Each morning, 35-year-old Wei Baming packs his blanket in a storage area of the bus station here and makes his way to Liu Hua Road, not far from the city's exhibition center. Nestled in his arms is his 4-month-old daughter, Little Leaf, whose mother died six days after giving birth.
Wei is dressed in layers of filthy cotton clothing, canvas shoes and a ragged scarf, but the infant is clean and asleep. He will spend the day leaning against a sidewalk railing with his hand held out, mutely begging from the thousands of Chinese visitors lining up to see the "Beauty in Guangzhou" show, a display of the province's latest consumer goods and fashions.
Not everyone in China has benefited from Deng Xiaoping's new economic reforms. In general, the reforms in the countryside have been a resounding success and have raised the standard of living for more people. But apart from Communist Party cadres with diminishing authority and disgruntled military personnel on meager fixed salaries, there are also some rural poor who have been left behind and who now find themselves unable to compete with their neighbors when it comes to funds, tools and manpower.
On Jan. 6, a Chinese minister for civil affairs, Cui Naifu, said 70 million people, or about 14 million households, would receive government aid this year. Last year, he said, the government extended this kind of aid to 1.7 million peasants.
Because of natural disasters or family misfortunes, he said, some people lacked the money or skills to prosper under the new rural system. The government plans to give them low-interest loans, reduce taxes and allocate equipment and tools.
In recent years, many of these people have been attracted to Guangzhou because of its warm weather, booming economy and growing reputation as a loosely supervised city.
Only a few years ago, beggars at the railway station would have been hustled away. Now they are more common. Next door to the city bus station, a public toilet has become an impromptu way station for beggars.
Wei's situation illustrates the darker side of China's economic reforms. Around 1979 and 1980, when China's rural reforms first were introduced in his home province of northern Hebei, Wei's family was earning about 200 yuan a year, or about $133, through work points on communal land. However, since the land was divided and sold under the reforms, Wei's troubles have snowballed. With only an elderly mother and his wife, Wei was given six mu, or about one acre, of poor land to till under the government's new contract system.
When his wife suddenly died, Wei was unable to make enough money to buy milk for his newborn, although he and his 62-year-old mother first tried to make ends meet by stopping all use of electricity and by other economies. Finally, with the child on his back, Wei hiked to Peking last September to beg.
"I was begging in a restaurant, eating the scraps left on other people's tables, when a man from Guangzhou saw me carrying the baby and asked me to share his meal," said Wei in a recent interview. "He showed me his work pass to identify himself and gave me five yuan [about $2]. Then he warned me that it was going to get much colder, and suggested I try to get to Guangzhou because it would increase the baby's chances of making it through the winter."
That night, Wei smuggled himself and the baby on a train heading south to Guangzhou. After many days, Wei arrived in Guangzhou and, terrified that the city authorities would find him, waited until everyone had left the station. Then, wandering around the platform, he was discovered by a watchman who mistakenly assumed he was a local man trying to catch a train, and kicked him into the streets.
Wei said he was able to beg from 70 cents to about $2 a day, almost always from other Chinese. "I don't dare to beg from foreigners," he said. Rainy days he spent in the city bus station. Once he was caught and shepherded to Guangzhou's "collecting post" in the suburbs, where vagrants are put to work for a few days, and then ordered back on a bus with a ticket home.
But Wei's baby was too young to eat the post's solid food rations, and the collection officers released Wei back into the streets to find his own way to buy milk for the baby.
Wei's plans for the future are modest. "I just want to get my daughter through the winter," he said.
But, he said, his prospects look dim because he has no brothers, uncles or nephews to help him work his land.
Wei said government aid in his case may be too late.
"In Chairman Mao's day, there was mutual love and respect in my village," he said. "When other people were in trouble, we would lend a helping hand. Now each family member looks after his own responsibility and the more work he does, the richer he gets. There is no time for those in need."