Throngs of beggars gather outside the Zhumaio Temple in Foshan daily, making it their "workplace" or even their home.
Some of them walk in and out of the temple freely, and on the streets outside aggressively practise their craft on unsuspecting tourists.
The site in Foshan -- the third largest city of Guangdong Province -- is not the only temple in China with such scenes repeated daily.
A great master at the Nanhua Temple in Shaoguan, a city located in north Guangdong, said such situations are commonplace in most large and famous temples.
Nanhua is the most famous Buddhist temple in South China, as well as an attractive tourist destination. According to Great Master Xi, most of the beggars come from the countrysides of Henan and Anhui provinces.
Xi, while understanding the problems the beggars represent to others, said there are several religious reasons for tolerance, among them, Buddhism's dictates for kind deeds and the practice of philanthropy. Helping the poor, even beggars who make life difficult for visitors or worshippers, is an act of kindness.
Monks say they are used to peaceful and quiet lifestyles, and are not willing to involve themselves in disputes, and the beggars generally do not bother the monks.
However, common people and the local governments are finding it difficult to tolerate beggars and vagrants because of their increasing numbers.
Some, officials say, are aggressive and try to force pedestrians to give them money in public places.
Zhang Guifang, the provincial capital's party secretary, sharply denounced aggressive behaviour on Tuesday at a civil affairs conference.
He promised that "no-beggar zones" will be set up within the year, and said his city's move might be followed by other cities in the province.
In response to others' doubts that the ban goes too far in limiting the individual rights of beggars, Zhang said it is no different than establishing" no smoking" rules.
(China Daily February 19, 2004)