Awaiting Divine intervention at Taobao

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on April 8, 2006

Recently we ran a story in BW about the troubles that eBay has been having in China. The big problem for eBay is Jack Ma, the fast-talking former schoolteacher from Hangzhou. Ma, who turns 42 this year, is the founder of Alibaba, the B2B site that also owns Yahoo China and Taobao, the C2C site that has been giving eBay fits because it doesn’t charge anything. Hard to beat a rival that’s letting people use its site for free.

But according to Pacific Epoch, an online digest of the Chinese press, there are limits even to what Ma and Co. will do. Pacific Epoch reports on a Beijing News story that Porter Erisman, an Alibaba spokesman, has today confirmed to me in an email. The story: Tabao has called a stop to a sale by a 20-something man that had already attracted 58 bidders and a top offer of $85. What was he selling? His soul. “Sun said he intended to provide his memories and experiences,” Pacific Epoch reports, “along with with personal photographs and his life story to his soul’s winning bidder.” Concludes Pacific Epoch: “Taobao employee Liu Fei said Taobao stopped the auction because the company did not understand how someone could sell their soul.”

Porter says that there was much, um, soul-searching at Taobao about the proper policy to take. Ultimately, here’s what they decided: “Taobao has developed a new policy which allows the selling of souls under certain circumstances,” Porter writes. “Effective April 6, Taobao members are only be allowed to sell their soul if they can provide written permission from a ‘higher authority.’” This isn’t the first instance of creative selling on Taobao. Porter reports that one member sold advertising space on his forehead, which the Taobao czars allowed. Another member tried to sell time with her boyfriend after a spat. According to Porter, “she figured that as she no longer wanted to spend time with him, maybe she could sell her time with him to someone else and make a little money at the same time.” The straitlaced folks at Taobao didn’t let the auction proceed.

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