The City and Its Moral Boundary

I start to wonder where the moral boundary is, or the ethics deadline people have in today’s Shanghai, the bigger and bigger city.

Farmer Selling?

There is a way called farmer selling. It is basically to hire enough very low educated people (many of them are only children under 18) and pay them to distribute those name-card-size advertisement cards on the street. It is annoying. In People’s Square or Xujiahui, there are many and you have to hide from them, escape from them, and sometimes fight with them to go to your direction. I hate those guys.

There are some common tactics they use.

They will stand just in front of you, on the narrow street, in the middle of your way. You have to change your route to avoid run into those guy. That is the only way they bring your attention to them.

They will hand out to you with the card on hand. People have been educated not to take any cards they gave, but they will throw the card to you, put it into your pocket (sometimes they do) and try every way to stick it to your bag in case your bag is not closed. The worst experience was, someone even run to me, and opens my laptop case and throw the card into it. It seems they can easily take my laptop away. However, to take away something is robbery, but to put something in is not, right? It is just annoying.

Farmer Selling + Metro?

In the morning, I see those guys in the cart of the Metro. In Long Yang station, there were not many people yet. Three boys formed a line and went from one end of the metro carts to the other, and put their cards into people’s body. Since everyone was sitting there, and they delivered their card just like a teacher in kindergarten distribute apples to children. Very soon, there are about 4 cards on my legs, on my laptop bag and on my coat.

It is insulting, I’d say.

A lot of people was angry and throw the cards back to the face of the boys. They just don’t care and continue to move, and distribute. Within 30 seconds, the whole cart was full of garbage cards already.

This situation is not new. It lasted for one month. I believe they must found the result is good, and more and more companies are doing so.

I called the Metro service center at 021-64370000 immediately and reported the spam – yes. real world spam. They said they will inform the security of the next station.

I just wonder what is the boundary of ethics in this city? If several phone calls are so important that they can throw thousands of cards onto metro and rape all the passengers by sending some dirty card onto their body, what else they cannot do for a “successful” business?

Internet Ethics

On the Internet, it is even worse. Almost all downloads from big sites contain adware, and website became popular by creating virus to spread everyday. They hijack the homepage of browser, the address bar, or the icons on the desktop, and pops up advertisement every minute. This is almost the worst of the time. Bigger portals are not doing the right thing too. The porn related SMS and IVR are big portion, if not the major portion, of their revenue reported to NASDAQ. Who cares?

The Magic Water Saver

After I get off board the Metro and head to the Raffles City, a group of people are selling their Magic Water Saver equipment at the tunnel of the Metro. It is just a magnetic coin that stick to the Water Meter. Since the magnetic is so powerful that the pointers of the meter will stop to run, and the water continues to run out of the meter. They claim that with their equipment, you don’t have to pay a penny to the water company while you can enjoy as much water as you want. One woman immediately gave him 10 RMB to get one. This is called shameless stealing, right? Beside it, many people are selling fake goods.


Taken at gate 2 of Metro People’s Square Station with my Nokia 6670

Any Solution

I don’t know how long these activities will last, and I am disappointed that all these are there that everyone, including me, can see it but those in charge of the security didn’t see it. What can I do? I called the police after that, but it is obvious that they didn’t got any report before. What’s wrong with the city?

Disclaimer: I don’t think it is only one city’s problem. It is part of the nature – there are good guys and bad guys, sometimes even the definition of good or bad varies from people to people. In the winter of 2004, when I was in the park near the Statue of Liberty in New York, I saw many people selling LV bags at about 20 USD or DVD at 5 USD. I don’t know whether they were offering big discount on LV or DVD or what. I saw the same scene in metro stations (42 street, for example). I was shocked to see all this happen in the States. I didn’t dare to take photos becaues I heard they may have gun. (Poor me) The reason I was shocked was, to conduct some not-so-ethical thing in public, at most crowded area but there are still not many people regulate the market. What is the problem?

26 thoughts on “The City and Its Moral Boundary

  1. It’s been long, at least couple of years, with this phenomenon of teens hard delivering spam Ad cards to pedestrains. To many, it’s annoying.

    But as to possible boundary, I’d rather believe that it may indwell in education other than morality. I don’t think bosses of these teens have told them to deliver ads in this way. Bosses don’t care about how their goals achieved and how many less-educated teens they hire.

    Lacking of indispensable education is the soil for immorality, even evil. I always believe of this.

    It’s true that the police or authorities should be responsible for not having stop this. But another point in this piece of blog article, the boundary, should be of other things, I think. We well-educated people may easily see teens of this sort immoral, but we would be the same immoral if we do nothing to help them, their peers, their next generation or their offsprings.

    The city is not spammed with immorality, but apathy. So does every place like NYC.

    P.S. I would hand them name cards of Kijiji, if I have, when coming upon such guys, and suggest them go online for Kijiji. It’s a golden opportunity for marketing. And then, all Kijiji gonna do will include one more To-Do: enhance the relationship between customer habits and user community:)

  2. I’m surprised to see you write about the water-meter things, I thought I would see them in the 新民晚报 newspaper first.

    I also get angry at the business-card hustlers on the metro. If I get my hands on one of them… well let’s just say you might see *me* in the 新民晚报 :)

  3. i have the same feeling like the author.sometimes ,when i am busy walking in the street,some strange famer guys hand the ad cards in front of me suddenlly,that makes me very shocked and scared,it is very serious!

  4. no point to point out they are black. even they are selling fake LV bags. hide your discrimination a little deeper if you are trying to do that, dude.

  5. I had those business card guys throw them at me through the open window of a taxi when we left the new Pudong convention centre.

    It really scared the crap out of my girlfriend and I because they ran towards the car and started throwing things. Your initial thought is of fear because of the unknown. After we realised what it was we were relieved, but still angry.

    The companies need to be taught a lesson to not use these method. Everyone should boycott the companies that use these methods (usually airlines that can’t afford to advertise in a main stream media – which raises the question – can they afford to maintain their aircraft? Use the right tyres, brake fluids etc).

    How about we make a campaign to collect all the cards and send them back to the companies that are advertising in these metods. That would be fun.

    Or better still, we can hire some cheap young dudes and send them in to the offices of these companies throwing around little cards saying “Stop throwing @#&%$ cards at me!”

    Or maybe carry a water pistol and squirt them with lemon juice if they try to give you a card.

    I think I could go on for days…..

  6. Simply, for chinese speaking :

    Call the phone number on the card and tell the company about your true opinion.

    If 17 million Shanghai-ren does the same, it will surely have an effect in their way of advertising !

    If I get a card, given to me in such a rude way, I will read the name of the company and avoid that company in the future.

    When they approach me, I say “Buyaola !!” (NO thank you), so they ARE warned.

    If they continue, if they try to put something in my pocket or bag, I find it pleasant to hit their hands fast and hard – they never complain (but be sure that you can fight back, if anything happens). I’m not afraid.

    About apathy – in general chinese people leave all public problems to the authorities,

    and will do nothing on their own to improve a bad public situation.

    The authorities and schools (and parents) makes chinese think like that from day 1 of their life, so noone is to blame.

    And – the authorities are too busy doing “more important other things”, you guess what.

    Tourists, beware – all thefts below 10000-1000000 RMB (depending on the actual officer in chanrge) is regarded as “not important” by the police, and the guy will go free (even WITH the money). On the street and in the Metro, carry your bag or backpack by the hand, not on your bag.

    I was “stealth” robbed one time, so keep YOUR bag shut tight, and leave your passport in the hotel or in the room safe.

  7. > Brad

    Although i don’t have firm evidence but i believe those young lads (or call them farmers if you wish) are hired by some independent sales agents, rather than airlines.

    And, oh yeah, morality. I once asked one of them that how much they earn for this. Answer: 1 RMB per 1000 cards sent out (may not be accurate cuz it was one year ago, but absolutely a shocking number). So now you understand why they “throw” the cards at you — they live on this.

    One thing i do agree is that this city lacks sympathy.

  8. Same goes with the peddlers who sell fake watches or fountain pens. What is the logic here? Do the Chinese millionaires collect Rolexes and/or Mont Blancs? Or the tourists form USA? Germany? Japan? What?

    Would be interesting to try some counter action: to run a business which pays, let’s say, 10 RMB for every advertisement distributor or “Rolex” seller that someone (with proof, of course) has managed to keep outside the inner ringway. If it would work, I would probably contribute quite a bit :-)

  9. On Pickpockets

    I stopped a guy yesterday on HuaiHai from stealing a couple’s wallet by pointing at him and yelling … loudly. I was over twenty feet away from him. He was sneaking up behind a couple and walking behind them.

    My yelling seemed to stop him from stealing the wallet, but had no other impact — i.e. the couple walked on and the guy looked slightly put-off, but nothing more. What I found amazing was that it wasn’t *hard* to see what he was up to and I was blazing by listening to music. Others must see it happening.

    Earlier in the week, some guy tried to make off with my bag, while I was eating at a fast food joint. The bag was hanging over the back of my chair. I turned, for some reason, and saw him sneaking off about fifteen feet away. I got up, yelled at him and sprinted after him. He dropped the bag and peeled off out the exit. No one said “boo” about it while it was happening (to be expected) and then gathered around to discuss, while I tried to continue eating.

    Both cases riled me in the moment and in both cases I wonder whether I should have tackled the guys. I think it would have been more trouble than it would have been worth. It’s just shitty that no one does anything.

  10. Hey Goliath,

    I totally agree – it is a pitiful amount, even they have had a 100% pay rise since you asked..

    I am sure that it is an agent that hires them, but obviously the company whose product/service that appears on the card knows what is happening. I have never heard of an advertiser that is uncertain as to how their advertising dollar is being spent and where/how they are being represented.

    And if a company stops using that advertising method do these “farmers’ lose their income? An interesting conundrum!

    It becomes then a moral question of “Do we put up with this unruly behaviour so these people can earn a living?” or “Do we stop the practice/behaviour because some people don’t like, but take away the jobs of these boys?”

  11. donno how come google brought me here while i just wanna search 大木桥路, haha…

    but ur blog worth to read!

    for the ad-card distributing thing, if one day i lose my job, lose any physical capability to think, all my memories,… and if some ppl willing to pay me if i distribute the cards, ha, i might do that, why not? i ‘m just a human being and want to feed myself. come to the reality, those distributors, they hv no money to get education to know so called courtesy manners, they only hv one objective, to earn money, to make a living…. this kind of life is not what we hv ever experienced..

  12. Richard Hong,

    Fake goods is fake goods, it does not really post a direct competition with the authentic goods. From the consumer’ point of view, every item of fake goods he/she purchased just increases their determination to buy the authentic piece in the future.

    If you are holding a brand name clothing without counterfeit in the Xiangyang market, then you shall really worry about your marketing. As matter of fact, fake goods actually help promote the authentic one as long the style and quality are distance apart.

  13. “I believe they must found the result is good, and more and more companies are doing so.

    ” Agree. And these days I’ve been receiving phone calls from unknown telephone numbers lately. As soon as I pick up the phone, some authomatic advertisement starts broadcasting on the other side. This is something new. We didn’t have it before in HK. There will be continuous development in these methods and seems we just can not stop it. Unless nobody goes to buy the products at all…but…will people stand together and say “No” to these cards and phone calls?

  14. > Brad,

    You sound very much American that every problem eventually reduces to a moral question, even though i pointed out two facts that you could reflect upon. Alright, my $.02, morality does not come as the root of the social problems we see but comes as a cost of something that this blog wouldn’t bother to discuss.

    > Jianshuo,

    And as to internet ethics I’d like to hear more opinions of you since you’re an insider of this internet business. It’s a little bit dissapointing that you just superficially touch the problem. We all know the problem, don’t we?

  15. Reno: “Lacking of indispensable education is the soil for immorality, even evil. I always believe of this.”

    I basically agree, because frankly I see this problem in the US all the time. I think the key is broad education that teaches *critical thinking* and evaluation, using reason, of right and wrong and the truth of what one is saying. IIRC there’s a precedent in both the Confucian and Greco/Roman/German/Western traditions for an emphasis on the moral value of education and how an educated mind, in general, is better capable of recognizing and exercising morality, but there’s often a failure to adequately impart such education. We see this in Shanghai and Chicago, Beijing and New York, all the time– it’s certainly not unique to just one country. Look at our shameful recent history in the USA, when we decided to invade Iraq and initiate a bloody war there, on the basis of not only false information (i.e., Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction– which he did not) but also an unbelievably false belief that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (60% of Americans in March of 2003 thought that most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi, when in fact none were Iraqi!). Look at how many people, American, British, Polish and of course Iraqi, have been killed due to these lies and the failure of the American people to think critically.

    Richard Hong: “This is what makes people lose their confidence in Chinese domestic products, full of fake stuff.”

    I agree with this too. This in fact is representative of a general frustration that Western businessmen like myself have had in China: the lack of *transparency*. I *want* to invest in Chinese companies that I know have the potential to flourish. I *want* to encourage my friends in the US, Switzerland and Germany to put their money into the Chinese market, with all its potential. But most of us have decided thus far not to invest in China’s burgeoning market because of the lack of transparency in the markets. It’s too easy for us to be screwed out of our money, to have our investments skimmed off by some corrupt partner or official, without adequate recourse.

    It’s getting better, I admit, but I still find this to be the main difference between, say, New York and Shanghai, and the reason that we all still invest in New York while not investing in Shanghai: In New York, we have open discussion and full access to information about the true financial worth of any company and its tradings, with strong protection of intellectual property and strict rules (enforced by e.g. the Securities and Exchange Commission) to make sure that information the company releases is not misleading– otherwise, we’re too afraid that we’re dealing with a “Chinese Enron” that will screw us out of our investment. We also have inspections by e.g. the FDA to give us the security that the food we eat and the medicines we take are safe, and we have an Environmental Protection Agency and other “watchdog” groups which, for all their flaws, help give us early warning and accurate information about and protection from the dangers of pollution. This cover-up recently after the benzene chemical spill in Heilongjiang is, I think, a symptom of a more general problem– the lack of transparency, openness, and willingness to crack down on corruption.

    For us Western investors to pump money into China (which we all want to do), we have to feel more secure about our investments, and thus we really have to have a disciplined financial system in China with diligent and *accurate* reporting of information, and penalties against companies that engage in corruption (like the penalties against Enron in the USA, for example). Similarly, if we’re going to invest in China, we’re going to live in China for a while, and to do this, especially to bring over our families, we have to be reasonably secure that the food we’re eating is safe, and the water we’re drinking is not full of pollutants that will hurt ourselves, our wives and our children. This cover-up in Heilongjiang– you just can’t do that sort of thing, it scares away foreign investment to an enormous degree. And when corrupt officials screw up like this and allow companies to cause this much damage, they need to be punished, not simply pardoned. If that sort of cover-up were to happen in the USA, the officials would get heavy fines. This is essential to reassure investors that the host government is looking after them and ensuring that they don’t ruin their health as a result of polluters. If we’re staying in Shanghai for example, how can we be sure that there’s not some other cover-up of a corrupt company polluting the water supply?

    Again, it’s all about openness and transparency of information– transparency really is the lifeblood of a successful economy. Right now, China is losing billions of dollars and Euros since so many Western investors are afraid due to the lack of transparency. Just solve this problem, and we’ll all happily arrive in Shanghai in droves, and pump billions more dollars and Euros into the Chinese economy.

  16. I am glad that somebody finally shouted out the morality problem in china. Up until now, I don’t see it is anybody’s concern. I still remember clearly when a few years back the Chinese national soccer team played a fake game with Hong Kong and still lost the ticket to the world cup. The whole nation got angry. They got angry not because that the national team committed fraud so astonishingly in the public, but because they did not faked a good enough game to secure a ticket to the world cup. We are basically a corrupted nation and are ready to give up anything to accomplish our goal. And I don’t see any hope that our next generation getting any better.

  17. I play a game with the card spammers.

    I take all the cards offered and screw them all up and throw them back over my shoulder for them to see that they are wasting their time with me.

    After two days they learn to withhold any accidently offered cards when the look up at me and remember what will happento their card rubbish.

  18. Well, it happens in Las Vegas too. I am pretty sure they don’t have college degree (not a job requirement).

  19. Someone has long gone across moral boundary when he unabashedly claimed that there is NO censorship in China.

    Now he starts talking about ethics? A new low.

  20. Hey Bellevue

    I missed you – where have you been? There hasn’t been anyone monologuing about censorship for awhile.

  21. Well, in fact I don’t check this site regularly. You don’t need to remind yourself on human weakness every morning, don’t you? It’s always there.

    For example, in a previous entry this ‘famous shanghai blogger’ mentioned dining with An Ti, without a word on censorship, which only weeks ago prevented An Ti from bloging anymore. Microsoft (wangjianshuo’s former employer) under the pressure of Chinese Communist Regime (wangjianshuo’s permanent slave master) deleted An Ti’s blog space on MSN. Yet this wangjianshuo said no word about it. He cited An Ti’s name out of shameless self-promoting, as the latter had kept a finest blog in China, while wangjianshuo’s blog is the longest running shame on blogsphere, littered with lies, rubbish, garbage, junk, trash, and never short of commie propaganda.

  22. A month ago when I had a one-day fun with my dear mom and dad at the Window of the World in Shenzhen, I met something that really puzzled me. It happened when I was approaching the tickets window, I was stopped by a middle-aged man asking me whether I wanted tickets. He was in uniform which had my trust for the first sight, so I said yes. Then he said I could get some somewhere else. I followed his point to a nearby stall where some people were paying and selling, I guessed, it’s the tickets. I was puzzled, wondering why there were two tickets selling places at the gate and asked for explanation. The man said frankly that the tickets were exactly the same, but prices at the stall required 10 yuan less. My first reaction was it was rather immoral and illegal, the rather that in a public place. So did I express my thoughts. The man met my eyes with a sincere look and said, “To be frank, everybody is struggling hard for life. We just want it better. You have your own decision.” I looked around and found that the man didn’t stop any foreigners for this.

    I puzzled…for his sincere look, for the deal so public at the gate of a popular tourist site, for this ten yuan…

    A report on TV last week told a real story. IT happened in Shenzhen. A two-year child drowned in a pool with nearly 100?? people standing around, watching and maybe discussing, but no one did anything except that a grade five pupil jumped into the pool and pulled the child out of the cold water. The child’s mom hurried to the spot and kneeled down to the boy for what he did. However, God didn’t show his pity to the young mom and the little hero’s diving… The child died in the hospital…

    I puzzled…even more…

    Yes, we have moral boundaries, more should we have boundaries of human nature.

  23. Steven posted the following:

    Reno: “Lacking of indispensable education is the soil for immorality, even evil. I always believe of this.”

    I basically agree, because frankly I see this problem in the US all the time. I think the key is broad education that teaches *critical thinking* and evaluation, using reason, of right and wrong and the truth of what one is saying. IIRC there’s a precedent in both the Confucian and Greco/Roman/German/Western traditions for an emphasis on the moral value of education and how an educated mind, in general, is better capable of recognizing and exercising morality, but there’s often a failure to adequately impart such education.


    I teach 7th & 8th grade Mathematics at a rural school in Arkansas. It is not the lack of education that is the wellspring of immorality. It is the lack of internal motivation to be continuously open to learning.

    I have a BS degree in Mathematics and since it is my first year to teach, part of my contract agreement includes a teacher training program. As a part of this program, would-be educators are informed that we are to instruct students in acceptable behaviors (I suppose administrators hope the behaviors will influence thought processes) as well as the specified content areas.

    One cannot practice morality that has not been learned. One must be first open to learning before learning will take place.


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