TAOBAO: China’s Bizarre Response to Ebay, Amazon

With about 500 million registered users, who trade an average of 50,000 items of merchandise every minute, Taobao has become one of the largest e-commerce websites in the world.

With its operations covering two major platforms – the TMall, where established brand owners sell directly to customers and the Taobao Market place, where smaller companies and budding entrepreneurs set up shops – the kind of items that are up for sale has stirred a lot of controversies not only in China, but across the world.

For instance, there was a story involving a drone operated by government forces in Syria last November. The Syrian rebels had announced they had shot down the drone and the pictures went viral. The drone, a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter, was thought to be a product sold on Taobao by a Shenzhen-based Chinese company. It was sold in the TMall store of DJI Innovations for 4,999 yuan.

If you ever thought the talismans cannot be purchased online, you are dead wrong. There are dozens of shops on Taobao run by Daoshi, a Taoist clergy, who offers Fu – the Taoist talisman that possesses special powers that does things like bringing good luck and warding off ill-fortune from the purchaser.

A very popular type of Fu is one that helps to soothe a crying baby. Taoist symbols are written on special paper and religious rituals performed to strengthen its soothing property. The Fu is then folded in a special pattern and sealed in a pouch, which can either be placed inside the baby’s crib or under the pillow. The cheapest Fu on Taobao goes for 0.1 yuan, while the most expensive version is priced at 166,000 yuan.

Another bizarre item on Taobao is a live scorpion.  At least there are more than 800 vendors on Taobao who offer different varieties of scorpions, ranging from African emperor scorpions sold as pets to live Chinese armour-tail scorpions offered as health food. The scorpions are generally sold at £1 a dozen.

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