Andy Wong / AP
A woman collects rubbish around the tombstone of her family grave at the Babaoshan cemetery during the Qingming Festival in Beijing on Thursday.
Some cemeteries are attaching QR codes to gravestones to allow mourners to view a virtual obituary. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.
They also leave offerings of food, fake money, liquor and now, in a sign of the times, cardboard representations of popular Apple products – despite scathing criticism of the technology giant recently by China’s state-run media for its "arrogance" for having just a one-year warranty for Chinese consumers.
The onslaught on CCTV to the People's Daily newspaper grew to such a fever pitch that Apple CEO Tim Cook offered an apology Monday and announced that the company would change its policy.
But the hubbub hasn’t dampened interest in offering mock Apple products to relatives for them to enjoy in the afterlife.
Lots of gifts
Under Mao, the practice of leaving offerings to the dead was suppressed, but it was quickly reinstated once he was no longer in power. In 2008, Tomb Sweeping Festival was made a national holiday, and last year 520 million Chinese visited cemeteries – almost all bearing some kind of gift.
Traditional gifts include fake money and paper bags of clothing. But in recent years, as China has become more upscale, so has the giving – at least symbolically.
People now give paper representations of TV sets, washing machines, houses, luxury cars – and even mistresses. With the popularity of Apple products in China, they have gone to the top of the gift list.
Li Le / NBC News
Fake Apple products for sale in Beijing as offerings to ancestors for China's Tomb Sweeping Festival.
Jia Bo, 27, designs various cardboard imitations of high-end products and sells them online. He has everything that a Chinese person would dream to have in this life or the next: Lamborghinis, ocean view mansions, professional cameras and pets for companionship.
“Compared to luxury ‘cars,’” which can cost from $10-$150, imitation Apple products “are much more affordable,” said Jia.
This season’s hot seller is an entire set of “Apple” products. For only $7 you can send a Mac computer, iPhone and iPad to your relatives in heaven. For an extra 50 cents, you can upgrade to an iPhone 5.
Jia thinks these new gifts show changes in Chinese attitudes. “In the past, people only focused on basic needs. But now, particular young people, care more about the quality of life.”
“That’s why Pomeranian dogs are also very popular,” said Jia, though he noted that he believed the breed was originally Japanese.
Bao Wenying, a customer at Jia’s online store, was pleased with her purchase, writing on the website: “They look very real. I think my grandparents will be thrilled after they receive these Apple products. Did I buy too much? I guess old [Steve] Jobs will take care of them.”
Carlos Barria / Reuters
Food offerings are seen at the tomb of a deceased person during Tomb Sweeping Day, at Songhe graveyard, on the outskirts of Shanghai on Thursday.
Wang Weibin, a resident from Jinhua, Zhejiang province, chose a “Mercedes-Benz” for his uncle. It was a chance to give him a new experience. “When he was alive, everyone was riding bicycles,” said Wang.
Not everyone likes the trend. Some grumble that these “luxury” goods merely reflect materialism in Chinese society.
“These are just commodities,” said Bao Xingdan, a 43-year-old housewife from Zhejiang. She prefers the traditional offering of burning fake money.
She pointed to the spiritualism of it. “This kind of paper can be used as money – only if people are chanting scriptures as they fold the paper into the shape of money.”
Bao added that for each piece of paper, people usually have to repeat a scripture at least three times.
Others think all these practices are just superstitions and that the best way to respect elders is to treat them well when they are alive.
Residents burn incense and paper money to pay their respects to the dead as it rains on a smoke filled hillside cemetery in Jinjiang in southeast China's Fujian province on Thursday. Tomb-Sweeping Day is an annual festival where Chinese people honor the dead.
Meanwhile, in Beijing there’s been a crackdown on the imitation Apple products—ironically the same week that state newspapers were criticizing the company.
A spokesman at the Beijing City Police Station, who only gave his surname, Zhang, told NBC News that violators were engaged in “patent infringement.”
However NBC found that numerous stores were openly selling products with slightly altered logos and product names.
It seems that China’s desire to give Apple products to its ancestors is undeterred by the government’s media or police. On earth Beijing is causing Tim Cook headaches, but Steve Jobs surely has a lot of Chinese friends in heaven.
NBC’s Yanzhou Liu and Mingchao Zhang have contributed to the story.
Zhang Tingzhen (center) is given a doll to play with by his mother Wei Xiuying while sitting beside his father Zhang Guangde at a Shenzhen hospital in southern China Sept. 26.
HONG KONG - Apple's largest contract manufacturer has been pushing for a Chinese worker left brain-damaged in a factory accident to be removed from hospital in a case that throws a harsh new spotlight on labor rights in China.
Zhang Tingzhen, 26, an employee of Taiwan firm Foxconn, had nearly half his brain surgically removed after surviving an electric shock at a plant in southern China a year ago. He remains in hospital under close observation by doctors, unable to speak or walk properly.
However, Foxconn, which is paying Zhang's hospital bills, has been sending telephone text messages to his family since July, demanding they remove him from hospital and threatening to cut off funding for his treatment -- a move the firm says would be justified under Chinese labor law.
Foxconn confirmed it had sent the messages, saying that under Chinese law the worker must submit himself to a disability assessment, a process that in Zhang's case would require him to be discharged from the Shenzhen hospital and travel the 43 miles to Huizhou, where he was first hired by Foxconn.
As Apple CEO Tim Cook visits China to see factories firsthand, the Fair Labor Association's Auret Van Heerden tells cnbc about the overtime issues and safety risks found at two of Foxconn's factories that produce Apple products.
Risk of brain hemorrhage
The firm said in response to emailed questions that it would be prepared to return Zhang to the Shenzhen hospital after the assessment, though his father said Zhang was unfit to travel and that doctors felt he remained at risk of a brain hemorrhage.
The case has raised fresh questions over the labor record of Foxconn, one of the biggest and most high-profile private employers in China, after a series of well-publicized suicides among its army of around a million workers and recent outbursts of labor unrest.
It has angered labor activists who say Zhang's plight also highlights China's patchy and sometimes precarious welfare system for workers seriously injured in industrial accidents and point out that there are many workers worse off than Zhang.
"They kept sending me SMSs every day to get my son out of hospital and to appear before an injury assessment body or they will stop paying all expenses, including his medical fees and our living expenses," Zhang's father, Zhang Guangde, said.
"You cannot imagine the suffering they put me through, how I had to fight every inch of the way just to get money so we can take care of our son," he added, speaking at his son's bedside at the Number 2 People's Hospital in Shenzhen.
Zhang was repairing a spotlight on an external wall at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, when he received an electric shock and fell 12 feet to the ground. He has since undergone five operations, has lost his memory, is incontinent and requires careful, regular monitoring.
Workers who are disabled in workplace accidents and covered by insurance are eligible for compensation payouts, once their disability is assessed and graded by a panel of medical experts. The assessment is done after medical treatment is finished.
Foxconn sent the text messages -- and according to Zhang's father at one point briefly halted payments to the family -- despite a provincial law stipulating that injured workers can remain in treatment for up to two years before they must be assessed for disability compensation.
The company, however, denied that it delayed or stopped payments, saying it paid them on time.
Zhang, whose case was alerted to Reuters by labor activists, has been in hospital since October 2011.
'At the mercy' of system
Doctors at the Number 2 People's Hospital declined to comment for this article, but Zhang's father, 50, said they had not indicated that he could be discharged and had said they needed to keep his son under observation after implanting a tube in his body to drain fluid from his brain cavity to his bladder.
"The doctor told me they needed to monitor his condition and that for such serious injuries, a person was allowed to be treated in hospital for up to two years. After that, assessors can order treatment to be prolonged," the father said.
Labor activists in China say Zhang is just one of many thousands of Chinese workers who are left permanently disabled or chronically ill by workplace accidents, at the mercy of a system that often requires them and their families to fight degrading battles for treatment funding and compensation.
"China now has laws specifying the types of compensation that are due to workers. But in many serious industrial accidents, companies still put workers or their families through a lot of suffering just to get what is due to them," said Choi Suet-wah of the Chinese Working Women Network in Hong Kong.
"They are robbed of their dignity," said Choi, who has extensive experience working with migrant workers in China.
Zhang is actually one of the lucky ones, social workers say, pointing out that Foxconn has at least been paying his hospital bills and the living expenses of his family, which has moved to Shenzhen from central China to be with him.
They estimate that at least four out of 10 Chinese workers are not covered by any kind of insurance and are left to fend for themselves when seriously injured in the workplace -- despite laws requiring all employers to insure their workers.
"This is just one of many, many industrial accidents in China. And you almost certainly never get what you are entitled to, especially in serious cases," Choi said.
Dad: Son calls me 'mother'
Foxconn says it is insured against workplace accidents, which means its insurer would meet the cost of a compensation payment once Zhang's disability is finally assessed.
But compensation in China can vary depending on the city in which a worker's disability is assessed, and this, according to Zhang's family, is why Foxconn wants him to travel to Huizhou and refuses to have him assessed in Shenzhen.
Labor activists say wages and compensation levels are all substantially lower in Huizhou than in Shenzhen, one of the most expensive cities in China.
When asked why Zhang could not be assessed in Shenzhen, Foxconn said the law required him to go to Huizhou because he had signed his employment contract there. It added that it was prepared to send him back to the hospital in Shenzhen if the assessors determined that he required more medical attention.
In hospital, Zhang walks unsteadily, holding on to the bed frames of other patients in his shared room and, with a smile, sits down next to his father whose face tightens with emotion.
"He calls me 'mother' and calls my wife 'father.’ He can only mimic words you ask him to say, it is meaningless," the elder Zhang said later, holding a jar containing large fragments of his son's cranium. Doctors replaced a portion of Zhang's skull with synthetic bone.
He said that despite Foxconn's funding -- a monthly allowance of 11,000 yuan ($1,800) plus treatment costs -- the family had racked up 200,000 yuan ($31,800) in debt to pay for medicines not provided by the hospital and other expenses.
Back home in central Henan province, the family was building a house for Zhang to live in after his impending marriage when he was injured.
"We were building a three-story house," the elder Zhang said. "The project has since been abandoned and all the building materials we bought have been washed away by rain. But these workers still have to be paid. My whole life is over."
More world stories from NBC News:
Reports early Monday from China suggest that a mass disturbance or riots may have broken out at a Foxconn factory in the Chinese city of Taiyuan.
It is still unclear what exactly happened, but posts on China’s popular twitter-like service, Weibo, from users in the area show photographs and video of large numbers of police in and around the factory – many in riot gear – blocking off throngs of people.
Other photos show debris strewn around the Foxconn compound and in one case, an overturned guard tower.
Censors in China have reportedly already started deleting pictures from the scene.
This is not the first time that Foxconn has had problems with its Taiyuan facility, which is reportedly responsible for the fabrication of the back plate of the immensely popular new iPhone 5. In March, strikes broke out there after workers did not receive a pay raise they had reportedly been promised.
Meanwhile, Foxconn’s Chengdu plant in Sichuan province also has dealt with riots. In June, scores of Foxconn workers there got into a fight with a local restaurant owner that had to be broken up by police.
Foxconn is the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer responsible for much of the current production and assembly of Apple’s popular line of products as well as a wide variety of popular tech toys ranging from laptops to gaming consoles.
But Foxconn has been under fire for years for its tough working conditions, including long hours, low wages and strict rules on representation. The company has also dealt with a string of suicides at its plants across China, which led to the company in 2010 installing anti-jump nets to prevent more suicide attempts.
The company has taken steps to improve working conditions in its factories by reducing work hours and raising wages for its front-line workers.
Still, perhaps wary of the continued negative publicity that has plagued one of its primary manufacturers over the years, Apple recently took steps to diversify its portfolio of producers, recently awarding much of the manufacturing of its new iteration of the iPad to another Taiwanese company, Pegatron.
Customers test out Apple iPads in the company's flagship store in Beijing's Sanlitun area on Wednesday. A Chinese tech firm, Proview claims it still owns the iPad trademark In China and will seek a ban on exports of Apple Inc's computer tablets from China, which could deal a blow to the U.S. technology giant's sales worldwide.
BEIJING – “This is the user manual and spec sheets for the IPAD,” said Ma Dongxiao, a patent lawyer in Beijing. In his hands he held a simple black and white pamphlet that laid out the technical aspects of his client’s product.
Absent from the front page was the familiar Apple logo we have come to expect. Rather, he held just a simple description in English for a boxy wireless device shaped like an old TV that was ponderously dubbed a “Professional Color LCD Monitor.”
Simple as the device might appear, it is the linchpin in a new phase of Shenzhen-based tech company Proview’s latest attack on Apple: A restraining order filed this month in a Shanghai court demanding Apple cease using the iPad name in China.
Just days after the euphoria of a $500 stock valuation, Apple has been dealt a series of significant legal blows in China that casts doubt on the legality of the tech giant’s control of the iPad trademark here on the mainland.
And the worst might be yet to come.
The legal issue at hand for Apple is simple enough: Does the Cupertino-based company own the “iPad” trademark in China? Or does it belong to Proview (Shenzhen), a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Proview International Holdings Ltd. – at one time one of the largest manufacturers of computer displays in the world.
The cover of Shenzhen-based tech company Proview's owner's manual for their IPAD device, called a "Professional Color LCD Monitor."
Murky trademark deal
Proview began trademarking the term, “IPAD,” in China and other countries back in 2000. The company coined the name for a handheld device it claims was the actual start of what later would be dubbed “tablet computing.”
The project never came to fruition, though, and the name sat unused until 2009 – a year before the debut of the iPad we know today. That’s when Apple allegedly swooped in and paid a Proview subsidiary in Taiwan $55,000 for the trademark rights in ten countries, including they claim, China.
Not so, says Proview in Shenzhen, which argued that it – not the subsidiary in Taiwan – had registered the iPad name in China and thus controlled its trademark on the mainland.
In 2010, Proview took Apple to court in Shenzhen and won a decision last December that ruled Apple had incorrectly purchased the China trademark from the Taiwan-based subsidiary, resulting in a legally non-binding agreement.
An appeal filed last month by Apple in a Guangdong provincial court was similarly rejected, paving the way for Proview to file a slew of trademark violation complaints across China with local Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureaus. In 20 cities across four provinces, these departments began enforcing the decision, confiscating iPads from sellers and exposing Apple to fines up to five times the profit from iPad sales.
Online retailers are also taking note of the complaints, with Amazon China and Suning.com, a Chinese e-commerce site, also pulling iPads off their websites.
Undeterred, Apple has appealed the ruling to a higher Guangdong court. Carolyn Wu, a spokesman for Apple in China, told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, “We bought Proview’s world-wide rights to the iPad trademark in 10 different countries several years ago… Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China.”
More suits to come
Talking about the upcoming Shanghai suit for which Ma says arguments will begin next week, Chinese legal experts are already arguing that Apple faces long odds of winning. As one lawyer put it, Apple’s negotiating with Proview’s Taiwanese subsidiary is “like negotiating with a son and expecting the father to go along with what was agreed upon.”
The user manual for Proview's IPAD shows off its boxy wireless device shaped like an old TV. Proview claims it has the rights to the trademark "IPAD" in China , locking it in a legal battle with U.S.-based tech giant Apple.
With Proview’s ownership of the iPad trademark already established in the Shenzhen courts, it seems doubtful that the Shanghai court will side in favor of Apple and effectively overturn the appeals court in Guangdong.
Late last year, China became Apple’s second largest market after the United States. A decision against Apple that results in the ceasing of mainland iPad sales would be catastrophic for the company, which reportedly sold 15.43 million iPads in the last quarter of 2011 alone.
Even more troubling is another complaint Proview plans to file by the end of this month to China’s customs authorities that would ban the export and import of the new iPad 3. Almost all of the 30 million iPads sold last year are assembled outside the U.S., mostly in China. A successful injunction against Apple on exports of its iPad 3 would effectively make its rumored early March rollout date a pipe dream, putting a significant dent in the company’s profits.
Payday ahead for Proview?
All of these lawsuits, injunctions and complaints beg the question, what is Proview’s end game?
After all, Proview can seemingly look ahead confidently to the upcoming customs complaint and Shanghai lawsuit knowing that the Chinese courts have ruled in their favor in regards to ownership of the iPad trademark. Barring some new, compelling evidence from Apple, it will be extremely difficult for Apple to overturn two decisions in favor of Proview.
Bobby Yip / Reuters
A man walks on a bridge in front of the derelict office of Proview Technology in China's southern city of Shenzhen on Wednesday.
So what does Proview want?
The lawyer, Ma, played coy in answering that question and simply said he hoped that the two parties would be able to settle their disputes out of court. Indeed, a settlement between Apple and Proview is increasingly looking like an expensive proposition for the American tech company and a financial windfall for the cash-strapped Proview.
However, rumors of Proview seeking a $1.6 billion dollar payout may seem almost reasonable to Apple if Proview’s multiple suits successfully pass through Chinese courts and an embargo on shipments of iPad 3s is enacted. Although, it’s important to remember that Apple reportedly has $97.6 billion in cash reserves, so a $1.6 billion payout wouldn’t exactly break their bank.
Despite the long legal odds against Apple, and Proview seemingly sitting in the driver’s seat, the chances of such a doomsday scenario occurring seem distant as both sides appear even more poised for a settlement.
After all, while China’s expansive, albeit limitedly enforced, intellectual property laws currently favor Proview, it seems doubtful that a Chinese ruling blocking the shipment of iPad to countries where Apple legally owns the trademark would hold up in a complaint among the bodies that regulate international trade.
Furthermore, during these trying economic times globally, it would simply be foolhardy for China’s Customs Bureau – and by extension, the ruling Communist Party – to invite the swift international condemnation that would inevitably follow any blocking of Apple exports.
Ultimately, as Stan Abrams of the China Hearsay blog put it, Proview’s best strategy would seemingly be to wreak enough legal havoc for Apple so that the disruption of exports, while not an inevitability, would be a big enough threat to bring them to the settlement table.
Whatever decisions are made in the next few weeks, Apple will surely pay dearly for its first significant blunder since its entry into the China market.
Bobby Yip / Reuters file
Workers are seen inside a Foxconn factory in the township of Longhua in the southern Guangdong province, in 2010.
BEIJING—Last week, the New York Times published a report about working conditions at factories producing Apple products in China. Under the spotlight was Foxconn Technology, a key manufacturer for Apple and “China’s largest exporter and one of the nation’s biggest employers, with 1.2 million workers,” responsible for churning out tens of millions of iPhones and iPads sold around the world.
The article focused specifically on Foxconn’s Chengdu factory, where employees have complained about nonstop shifts, arduous overtime, crowded dormitories, mental health (nearly twenty workers at Foxconn have committed suicide over two years), and a hazardous working environment that's led to at least one explosion, in May 2011.
The New York Times report was also published in Chinese in the well-respected business and economic news weekly Caixin, where Chinese readers could post comments in response to the story.
Since it was released over the Lunar New Year festival, a week-long holiday which brings the country to a rare standstill, reaction seemed relatively muted. As we write this, there were 650 comments on Caixin’s Weibo page (a Twitter-like Chinese microblog)--compared to the 1,770 comments on the Times’ website.
A cynical reaction in China
On Caixin’s Weibo site, some of the comments condemned Apple’s corporate practices, but many also criticized the Chinese government for failing to protect its own citizens.
“Labor protection and social security is not only the responsibility of corporations. If the government had regulations and supervised the corporations, then they cannot be that irresponsible,” wrote one person.
A significant number also captured a sentiment that was cynical but perhaps very pragmatic of many Chinese:
“If they don’t work for Apple, those workers don’t have anywhere to shed their sweat and blood.”
“Why not kick Apple out? Tens of thousands of people will lose their jobs.“
“They are criticizing Apple only, because Apple is a huge target. The migrant workers hired by state-owned enterprises here can hardly be as good as Apple’s. Take care of your own workers before you pay attention to other people’s suppliers.”
All of which was bolstered by something this week that explains--in part--why the response in China might not be as outraged as those in the West might expect.
Workers want those jobs
On Monday, tens of thousands of people lined up outside a job agency to apply for an estimated 100,000 new jobs Foxconn is seeking to fill at its factory in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province.
Foxconn wants to double its current workforce of 130,000 at the Zhengzhou plant, which it opened last year. The facility already churns out 200,000 iPhones a day and is part of Foxconn’s grand plan to make Zhengzhou the world’s largest smartphone manufacturing base.
The basic starting salary advertised--according to a report posted on M.I.C. Gadget, a blogsite about tech and other related matters in China—is 1,650 yuan a month ($261), which includes dorm housing and food.
The pay is lower than comparable salaries Foxconn pays workers at its Shenzhen factory in southern China. But that may be a sacrifice Henan workers are willing to make initially.
With a population in excess of 100 million, Henan is China’s most populous province. A fifth of them are migrant workers who travel widely to find jobs in the country’s more prosperous regions like the south or coast.
With additional reporting from Bo Gu.
The tech behemoth, Apple, is in the spotlight not just for its record sales announced earlier this week – amounting to profits of up to $1 billion a week in the last quarter – but for how those profits are made.
The New York Times published an explosive article Thursday about the working conditions at Apple factories in China: Apple accused of ignoring labor abuses that can kill
In the article, a former Apple executive is quoted as saying, “We've known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they're still going on…Why? Because the system works for us.”
What do you think? Who’s most to blame for poor conditions at Apple’s factories? Apple? Apple’s suppliers? The Chinese government that allows the alleged labor violations to exist? Consumers for buying the products? Click here to vote
Meantime, the article was jointly published with Caixin, a Chinese business magazine, so it has already started generating some response in China. Click here to see their views: Chinese Readers on the ‘iEconomy’
BEIJING– Question for Siri: What to do when you have egg on your face?
It’s a question Apple officials in China must be asking themselves today after fighting outside a Beijing store forced the company to close its stores nationwide, leaving hordes of outraged Chinese out in the proverbial cold.
Outside one store in Beijing’s Sanlitun entertainment district, Chinese buyers had been lining up outside of Apple stores around China since yesterday in anticipation of the official launch of Apple’s new iPhone 4S. By 1 a.m. Friday, the line had devolved into a thrall of people gathered around the front of the store.
Many of those in line were scalpers intending to resell the phones at inflated prices to impatient consumers.
Between 4 and 5 a.m., scuffles broke out in the line, first between groups of rival scalpers and then later between scalpers and police. Perhaps fearful of a repeat of the violence that occurred at the same Beijing store just eight months prior at the release of the iPad 2, the store remained closed past the pre-announced 7 a.m. time.
Finally an Apple representative with a megaphone came out at 7:15 a.m. and announced the store would not open for iPhone 4S sales without any additional explanation.
The announcement drew immediate boos and chants of “Open the door!” and “Liars!” from the crowd who had been waiting in subzero temperatures throughout the night. At least one customer left and returned with a bag of eggs which were promptly thrown at the glass walls of the Apple store.
David Gray / Reuters
A man yells at a security guard after the guard tried to remove a member of the crowd at the Apple store in the Beijing district of Sanlitun January 13, 2012.
Apple security who attempted to apprehend the egg throwers were instead chased away by throngs of irate customers. Unverified home video of the incident shot and posted on Chinese video sites show some of the security guards being manhandled and beaten by the crowd.
Police later cleared the mob out from the square and a security cordon manned by dozens of uniformed and plain-clothed police was formed around the Apple store. A police officer outside the store told NBC News that iPhone sales in Beijing were being suspended, but believed the Sanlitun store would be open again tomorrow.
Apple later released a statement stating that “to ensure the safety of our customers and employees, iPhone 4S will not be available in our retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai for the time being.”
“Americans do make good products. Much better than ours.”
Meanwhile in Shanghai, lines were more peaceful, but iPhone sales were just as brisk outside the Apple stores as inside.
An NBC news crew outside the Apple store on the popular Nanjing road shopping street found hundreds milling around outside waiting for their chance at an iPhone 4S.
Chu Shanshan, a 25-year-old nurse who jubilantly walked out of the store with phone in hand said she had been waiting since midnight and had finally bought her dream product after 9 hours of waiting.
"Yes it's expensive. I spent a whole month's salary to buy an iPhone 4S. It's just so cool!" she said proudly.
Suddenly chaos broke out around the entrance of the Apple store. Two policemen, obviously well-prepared, could be seen yanking a man – possibly a scalper – away and disappearing into a nearby alleyway.
"Where are you from?" asked a middle-aged woman from the edge of the crowd.
"Ha! Americans must feel great to see Chinese people fighting to buy their products, right?" crowed the woman before adding, “Well I can't blame them. Americans do make good products. Much better than ours."
Big business for scalpers
For the scalpers who lined up outside of Apple stores today in Beijing and Shanghai, the iPhone’s highly anticipated release is potentially huge business. Apple restricts buyers to two phones each, so to get around those rules, scalpers hire people – often migrant workers looking to make a little extra money – to wait in line with them to purchase more phones.
Some scalpers hired scores of people to line up with them, easily identifiable by the matching ribbons they wore around their arms. They were preceded by the scalpers themselves, who wore identifiers like a balloon to help his or her buyers keep track of their whereabouts.
On Sina Weibo, China’s twitter-like service, a user representing one of the ubiquitous Apple fan clubs talked to one group of 42 buyers who had been hired by a scalper for $27 each to wait in line to purchase iPhones.
For those buyers, it’s extra money to sock away in an increasing inflated economy, but for the scalpers themselves, it’s a small price to pay for the potentially huge profits they can make selling the new phones at exorbitantly marked up prices.
Just 100 yards away from the Apple store in Shanghai, two men in worn, silvery suits held a sign over their head offering the new iPhone 4S 16gb for $918, a significant markup from the $790 listed price on Apple’s China website.
When asked why people would buy from them when they can walk half a block down and purchase the exact same phone for $128 less, one of them said, “Well first of all they don't have to line up and wait if they buy from us."
"And they can only buy a phone at the Apple store,” chimed in the other scalper, “with us we can install a lot of Apps for them."
NBC News researcher Ting Zhao contributed to this report
BEIJING — Walk by the Apple shop in Beijing’s Sanlitun neighborhood any day and you begin to have an inkling of how popular this brand has become in China in just a couple of years.
Roughly 40,000 visitors a day enter Apple’s shops in Beijing and Shanghai — four times as many as in any of the Apple shops in the United States.
But such popularity can attract imitation that Apple might not view as the sincerest form of flattery.
An American living in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province in China’s remote southwest corner, came across a fake Apple shop.
An entire fake Apple shop.
“They looked like Apple products. It looked like an Apple store. It had the classic Apple store winding staircase and weird upstairs sitting area. The employees were even wearing those blue t-shirts with the chunky Apple name tags around their necks,” writes the blogger.
But upon closer inspection, our intrepid fellow American realized, “A beautiful ripoff — a brilliant one — the best ripoff store we had ever seen (and we see them every day). But some things were just not right: the stairs were poorly made. The walls hadn’t been painted properly. Apple never writes “Apple Store” on its signs — it just puts up the glowing, iconic fruit.”
Now it wasn’t clear to the blogger whether the products were fake, too, but they looked real enough.
But here’s the real kicker: Some of the staff appeared to believe they were really working for Apple.
We checked with Apple, which confirmed it does not have a self-standing retail outlet in Kunming, but it does have a reseller. However, that reseller is nowhere near the "fake" shop mentioned in the blog.
Huge fan base
As with many American companies, China is a highly lucrative market for Apple. The company’s chief financial officer was quoted earlier this year as saying, of all the Apple outlets in the world, the China stores clocks on average the highest traffic and highest revenue.
On Tuesday, the Cupertino-based company posted record quarterly earnings, with China sales leaping a record 250 percent since last year and comprising a third of all Apple sales.
While Macs are popular with the trendy and design-oriented set in Beijing and Shanghai, the iPhone and iPad have become ubiquitous among well-heeled youth and business types in all major Chinese cities.
The sleek, stylish products have garnered such a huge fan base in China that quirky testimonies to its popularity are legion:
The release of the white iPhone earlier this year set off a violent frenzy in the Beijing store. That same outlet is also where customers are routinely approached on the premises by resellers or scalpers trying to hawk iPads and iPhones acquired elsewhere or, more commonly, overseas (where the products cost much less than they do in China).
In fact, the practice of buying iPads and iPhones outside China to bring back into the mainland — for resale or for personal use — is so widespread that Chinese customs agents began imposing a 20 percent import tax on any travelers found with such items in their possession.
During Apple’s earnings call on Tuesday, Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said China was “very key” to the company's results. He was also quoted as saying Apple hadn’t “learned to play perfectly” in the China market.
But it would seem that some enterprising Chinese know very well how to play in the Apple market.