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Guilty of IndigenceThe Urban Poor in China, 1900-1953$
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Janet Y. Chen

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780691152103

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691152103.001.0001

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Beggars or Refugees?

Beggars or Refugees?

(p.128) Chapter 4 Beggars or Refugees?
Guilty of Indigence

Janet Y. Chen

Princeton University Press

This chapter follows the fortunes of occupied Beijing and the “solitary island” of Shanghai, against the backdrop of a broader national crisis. Here, the outbreak of World War II in China in July 1937 launched a refugee crisis that profoundly changed perceptions of “poverty” and its realities. In Beijing, the chapter shows that while the collaborationist government largely preserved the existing structure of poor relief, aggressive policing tactics resulted in the large-scale incarceration of people who aroused suspicion simply because they were homeless. In contrast, treaty port Shanghai, which remained free of Japanese occupation until the Pearl Harbor attack, became a temporary haven for more than 1.5 million refugees. The initial outpouring of sympathy for war victims transformed the face of urban poverty. But when the crisis did not abate, the refugee issue hardened into “the beggar problem,” reconfiguring old debates about both poverty and responsibility for poor relief.

Keywords:   World War II, refugee crisis, refugees, security, incarceration, war victims, beggars

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