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China Scams Part 2: The Art Student

[ 13 ] July 27, 2010 |

This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to the Art of Chinese Scams.  Over the next few weeks I will be rolling out 3 personal scam stories from my time in China with tips and advice on how not to get sucked in.

“Hello, My Names Tom, Where are you from?…”

Tom was a friendly art student (supposedly) from a university in Xian.  He told us that his University was holding a special exhibition “right here” at Tiananmen square and that “today is last day you come with me to look, it FREE”.  Now I will admit I’m a naturally suspicious person and the alarm bells started going off immediately, but I was out voted and after all they couldn’t force us to do anything we didn’t want to do right!?

We were led into a small gallery in the outer walls of the Forbidden City. No sooner had we stepped through the doorway, Tom headed over to a table, paper on the ready to make each of us calligraphy art works “for free” of course.  One by one Tom wrote each of our names beautifully in calligraphy. I found myself being charmed by his efforts at English and his beautiful writing.  Or maybe it was just that he had written piao liang (beautiful) under my name!

Chinese Art Scam

While our calligraphy was drying we were shown around the gallery, Tom explaining every piece of artwork in detail telling us about the concept, the technique and the artist.  Then it came, every sales pitch under the sun, buy this, buy that.  Although many of the pieces were incredibly beautiful they were also incredibly overpriced and none of us were in the position to be buying Chinese art when we had only just touched down in the country for what was going to be at least 5 months of living off a tiny allowance.

Realising that there was no way any of us were going to buy any art they then tried their best to get us to buy frames for our calligraphy, after all we wouldn’t want it to get torn now would we!  But quite honestly although the calligraphy was nice none of us really felt that it was outstanding enough to fork out and buy a frame!

We were stern, to the point and adamant that we weren’t in a position to buy anything.  But clearly they had come across others like us with the same attitude and tried their best to make us feel guilty about giving us these beautiful calligraphy pictures for free.  After all they made us freebies out of the kindness of their hearts we should thank them by buying something at least! However with persistence, the power of being in a group and an apologetic attitude (just to make ourselves feel better) we left without spending a single penny!

Tiananmen Square


What to watch out for…

  • All around China but particularly around Tiananmen square in Beijing you will come across friendly art students inviting you to FREE art exhibitions held by their universities.  Recently when walking around Tiannamen Square I was approached by no less than 4 art students, though this time around I knew exactly what they were up to and politely declined.
  • When you’re approached they come across merely as friendly, passionate art students who just want to practice their English and show you their original artworks.  That is until they lure you in and try and sell it to you for some absurd price!
  • This scam luckily is more of a nuisance than a danger.  You are not obligated to buy however you may find some of the artworks terribly tempting and their kind smiles and charm hard to resists.  It’s especially important to keep in mind that the artwork you are shown may in fact not actually be original pieces of work like your told.  If you want to walk away without spending a penny you need to stick to your guns, be confident and then they will reluctantly let you leave!

This is the second in a series of posts on “The Art of Chinese Scams” if you want to stay up to date with this series as well as follow my journey teaching, living and travelling in China then please subscribe to the RSS feed!!!

Check out Part 3: The Poser

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Category: China

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include http://ourtravellifestyle.com, http://vagabondfamily.org, http://nunomad.com and now http://on-our-way-travel.com. View author profile.

Comments (13)

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  1. Andi
    Twitter:
    says:

    This was a great warning for travelers. This happens to me all of the time all over the world, especially every time I’ve been to China!
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..29 Things To Do Before I Turn 29 =-.

  2. Cashmere says:

    Thanks for the heads up.. I’ll be prepared if I go there.. heh! :)
    .-= Cashmere´s last blog ..WordPress just spoiled my mood… =-.

  3. Eli says:

    There’s always a scam somewhere, isn’t there? Thanks for telling us about this, it seems like it’d be easy to get suckered in.

  4. Sasha says:

    Hey everyone, thanks for the comments! :) I’m glad you found this post useful. There is definitely a lot of scams you can get sucked into while travelling especially in China!

  5. Dina says:

    interesting experience. Good that you and friends could be strict enough not to fall to the scam. This gets me more prepared if I encountered this someday. I don’t like to break anybody’s heart. I just need to remember that some people mean to scam us, not actually mean well to us. So it’s not like I’m breaking their heart, it just mean I don’t fall to their scam. (Whew, I hate scammers!)
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..A Taste of the Greek Islands- a Day in Santorini =-.

  6. Sasha says:

    It’s so true, I still find it really hard to accept that people want to scam me, but they do! Alot of people want to scam me and everyone else. When you keep that in sight it’s not so hard being tough on them!

  7. Paolo says:

    This is very true… same thing happens in shanghai. specially in Nanjing Road, people take you to drink in a restaurant and they make you pay so much money…
    Be very careful.. a lot of scammers in china

  8. j choban says:

    Aah, I remember this one.

    I think it should be noted that Chinese also pull scams on each other. When I was leaving in Liaoning, there was a huge scam in which hundreds of people were sold “baby ants” which were the seller was supposedly going to buy back (for use in making an aphrodisiac) once they reached maturity.
    .-= j choban´s last blog ..Four practical things you should know how to do in China and SE Asia =-.

  9. Connie
    Twitter:
    says:

    Great post Sasha! I’m on my way into China in a few weeks and this information is going to be so helpful! Sorry that you had to suffer through it in order for me to gain from your experience though.

  10. Sasha says:

    Hi Connie, thanks for dropping by! I’m glad you found this post useful, there are even more scams to know of I hope to have posted over the next few weeks!!! Scams always bug me at the time but when I look back they give me quite the laugh and a story to tell! :P Look me up when your in China, I hope you find some more useful stuff scattered around this site. :)

  11. Stephanie
    Twitter:
    says:

    Oooh I got picked up by those guys too! They were from Xian as well and the exhibition was inside the Forbidden City so I figured it couldn’t be too scammy. Definitely got a high pressure sales pitch but had no problem just walking out of there.

    I really liked Beijing but the scammers there were just too much!

  12. Sasha says:

    I think it’s possibly the most notorious scam in China, nearly everyone I know who’s been to the Forbidden City were approached and many actually sucked in! Did you have Tom by any chance, my Mum would say “Oh, that Tom what a lovely boy” haha I can’t imagine how my mother would deal with all the scammers in Beijing, she would be making friends with all of them.

  13. Jon H. says:

    I got hit with this scam while wandering around the Forbidden city by myself today. I ended up buying a small print for about $40 USD. I have no buyers remorse though because I love the artwork, $40 really isn’t very much and they need the money far more than I do. Although, its your natural reaction to avoid these people altogether– don’t. Go with them, see what they have to offer and then bargain. Its really all about your perception in the end anyways. If you look at it as a great souvenir from your trip– then great…buy away!

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