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Panhandling and the Contestation of Public Space in Guangzhou

Ryanne Flock
p. 37-44


Urban public space is a product of contestations by various actors. This paper focuses on the conflict between local level government and beggars to address the questions: How and why do government actors refuse or allow beggars access to public space? How and why do beggars appropriate public space to receive alms and adapt their strategies? How does this contestation contribute to the trends of urban public space in today’s China? Taking the Southern metropolis of Guangzhou as a case study, I argue that beggars contest expulsion from public space through begging performances. Rising barriers of public space require higher investment in these performances, taking even more resources from the panhandling poor. The trends of public order are not unidirectional, however. Beggars navigate between several contextual borders composed by China’s religious renaissance; the discourse on deserving, undeserving, and dangerous beggars; and the moral legitimacy of the government versus the imagination of a successful, “modern,” and “civilised” city. This conflict shows the everyday production of “spaces of representation” by government actors on the micro level where economic incentives merge with aspirations for political prestige.

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Bibliographical reference

Ryanne Flock, « Panhandling and the Contestation of Public Space in Guangzhou », China Perspectives, 2014/2 | 2014, 37-44.

Electronic reference

Ryanne Flock, « Panhandling and the Contestation of Public Space in Guangzhou », China Perspectives [Online], 2014/2 | 2014, Online since 01 January 2017, connection on 04 June 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Ryanne Flock

Ryanne Flock is a PhD candidate at Freie Universität Berlin.Freie Universität Berlin, East Asian Institute, Ehrenbergstr. 26-28, 14195 Berlin, Germany (

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