Society

Life for rent

White men for hire

These days one can rent anything from a private jet to a DVD. But a white man?

To see how far the rental culture has taken off in China look no further than a recent article published in the Atlantic magazine, which talks about “rentable” Caucasian males. Mitch Moxley, a Canadian journalist, said he was paid $1,000 a week to pose as a quality-control expert with a Chinese company in Shandong, even though he had no relevant experience.

But no matter, as Moxley’s job was to do basically nothing other than show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other public events. As it turns out, the firm had both Chinese and Western clients so it wanted to create an image of high status and sophistication. Having

a Westerner on board was thought to signal that the firm was appropriately ‘international’. “Having

foreigners in nice suits gives the company face,” Moxley’s Chinese-language tutor explains.

The idea of human leasing is nothing new. Thousands of “rental lover’’ ads have popped up on different websites as young people turn to the internet to hire a counterfeit boyfriend or girlfriend to fool their families during the high-anxiety visit home at Lunar New Year.

For those more interested in renting less obscure items, many areseeking out online leasing companies like Benjia Renting, which leases everything from luxury cars to Louis Vuitton purses. “You name it, whatever,” says Jiang Hongwei, chief executive of the Shenzhen-based company.

According to Jiang, in the past most Chinese consumers preferred to buy rather than rent because it made more financial sense in the long run. But during the global economic crisis, more people became receptive to the idea of renting as their spending power was reduced.

There were many practical reasons, too. For instance, landlords are reluctant to buy furniture for fear that tenants will not be happy with their choices. Graduates – who don’t have much cash – go to Benjia to rent televisions and other household items, rather than tie up their limited cash.

Another key demographic: young migrant workers, who are constantly on the move, says Jiang. “They are likely to leave for other cities when there’s a better job opportunity elsewhere. It’s a better option to rent rather than buy, in the short term”.

And perhaps not surprisingly, baby strollers are also proving to be one of Jiang’s biggest hits. Thanks to the country’s one-child policy, many parents find it hard to justify buying a brand new pram when it will soon have to go into storage. Benjia now offers seven different models of strollers.

But cars were still by far Benjia’s most popular leased item. A woman named Du told the Southern Metropolis Daily that she wanted to rent a car after she found out that the monthly cost of renting an Audi A4 was Rmb8,000 with insurance and other fees included.

“I’ve always wanted to have a car to commute to work, but I don’t feel like spending several hundred thousand yuan on one yet.”


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