Shops do brisk trade in presents

Updated: 2012-01-17 09:08

By He Na (China Daily)

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Gifts may be savored or possibly exchanged for cash, He Na reports.

Chinese people attach great importance to Lunar New Year, and it is impolite to visit someone's home during the holidays without gifts in hand. The practice has become common in business, too, with high-end liquor, cigarettes and health products lavished on supervisors, officials and customers to promote the relationship.

But will your expensive present, either given or received, be consumed with pleasure or traded for cash? An industry has sprung up to help those who are more interested in the money.

Shops do brisk trade in presents

The owner of a small liquor and cigarette store waits for customers. The poster reads, "Gift recovery of souvenirs, liquor and cordyceps." Experts warn that gift recovery is a gray and illegal business that encourages corruption. Wang Jing / China Daily 

Gift recovery, as it is called, is primarily a side business at liquor and cigarette stores. It is illegal because it exceeds the scope of operating permits from China's tobacco and liquor monopoly administrations. The transactions are also precarious to those involved if the gift being traded could be considered a bribe.

The service is popular, especially this time of year. Walk along almost any residential street and you'll see multiple shops advertising gift recovery.

A man in his late 40s from East China owns a small liquor and cigarette store in one neighborhood in Chaoyang district, Beijing. Almost half the front window is filled with a big white board that proclaims "gift recovery" in red characters and features photos of high-end liquors and cigarettes.

The shop occupies less than 10 square meters, and they are packed. Top brands such as Moutai and Wuliangye liquor and Chunghwa cigarettes, plus capsules of the medicinal fungus cordyceps, are conspicuously placed on the shelves.

A China Daily reporter visited the store to cash in on four fictitious cartons of Chunghwa in soft packs. Here is how it went.

Reporter: "I have some Chunghwa cigarettes. Do you want them?"

Owner: "Soft or hard? Soft are 500 yuan ($79) each carton, and hard packs are 300 yuan."

Reporter: "It's too cheap. In the supermarket they cost about 700 yuan each."

Owner: "The cigarette price has been dropping since December, and I can offer 10 yuan more at most. The ones I sell at my store are only 600. I know that people like you selling goods here are all rich people."

Reporter: "But I have four cartons."

Owner: "Before and after lunar new year is our busy season. You think four cartons are a lot, my sister, but to tell the truth, last night a man driving a car stopped by and carried in a big box. We counted 55 cartons."

The man was an old customer, the owner said, but he didn't know his name or occupation. But from several conversations, he figured the man was at least at the level of a bureau leader.

Reporter: "I didn't expect that your business was so good. It's my first time to sell gifts, and I heard many people say their goods were changed by the gift recovery stores. You'd better not cheat me. My home often gets this stuff, and I can be a repeat customer."

Owner: "Come on, sister, I've been running the store for 11 years. The majority of my customers are old customers who live in the nearby communities. Do you think they will come back if I sell fake goods?

"We have rules of gift recovery. We do not obtain customers' names and where the goods come from. So you really do not need to worry. I won't bring any trouble to you."

The owner's wife indicated to him that he was talking too much. "If you really want to sell, bring them here next time," she told the reporter. "The price is offered based on the quality of the goods."

Shops do brisk trade in presents

Qianyongkang community in Beijing has developed its own variation of a gift recovery service. People were able to trade leftover firecrackers for various gifts during last year's spring festival. Provided to China Daily 

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