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Barter can beat cold hard cash

COLD hard cash is near and dear to the hearts of Chinese parents, but barter is finding favor among young people who may be short of cash and want to make a swap. Xu Wei reports.

Colin Wang, an office worker in his 20s, is a car enthusiast and desperately wanted tickets to the 2009 Shanghai Auto Show, but they were nowhere to be had.

"I was very depressed until I noticed a posting on the online BBS of my residential community - a gaming neighbor had two auto show tickets to exchange for virtual currency," Wang says.

"I was thrilled and we made a deal very quickly."

Neighbor Huang Yuan explains that he's a newcomer to the BBS and needed virtual currency to play online games and make friends in the community.

Barter has been around a long time, but this fortuitous exchange is an example of the swap trend that is becoming popular among the young generation. It's amazing what you can get through barter and almost anything that can be bought and sold can also be bartered.

Huang tells a lot of barter stories, like the time he went to Mt Jiuhua in Anhui Province, ran short of food and traded his flashlight to a villager in exchange for a meal.

"People living in remote mountain villages usually prefer useful daily goods to money," Huang says. "The flashlight can help them when hiking in the dark."

Huang also traded his business suit to a university roommate who needed one for an internship: Huang got a T-shirt and a good pair of sneakers.

"Neither of us pays and it's a win-win game," he says.

Trading up

Generally, there are two reasons to barter: one is material gain, the other is ideology or concept - recycle, reuse and share.

Sometimes people trade services and product for someone's expertise.

Everyone knows about Canadian Kyle MacDonald who started out in 2005 with a red paper clip and traded up to a house. Admittedly, it doesn't happen very often but the possibilities are tantalizing.

Inspired by MacDonald's experience, the local charity TV program "Smile" has initiated a celebrity fund raising campaign in which stars start out with 1 yuan (14 US cents), a few shallots, a lottery ticket and other insignificant items.

Then they trade up to something valuable (their celebrity certainly helps) and on each show there's an auction in which viewers bid - cash. All proceeds are donated to people in need.

In one case, a daily newspaper generated trades culminating in a piece of jewelry worth 9,000 yuan; in another case, a matchbox led to a crystal chandelier worth 140,000 yuan.

"Bartering seems a more effective and interesting alternative to traditional charitable cash donation that can involves every ordinary person in a charity with the stars," says Yin Xiaowei, producer of the TV program.

"To exchange for bigger or better items, the stars need to add their honesty, efforts and talent to the process. There's definitely an intangible snowball effect on value."

Tour swaps

Travel exchange is getting popular.

Yu Yi, a founder of, a professional website for travel exchange, says the group counts more than 10,000 members from around the world - swapping houses or providing language teaching for short accommodation. Each week the group provides themed travel itineraries for the visitors to Shanghai.

"We have invited our members to walk along Suzhou Creek and plan to show them around the city's art venues," says Yu. "People can make friends and have a lot of fun in this kind of exchange."

Some foreign visitors seeking a short stay are keen on exchanging language lessons for a free place to stay. And when the host or hostess visits their city, he/she has a place to stay.

China Central Television's "Space Exchange" invites two families to swap apartments for 48 hours and each decorates the space for the other, aided by an interior designer and funding by sponsors.

In many Western countries, bartering goods and services is common, especially with the help of the Internet.

The New York Times reported earlier this year that more than 200,000 barter-related ads were being placed on Craigslist every day, a 100 percent increase over 2008. Additionally, barter clubs, online trading sites and barter zines are also booming in the United States.

In China, on, and, there are also barter clubs, usually involving the exchange of cosmetics, household electric appliances and computer products.

Though the clubs are not very large or professional, experts regard them as more than a fad, but a future business tool for the invisible economy.

According to Professor Yu Hai, a sociologist from Fudan University, new creative ways for exchange will develop and flourish among young people.

"Every person has his or her own existing resources, which he or she might not be aware of," says Yu. "With the support of the Internet, the exchange process will make good use of these resources and increase them. It will definitely be a trend."


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