One couple thought they had a foolproof method. The law disagreed.
In freewheeling and fast-growing China, providing an innovative service might be enough to get rich. In the case of China's tightly regulated train ticket market, however, it is enough to get arrested.
The story begins with the approach of China's most important holiday the Spring Festival, which this year falls on February 10. Every year during the holiday season, more than 2 billion passenger journeys are made over a period of 40 days, placing tremendous strain on China's trains, planes and automobiles, and leaving train tickets in scarce supply. While those with Internet access can purchase tickets online with increasing ease, for millions of migrant workers who can't get on the web, the only choice is to spend hours -- even a whole day -- lined up outside for a ticket which may already be sold out. Many who don't get their tickets in time are forced to buy from illegal scalpers, who often charge 100 RMB (about US$16) extra -- or worse, sell them counterfeit tickets.
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So when newly-wed couple Mr. Zhong and Ms. Mo began offering a 10 RMB (about US$1.60) ticket-buying service in the provincial capital of Guangzhou, hundreds of busy migrant workers in the city were only too happy to spring for the fee, which is roughly the price of a bowl of noodles in a typical Guangzhou noodle shop. But on January 9, the couple -- who openly advertised their services outside their small shop -- were arrested for selling train tickets without a license, which is illegal under Chinese law.