A vast network of illegal trade is moving online in China. As new restrictions and constant crackdowns on illegal goods are on the rise, cunning traders are finding new ways around China’s stringent legal system, and the safest place is the Internet. From drugs, clothes, and illegal animal parts, right through to guns, sex toys, and luxury goods, if you want it, the Chinese Internet has it–and probably pretty cheap too. The rise of online shopping sites such as Taobao, along with the increased influence of social media, and a plethora of new platforms for selling goods such as WeChat, means finding products with the click of a mouse or the swipe of the finger is a reality that many Chinese live by day to day.
Even Elephant tusk trafficking has now moved online, due to crackdowns by police causing the closure of many physical stores; illicit trafficking has had major setbacks recently with the Chinese government wanting to highlight their work protecting elephant numbers, due to increased global pressure. In January, police destroyed six tonnes of seized ivory, but traders still found around the growing police monitoring, simply by moving to online platforms such as QQ to display their goods and contact information to interested buyers.
The lack of ivory is driving up prices, making it even more of a profitable investment for collectors and sellers. It is illegal to sell ivory online and major websites have banned it. Many of the ivory traders have family owned shops reducing the risk of people selling secrets and they sell to customers they have known for many years, further reducing the risk of gaining the attention of the authorities.
There are around 150 licensed legal ivory shops in China, but sometimes items do not match up to what they are supposed to be selling–a common scam in China. So what’s left is a large illegal trade network, which operates more and more in the online world, offering more protection than a physical shop. Auction and antique sites are where most of the ivory is sold Want China Times reports that “a police raid on March 2 caught two suspects and seized almost a hundred elephant tusks. The elephant tusks products sold in Baxia mostly come from Africa”, showing that the trade is not really slowing, and as online sales continue so do the deaths of African elephants.
Image courtesy of Wiki media
WeChat is garnering the attention of fake luxury good markets for the use of advertising and selling.There is nothing new in buying fake brands in China, where 70 percent of the entire world’s fake goods are bought, it’s part of the deal with its Silk and Yashow markets, trading places that have been established there for years. But as the trade moves online, even the staff of legitimate stores cannot tell the difference. The online world allows the sellers to have less supervision so some can pass themselves off as legitimate stores offering “VIP” discounts to Chinese buyers. The price ranging for the same goods is often dramatic, some even use the same image as other vendors are, while others are (somewhat) more honest, telling the customers that they are high quality replicas. With websites such as “OriginalFake” and “Wholesale Replica Jewelry” found with the simple online search of “fake online fashion”, its quick and easy to find these stores with little or no restrictions.
Just one of the many fake items available online.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Buying drugs online is also easy, as there is little regulation and even after major crackdowns many more stores quickly pop up. On the surface some may seem completely above board and legitimate whereas others are plainly illegal. The World of Chinese recently investigated the ease with which it was to buy drugs in China online; various drugs were promised or delivered directly with no questions asked. The use of QQ profiles and numbers to sell drugs can be brought up by a single simple Google search such as “meth Beijing Buy”. On numerous occasions Chinese authorities have tried to crack down on the rampant trade, arresting 1,300 for illegal online drug sales and closing 140 unlicensed websites in 2013, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Yet they still cannot not keep up with a trade which is ever-growing.
Basically, if you want it, the Chinese internet has it. Guns, which are illegal for citizens to own, are also easily available online, with QQ again the chosen platform for gun sellers who message you directly giving their numbers, price lists and, images of each gun for sale. There are also some gray areas of completely crazy and somewhat obscene items, such as the human organs and full dead bodies preserved in chemicals, hopefully aimed at medical students; I don’t even want to know about any other uses for human corpses. China’s whitening craze, which has been around for hundreds of years, has also made its way online but in possibly one of the strangest ways ever known: breast milk soap. Kits to make your own are also available and if that doesn’t prove that you can buy anything from the Chinese internet, then I don’t know what will.