And Finally

Two sides of a coin

How a box of change has spread a little warmth across the country


Help yourself

It is not uncommon for desperate thieves to steal coins tossed into wishing wells. A serial offender got nabbed for it last week in Yunnan, having been caught using a long rod to extract them from a temple’s pond.

So you might think that an unattended box full of small change would disappear quickly were it left on the street. This social experiment has just been carried out in a number of Chinese cities, and the results have been rather surprising.

Earlier this month boxes full of Rmb1 coins popped up near bus stops and metro stations in 20 major cities such as Hefei, the capital of Anhui, a traditionally poor province.

A sign besides the box read: “If you need money right now, please help yourself but don’t take more than Rmb5. If you have spare change, please donate and help others.”

About Rmb500 ($75) was held by these “self-service coin boxes”. Initially people just walked past them, reports Xinhua, but more curious onlookers stopped to inspect them too. Soon photos of them went online. No one stole them.

“Everyone has followed the rules. No one has snatched the box away. Some took a few coins from the box and some indeed put money into it,” the state news agency observed, noting that a box at a busy junction in Changzhou ended up having more cash – Rmb523 – by evening. “No matter who has initiated the social experiment, it has spread a lot of positive energy nationwide,” Xinhua added approvingly.

According to Yangcheng Evening News, the experiment was actually a marketing stunt from Shenzhen’s YDNewmedia, which specialises in plotting events that get publicity online. In this case it was working on behalf of Zhangshang Interactive Technology, a Guangzhou tech firm. It was a coup since netizens scrambled to find out who was behind the scheme and the little known firm was soon the talk of social media. “And we have proven that Chinese people are not greedy and selfish,” A staffer with YDNewsmedia told Yangcheng Evening News.

That claim was queried by plenty of internet users, however. “Everyone knows there could be a hidden camera watching. Try putting the coins there unattended overnight and see what would happen,” one more cynical netizen said on weibo.

“It makes no difference if the experiment takes place in China or elsewhere,” another wrote.

Indeed, Xinhua pointed out the marketing ploy could have been inspired by a British artist who piled up 15,000 two-pence coins on a towpath alongside Regent’s Canal in London earlier this year. The social experiment went on for four hours until two men swiped the £300 mound ($387).

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