Back in the ol' days in China, it was considered perfectly normal to blatantly commit daylight robbery on helpess foreigners and tourists. 10 apples for a dollar? Foreigners get 1 for 10. At every single tourist destination there are two prices, one for regular Chinese visitors, one for foreigners, at anything from 5 to 500 times the regular cost.

That wasn't all. Foreigners had to use a special currency in China, called the "FEC" (foreign exchange currency, I assume). It was technically worth the same as reminbi, the regular money, but a few quirks stopped that. When you buy anything at all with this FEC and wanted change, the clerks would look at you with a blank stare and say that they have no FEC money left, and refuse to give you change. Buy a $3 coke with a $100 bill? Expect nothing in return. Sometimes when you do manage to ram your arm down their throats and get some RMB back, you're not allowed to use it. You have to go through a massive bureacratic mess to change it back to RMB, involving questions of "Where did you get that barred currency?" Frankly, it wasn't worth it.

People would rip you off on the street. Taxi drivers go loops around the city before dropping you off. Bus drivers cover up the fares then ask for double the price. People make up prices on the spot, no matter what the original listed prices were. It gets annoying after a while, the constant minsinformation and lying, but that's socialism for you. There are so few opportunities to make money everyone wants a slice of foreign pie.

Once, I heard a storekeeper saying in Shanghainese (the fool thought I only spoke English, because I look like a foreigner) that it was their "patriotic duty to rip off foreigners" Basically, she was charging me $50 for a bag of apples that should cost around $7 or $8. A very nice excuse for daylight robbery indeed, when people can blow off blatant dishonesty as a "patriotic duty".

Yet another travel horror story. Beware, tourists are indeed very easy pickings.


Ahh, my dear iain, hence is a point of the writeup! These poor people have languished under Marxism, Maoism or plain old socialism for eons, they're dying to get out of their predicament! The people of China are embracing capitalism, no doubt a good thing, but being on the receiving end of trickery is no fun. Contrary to what some socialists might think, lies and misinformation is not a trait of capitalism.

A consequence of socialism is poverty and inequality. People should have realized that by reading history books. And by the way, being a tourist doesn't mean getting ripped off. No, there are many ways to escape that kind of stuff.

DMan you did it again. You created an interesting and informative writeup and then attempted to use it to push your political dogma:

"... that's socialism for you."

Attempting to rip off the gullible and take advantage of those in a weaker position than yourself is hardly a concept that's particularly associated with socialism. In fact the basic idea here of "enrich yourself" is something that I would associate with laissez-faire capitalism: surely the whole American Dream thing is about self-gain.

Go to any major tourist destination anywhere in the world. Buy something ... anything. You have almost certainly just been ripped off. There are unlicensed street traders in central London who sell hot dogs at £2.50 and cans of Coke at £1.50 each -- no Londoner would pay more than £1 and £0.60 respectively. I remember years ago going to a rock concert in Manchester where an ice cream van turned up and I watched him replace his usual price board with one showing prices more than double what he usually charged. And the last time I was in New York I ate at a pizza place by the Empire State Building. I'm sure it was expensive and I didn't get value for money, and that no native New Yorker would have even dreamed of paying what I did for a pizza.

Wanting to make money and charging what you can get away with isn't anything peculiar to China, or to socialism. It's the market, pure and simple.

If DMan thinks that China's poverty and inequality are a consequence of socialism s/he is dead wrong. I'd agree it is a failure of Chinese socialism that it hasn't eliminated these problems from Chinese society after fifty years, but surely it's a sobering thought that despite the madness and suffering of the Great Leap Forward, the famine with six millions dead that it lead to, the Cultural Revolution etc. the average Chinese farmer is a lot better off now and lives in a more equal society than in 1949.

Don't get me wrong, I hold no brief at all for the discredited and corrupt Chinese Communist Party and despise figures like Mao for wasting the opportunity that they had to do something so much better, apparently failing for reasons of pure bloodymindedness (see for example Philip Short's biography of Mao). But where I work here in Sichuan there was slavery right up until the 1950s when the communists got here, and across China women had their feet bound and were sold in marriage as a matter of course into the early years of the twentieth century. It could have been a lot lot better, but it certainly used to be a lot lot worse.

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