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News Commentators Decry the Errand Economy as ‘Ruining’ Friendship on Chinese University Campuses

Students lining up to pick up their package. Photo from state-owned Xinhua Net.

Students lining up to pick up their package. Photo from state-owned Xinhua Net.

The popularity of online payment systems has given rise to a new errand service among university students in China. An errand can vary from delivery delivering mail, packages, food, groceries and hot water to signing in class attendance, doing presentations, writing term papers and taking examinations for fellow students, and the existence of such errand service has raise some heated debate online.

Most university campuses in China are huge and not open to public. The setting creates a distinctive campus-based market. For example, on a cold winter's day, many students do not want to go outdoors for meals, mail or groceries and prefer someone else to run their errands.

In the past, they would ask their fellow students to do them a favor and return the service later on. However, as online payments have entered their lives, many now prefer to hire someone to run their errands instead.

Among the 700 million internet users in China, approximately 60 percent actively used e-commerce and online payments in 2015, with a gross merchandise volume up to 11.8 trillion yuan, or approximately US$1.7 trillion.

University students are the most active user group. In 2015, 6% of the nation’s package deliveries had university campuses as their final destination.

New mobile applications, like “campus delivery” (校內達), are specifically designed to provide a platform for students to look up other fellow students to run errands for them for a small payment between three to five yuan per service. Reportedly, some students have managed to earn 3,000 yuan a month running errands for other fellow students.

Apart from mobile apps, some students also use chat rooms, such as Tencent’s QQ groups, to provide more controversial services, like signing in class attendance, taking the place of other students in class discussions or presentations, or even taking exams for them.

One survey shows that about half of university students have either hired others to take their place in class or seen others do it. The price varies from 20 to 50 yuan.

News commentators for official media outlets in China have been critical towards this new campus economy in their writings, saying it is the result of students being spoiled and lazy. Some, including news commenter Zu Yuanyuan from the Chinese Communist Youth League-affiliated Youth.cn, have taken a nostalgic view of campus life:

本来取快递可以寝室几人结伴而行,或者是由舍友代拿,本来买水果也可以成为同学间逛街交流的借口,本来打热水亦或成为你打我用的友好共用形式,然而“跑腿经济”这一利益化产业的兴起,打破了原本纯洁友好的校园,让舍友代拿快递就会顾虑舍友代拿是否需要付费?让朋友代买水果也要考虑不付费的代买是否合适?“跑腿经济”已经渐渐成为阻隔校园内人情的一道屏障,让原本充满亲情的校园变得有着些许的冷漠,一切能代办的全部用金钱来衡量,殊不知这本该是校友间、朋友间顺便代办的区区小事。“金钱至上”的利益经济已经在悄然侵蚀着本该纯净的校园,难道这不令我们担忧吗?

Roommates could walk to the package delivery station together, or ask a friend to do a favor. Buying fruit with fellow students should be an excellent opportunity to share thoughts. Getting hot water for one another is good for building friendship. Yet with the rise of the errand economy, friendship on campus has been ruined by a profitable business — whenever you ask your roommate to pick up a package or buy some fruit for you, you would start to wonder if you should pay for the errand. The errand economy has blocked students from developing friendship on campus and changed the warm campus into a cool campus where everything is evaluated in monetary terms. The errands should be small favors that friends give to one another. Shouldn’t we be worried that our campus is slowly being eroded by monetary value?

On the other side, some netizens see the errand service as a creative business. Here are a few of the comments on one of the news threads on popular social media platform Weibo:

挺好啊 时间也是金钱啊 每个人价值观不一样 对待金钱的态度也不一样 爹妈有钱爹妈爱给孩子花 这有什么好批判的 多半是眼红吧 人家爹妈赚一辈子钱了就希望孩子活的轻松 凭什么非要道德绑架 非要看不得别人过得舒服和你一样苦哈哈才爽?

This is good. Time is money. Every one has a different set of values and hold different attitudes towards money. Why should we criticize those kids with rich parents who allow them to spend money? Most of the criticisms are out of envy. Their parents work so hard to make their kids’ lives easy, why judge them? Do you want to see everyone equally poor?

多亏了代课跑腿什么的让我度过了没有生活费的日子

I have to thank those who demand the service of running errands and taking students’ place in class or I could not have survived without a basic income for living.

懒是促进科技进步的核心啊。要不是因为懒得洗衣服,洗衣机怎么会发明出来,要不是懒得走路,自行车又是怎么来的

Laziness is the driving force of scientific progress. Washing machines were invented because people were too lazy to wash their clothes. Bicycles were invented because people were too lazy to walk.

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