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New Business Overturns Old Ethics

It all started with an old saying: shi jin bu mei, which literally means "picking up gold but not hide it", or loosely "finders should not be keepers".

The axiom refers to what many Chinese consider an age-old virtue that, whenever you find a lost item, no matter how valuable, you should return it, not keep it.

A breed of small businesses built around the concept of "paying a fee for lost-and-found items" is threatening to change that, or at least add a new dimension.

Some people are shocked to learn that finders are compensated financially. "In our days, we'd have been proud to return it and see the happy face of the owner. Getting a thank-you was the best reward. But nowadays we have absurdities like insurance for drunk driving, and now this," said an elderly teacher.

The strongest argument against paying for a lost-and-found service can be summed up in one phrase: It is a sign of moral degradation to debase a heart of gold to petty monetary gains.

Proponents don't see it that way. A lost-and-found business is a better platform that links the loser and the finder because everyone involved has an incentive to reach the other party. In a market economy, a person's time has value. It takes time for the finder to locate the loser, and for the loser, the opportunity cost to get a replacement is usually much higher than a little fee for the lost item.

For example, many service firms charge 20 yuan (US$2.4) for the owner to get back a lost ID card. Of this amount, half is given to the finder as a financial incentive. But if the loser reports the loss to the police department and applies for a replacement card, he'll have to pay much more.

(China Daily HK Edition December 2, 2003)

The Changing Attitudes and Values in the New China
Outlook Changes in the Younger Generation
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