With a history of some 6,000 years, Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, attracts millions of visitors every year to see its relics, such as the Terracotta Warriors. However, upon arriving at Xi'an Railway Station, tourists are more likely to see modern problems than ancient glories.
Photos showing several men injecting drugs near the station recently made the rounds on social media.
The addicts have now been sent for treatment, according to local public security department's Sina Weibo on Monday.
Without a steady income to feed their habit, these addicts - and the child beggars also common at the station - seek to get what cash they can out of the travelers passing through the area through legal or illegal means.
"Railway stations are the perfect place for those addicts to rob people to pay for their illegal drugs, as they are always full of crowds and no one knows them there," Yang Bing, a department chief at the railway station branch of Xi'an's Public Security Bureau, told the Global Times.
The photos show the addicts openly injecting, their limbs scarred and covered with abscesses.
One picture shows a disabled man preparing drugs with the help of his 6-year-old child, who was later sent to a local SOS Children's Village.
Unsurprisingly, having large numbers of drug addicts at the station leads to various crimes being reported.
"Pickpocketing and blackmail are the most common crimes," said Yang.
Some deliberately bump into passengers' luggage and then extort money from them.
According to Yang, local addiction treatment centers and detention centers cannot accept many of the local addicts and homeless children.
Regulations prevent such centers from taking in minors, the disabled, pregnant or lactating women, those with infectious diseases or those with metal objects inside their body as they do not have the necessary facilities to house them safely.
"Many drug users are infected with HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, so the mandatory detoxification centers can't accept them," said Yang.
Yang said that they normally would send drug addicts to mandatory rehabilitation centers where they would be detained, but the centers do not accept people with HIV/AIDS as they lack the facilities needed to prevent the spread of the virus. So many drug addicts return to their old ways after receiving basic treatment for addiction.
"They just move to another place and do the same thing," said Yang.
Faced with a vagrant population that is difficult to deal with, the local government and police have tried to find a way to improve the environment around the station.
Police constantly patrol the area with plainclothes officers hidden in crowds to detect crimes, with special measures being taken at peak travel times.
Changes to specific policies have helped the Xi'an authorities to clean up the railway station in some respects, according to Yang.
As Yang recalled, years ago, adult crooks got children to steal money from passengers. These minors were too young to be detained in nearby facilities and had long been a problem for local police.
However, after amendments were made to the repatriation system, these kids could be given shelter and then sent back to their hometown.
Qiu Zeqi, professor of sociology at Peking University, told the Global Times that government departments passing the buck rather than solving the problem should be blamed for the long-standing drug issue at the railway station.
"Which department should transport addicts to drug rehabilitation centers and which department should pay for their medical treatment is not clear," Qiu said.
China's drug-related regulations should specify the responsibilities of different government organs when it comes to treating drug addicts with HIV/AIDS, to properly deal with these people on a legal basis, Qiu said.
Hu Xingdou, professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology said that the government should provide more medical assistance to drug users with infectious diseases.