Markets in everything China fact of the day

This is from the excellent Seth Roberts, now in Beijing:

The 2008 China International Petroleum Equipment and Technology Exhibition concluded last Friday in the eastern city of Dongying. 3000 guests from over 40 countries attended and everything appeared to run smoothly. Yet the majority of the foreign delegates were hired just to make the event look "international". Among the 200 fake delegates was Jez Webb, The Peking Order‘s energy correspondent.

Most guests had responded to an ad on with the curious title: “Free trip to Shandong, 200 foreign visitors invited (Be paid)”. We would, depending on our age, receive between 600 and 700 RMB (£60-70) for two days “work” – two 6 hour bus journeys to and from the city, full board in a luxury hotel and a couple of hours walking round an exhibition, pretending that we were involved in the petroleum industry.

You’ll note the monopsony market structure behind the offer.  The story is full of interesting further detail.


A few short months ago when oil prices were three times higher there was probably a heck of a lot more international interest in buying petroleum equipment and technology. These exhibitions take months of advance planning, blocks of hotel rooms are reserved... so what are you going to do, call the whole thing off? Might as well save face and keep up appearances. I suspect most of the exhibitors knew perfectly well what was going on. The ruse may even have been intended for the benefit of any bona fide industry-affiliated foreign visitors who did turn up, to make them feel more comfortable.

I spent a month in Beijing in 2000, polishing off my Mandarin, when our teacher announced that the class was going on a field trip to the opening of a beer factory or some such thing. The next day, we were loaded into a bus, and off we went. I was not entirely pleased to be losing so much class time, but it was educational indeed - a huge throng of performing acrobats (hundreds!), a big industry exhibition, and a whole lot of bewildered foreign students milling around wondering why they were there. But hey, there was lots of free beer!

I'm not sure if there were ANY legitimate industry representatives there. It was surreal.


strange how they thought no one would find out. or maybe they just don't care

what I don't get is why they didn't contact people that are actually in the industry and give them the same incentives to go. we wouldn't even be reading this if they had. and the participants would actually have benefitted from the exercise

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