Confession time – before I came to China, my knowledge of the country was on the same level as that of my math and science – limited and measly. I was also very prejudiced. I had been one of those people whose first association upon hearing “China,” is “fake.” My life in Shanghai and travels around China educated me, and shed a completely new light on its picture in my mind. However, the element of “fake,” did not evaporate.
It turns out that Chinese people have actually raised their mastery of counterfeit products to a whole new level, as of 2013. Aside from fake Armani bags and fake Converse sneakers, one of the biggest fake products in China is now fake divorce.
Actually angry, or thinking about buying their second apartment?
Fake divorces are all about real estate. In March 2013, in order to control housing prices, the State Council announced that those who owned more than one apartment would have to pay a 20% capital gains tax when they sold the second house (the tax was previously 1 to 2%). And if that wasn’t enough, banks in Shanghai were banned from granting loans to those who wished to purchase a third home. In Beijing, individuals could now purchase only one home.
Necessity is the mother of invention, especially in China. Resourceful citizens, anxious to allocate loads of cash in real estate, thought outside the box to solve the issue – or rather “outside the marriage.” There is a loophole in the vicious real estate law that stipulates that divorced couples do not have to pay the new higher tax. This is because after the divorce (which costs only a few Yuan!) each spouse would only own one house. That’s not all: after the divorce, one of the divorcees can generously transfer home ownership to their ex-spouse free of charge, and then purchase yet another home as a first time buyer (which frequently comes with incentives).
Next, the divorced couple will sell one property and quickly “fall back in love,” and remarry. Simple as that. Reuters reported in early March 2013 alone, 53 couples in just one of Shanghai’s districts filed for divorce. Last year, a grand total of 53,244 couples divorced in Shanghai, many of them for real estate related reasons. It’s no longer about weddings or birthday parties in China. These days, fake divorces parties are bringing the whole family together!
Shocking? When I told my friend in Poland about the highlights of life in China, she had a different opinion. “Wow, look,” she said, “Chinese people are so creative! We have a great deal to learn from them.” She is right.
“Fake,” culture does lend itself well to creativity. Last summer I was looking for a pair of nude color ballerina shoes at the fake market (the only place I can find shoes that fit my size 39 feet). In one store I came across a pair that immediately appealed to me, but the shoes were unfortunately a size 38. The shopkeeper told me that did not come in a bigger size.
Seeing my huge disappointment, the shop assistant said “Wait, I will check again.” He disappeared with the shoes I tried on. Five minutes later, he came back and gave me a seemingly new pair saying, “I found it! It is 39!” Partly happy, but partly suspicious at the sudden turn of events, I tried the shoe on. But somehow it still felt like 38. I checked the sole of the shoe to see the size on it. There was a sticker there in black and white – 39.
I had a hunch that I should just try to peel it off. Turns out, the resourceful gentleman didn’t have my size, so he just created it within seconds and thought that it would work as a placebo for my desire to have that particular shoe, and that I would feel that it really fit. Instead of getting angry, that man made my day, and I just couldn’t stop laughing all the way back home.
One of the most advanced pieces of knowledge about China that I’ve learned makes up for my embarrassing ignorance from a few years back: whether it is a fake shoe size or a fake divorce in the face of government restriction, where there is a will (and money) in China, there is a way!