Geopolitics

China’s Boom Brings Wedding “Banquet Scalpers”

Rising incomes, traditions heat up competition for best spots to host your big day. And a banquet hall black market is born


Bride and groom in China (Nghong Lam via Flickr)

EYES INSIDE - CHINA

When a nation's economy grows 10 percent a year, everything is booming, new markets emerge, innovation is rampant. That goes for scalpers too.

A couple who decides in a rush to get married around the (Chinese) New Year, or on an "auspicious day", might now wind up paying extra thousands of RMB (or up to 1,000 dollars) over the regular price, in order to have a decent banquet hall for their reception.

The "banquet scalpers' are one of the latest economic side effects of boomtown China: would-be newlyweds who find themselves stuck without an available wedding hall or hotel restaurant can now send out a message on the Internet looking for help or advice, and get back all kinds of offers for bookings -- inevitably with extra fees tacked on.

In recent weeks, Chinese newspapers and bloggers have detailed the exploits of these scalpers, who have booked up all reception reservations in the most popular hotels or restaurants in major cities, as early as one full year in advance. XinHuaNet reports that by "monopolizing the market," profits for certain dates at four-star hotels can climb in the tens of thousands of RMBs.

Beyond the New Year, a traditional time for weddings, scalpers make sure to book reservations on other popular dates, like May 1st and October 1st, during the so-called golden week, and other "auspicious days' of the lunar calendar.

Chinese papers note that the idea of such business was planted in 2008, when many rushed to wed to coincide with China's hosting the Summer Olympics, as well as for the number "8," which phonetically in Chinese is a synonym of prosperity. New Year's remains popular, thanks to the Chinese proverb "Rich or poor, marry a wife for a good New Year."

Qianjiang Evenling News reports how scalpers place ads on Internet forums to attract clients who didn't plan ahead. In the ads, they pretend to have no alternative but to "transfer" their feast reservation with the hotel or restaurant for some unexpected reasons. Apart from asking the deposit they had paid in advance to the hotel or restaurant, they also ask the client to pay a mark-up for this "privilege."

Zhongxin news reports that a man identified as Mr. Huang paid 3,000 RMB (about $445) to someone claiming to need such a transfer, who just a month later offered the same deal to a friend of Huang's. But is such common practices now that some young spouses-to-be who want to get married in a hurry, or on their dream date, simply go straight to the scalpers.

While more and more Chinese have started to go out to celebrate the Chinese New Year's Eve, or even Christmas Eve like Westerners, there are banquets scalpers who are now eyeing these occasions. Here the market isn't quite as saturated, but like elsewhere in China, all signs point to new opportunities for growth.

-Laura Lin

Worldcrunch

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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