ZGBriefs - The Week’s Top Picks, September 25 Issue

Photo Credit: Yangtse on China Real Time

Our top picks this week shed light on some of the less known aspects of Chinese society – ecommerce, traffic wardens, and iPhone mania.

Inside a Chinese 'Taobao village' (September 19, 2014, China Daily)

Taobao is China's largest ecommerce site; think of Amazon on steroids. But unlike Amazon, Taobao is really a collection of thousands and thousands of individual "shops," usually run by mom and pop out of the back room. China Daily reports about a village in Zhejiang Province where 150 of the 200 families operate online stores on Taobao:

Xi Ao village, an inconspicuous little place in Yongjia county, Zhejiang province, has made its mark in e-commerce. There are just over 200 families residing in Xi Ao villige and out of them more than 150 own and operate online stores on Taobao, the Chinese equivalent of eBay. The village generated nearly 100 million yuan ($16 million) revenue through e-commerce by selling educational toys.

It's a typical "Taobao Village" in China.

Luo Yongshu runs a small online shop selling educational toys on Taobao. She takes orders and handles customer complaints and her husband takes care of shipping. Before opening the online shop, she had not even touched a computer and now the store is putting her two daughters through college.

Sixty percent of online shops are operated by mothers and fathers, just like Luo's, while the other 40 percent are run by college graduates who came back to start business. They have more experience in e-commerce and are more adaptive of the fast-changing concept of online shopping.

Shop away!

Chinese pedestrians have no problem obeying laowai traffic warden (September 19, 2014, Nanfang Insider)

Why would pedestrians in China pay attention to a foreign traffic warden more than a Chinese one? Nanfang Insider travelled to Zhuzhou to find out:

A 21 year-old expat from the UK named Leah has become Henan's newest pedestrian traffic warden responsible for herding pedestrians in the city of Zhuzhou and ensuring traffic laws are maintained, reports Yangtse. Like many cities, Zhuzhou has a problem with pedestrians that don't follow signals at intersections and end up congesting traffic — and it may have found its solution in Leah. Though Leah has only a limited grasp of the Chinese language, her "foreignness" compels city residents to follow her command where they would normally ignore their fellow countryman.

A 21 year-old expat from the UK named Leah has become Henan's newest pedestrian traffic warden responsible for herding pedestrians in the city of Zhuzhou and ensuring traffic laws are maintained, reports Yangtse.

Like many cities, Zhuzhou has a problem with pedestrians that don't follow signals at intersections and end up congesting traffic — and it may have found its solution in Leah.

Though Leah has only a limited grasp of the Chinese language, her "foreignness" compels city residents to follow her command where they would normally ignore their fellow countryman.

And the possible reason?

The societal construct the Zhuzhou chengguan is employing is "face", the need to maintain respect from others. If a Zhuzhou pedestrian were to illegally run a red light in the presence of "normal" Chinese chengguan, they wouldn't risk losing face as much because they wouldn't care about the reaction.

However, if this was done in the presence of Leah, a foreigner, the Chinese would risk losing face to the entire outside world she represents. Furthermore, the face lost wouldn't just be his or her own, but the entire country, which the offender represents.

So, if you find yourself in Zhuzhou, remember to obey the foreigner.

China's Lust for Apple's New iPhone Fuels Speedboat Smuggling (September 23, 2014, China Real Time)

Twenty years ago the speedboats were smuggling cars into China; so much so that we used to read about villages in Guangdong where all the cars still had their Hong Kong or California license plates! Now, it seems, those speedboats are filled with the latest iPhones, which are not yet legally available in China. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Behind the incidents is the extreme imbalance between the number of iPhones available in the region and the demand, a gap made larger this year because Apple hasn't even started selling its latest smartphones—the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, which went on sale in many other countries Friday—in one of its largest markets, China. Chinese state media attributes the delay to regulatory issues. Apple spokespeople didn't reply to requests for comment.

Tight supplies have created lucrative arbitrage opportunities for scalpers, who can resell the new iPhones in China for almost double their retail price, according to third-party resellers in Hong Kong. In the tech-hungry Asian-Pacific region, the phones are on sale only in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Australia.

Hong Kong authorities said Sunday that they foiled an apparent attempt to smuggle 3 million Hong Kong dollars ($387,000) worth of high-end electronics—including at least 138 new iPhones—that were being loaded onto a speedboat in a rural coastal area opposite the Chinese shore. Customs officials said several men fled on the boat when approached by law-enforcement officers, leaving behind 15 boxes that also included 1,890 hard drives and 16,235 computer-memory chips. A spokesman for the customs department said Monday that the investigation was ongoing.

Apple Inc.'s new iPhone has become an object of more than just desire in Asia, where tussles broke out near stores selling the phones, and police in Hong Kong over the weekend foiled what they called a suspected attempt to smuggle a stash of the gadgets out of the city.

This probably explains why so many of the people lined up at Apple stores last week were Chinese.