And Finally

Money to burn

China’s ‘shadow central bank’ to go public

Their ancestors need cash

Death is rarely a laughing matter but the Chinese press has been having a field day joking about the listing application of a company which prints money for the dead – known as mingbi or ‘Hell notes’.

Guangdong-based Yixiang Folk Culture applied to list on Beijing’s NEEQ (National Equities Exchange and Quotations) late last month. Hong Kong newspaper AM370 somewhat uncharitably says the news only underlines its view that the capital’s NEEQ is a “trash can” of a stock market, fit for little more than random speculation (WiC wrote about this bourse in issue 289).

“Now people can indeed invest in a shadow bank,” Beijing Youth Daily wryly adds.

Standard mingbi are backed by the Bank of Hell with two counter signatories. One is from the Jade Emperor who resides in Heaven and one from Yanlou, the King of Hell.

A typical Hell note carries an extraordinarily large denomination, and unlike real renminbi – where the largest denomination is a Rmb100 note – a note for your ancestor can be worth tens of millions. One theory: the denomination amounts expanded to keep pace with China’s hyperinflation during the 1940s (an era when life expectancy was merely 35) and haven’t declined since.

The Chinese have been burning offerings to honour their ancestors for more than two millennia, with the practice spreading across Southeast Asia or wherever the Han race migrated. Even Chairman Mao was unable to kill it off and in 2008 the Chinese government reinstated grave-sweeping day (the Qing Ming Festival) as a public holiday again. This is the day when most Hell notes go up in flames.Historians say the term Hell note became commonplace following a miscommunication with nineteenth century European missionaries. This led to a Chinese belief that ‘hell’ was a generic term for the afterlife.

According to custom, burning money gives the deceased spending power by transmitting the value of the notes up through the smoke. As WiC has reported before, other companies have produced various items to burn for the dead, such as paper versions of iPhones.

Yixiang made revenues of Rmb40 million ($6 million) during the first nine months of 2015 and net profits of about Rmb5 million. It plans to use proceeds from the IPO to develop an “internet-plus strategy”, as well as expand its 200-strong product line into Vietnam and Myanmar.

Unlike the People’s Bank of China, which controls banks notes for the living, Yixiang has no monopoly in printing money for the dead. That means there are a relatively low entry barriers for others trying to do the same.

A sceptical media have noted that Yixiang is little more than a printing company, trying to jazz up its appeal with an online strategy.

Yixiang remains vague on its digital plans – the company has only said it will use the internet to “promote folk cultural etiquette”.


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