bowls in frontof them. As a few odd coins are thrown in, they bow to passersby mutter-ing “Thank you, thank you, save my life (
).” Or deformed children,their limbs bent at crooked angles, hard flat pieces of rubber tied to theirwaists, drag their bodies across the pavement on their hands. Men doze onthe streets, wrapped in old winter coats with their bowl laid out in front ofthem, while women tow dirty children behind them, pleading with pedes-trians. As they amble or crawl through the crowds on the main streets, theflood of humanity parts and flows around them, and they are left as wound-ed and dirty islands in an otherwise endless stream of people.The visceral reaction to the beggar’s appearance leads me to focus, inthis article, on how beggars (
) and begging (
) are understood andimagined by urban Chinese residents. As the historian Hanchao Lu (1999)points out in his study of begging in republican Shanghai, Chinese popularculture at the time attached multiple meanings to beggars: as pitifulwretches, as parasites who lived richly on the naïve generosity of alms-givers, and even as disguised deities or immortals who came to test thecompassion of humans. In the contemporary post-Mao era, beggars havebeen recruited into wider social discourses about modernization and devel-opment, about the success or failure of China’s capitalist economic experi-ment and reform efforts. It is, in the words of one group of Chinese schol-ars “a greatly disconcerting phenomenon” that should “attract the highestdegree of attention from the Party and government” (Wang, Xu and Jiang2003:13). Their greatest concerns are that begging will negatively influenceChina’s “favorable international image” and affect international trade,tourism, and foreign relations. Key to these discourses is the idea that beg-gars are now more than a simple domestic issue; by attracting the attentionof foreign others, they hold the potential to tarnish China’s internationalpresence. Chinese interpretations of the begging phenomenon, and of beg-

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->