Trading Places

The original story took place in Canada.

(  From paper-clip to house, in 14 trades.  July 7, 2006.

A 26-year-old Montreal man appears to have succeeded in his quest to barter a single, red paper-clip all the way up to a house.  It took almost a year and 14 trades, but Kyle MacDonald has been offered a two-storey farmhouse in Kipling, Sask., for a paid role in a movie.

MacDonald began his quest last summer when he decided he wanted to live in a house. He didn't have a job, so instead of posting a resumé, he looked at a red paper-clip on his desk and decided to trade it on an internet website.  He got a response almost immediately — from a pair of young women in Vancouver who offered to trade him a pen that looks like a fish.  MacDonald then bartered the fish pen for a handmade doorknob from a potter in Seattle.

In Massachusetts, MacDonald traded the doorknob for a camp stove. He traded the stove to a U.S. marine sergeant in California for a 100-watt generator.  In Queens, N.Y., he exchanged the generator for the "instant party kit" — an empty keg and an illuminated Budweiser beer sign.  MacDonald then traded the keg and sign for a Bombardier snowmobile, courtesy of a Montreal radio host.  He bartered all the way up to an afternoon with rock star Alice Cooper, a KISS snow globe and finally a paid role in a Corbin Bernsen movie called Donna on Demand

"Now, I'm sure the first question on your mind is, "Why would Corbin Bernsen trade a role in a film for a snow globe? A KISS snow globe," MacDonald said on his website "one red paper-clip."  "Well, Corbin happens to be arguably one of the biggest snow globe collectors on the planet."

Now, the town of Kipling, Sask., located about two hours east of Regina with a population of 1,100, has offered MacDonald a farmhouse in exchange for the role in the movie.  MacDonald and his girlfriend will fly to the town next Wednesday.  "We are going to show them the house, give them the keys to the house and give them the key to the town and just have some fun," said Pat Jackson, mayor of Kipling.  The town is going to hold a competition for the movie role.

MacDonald said: "There's people all over the world that are saying that they have paper-clips clipped to the top of their computer, or on their desk or on their shirt, and it proves that anything is possible and I think to a certain degree it's true."

MacDonald, who has attracted international media in his quest, said the journey has turned out to be more exciting than the goal.  "This is not the end. This may be the end of this segment of the story, but this story will go on. "

(Beijing Star Daily via Wenxue City)  Now we come to the Chinese edition of the same story.  A pretty young Chinese woman named Ai Qingqing decided to embark on the same quest to trade a paper clip upwards eventually to a house.  Like the Canadian man, she made sure that everything that she did was publicized at the popular Internet forums as well as a personal blog.

Who is Ai Qingqing?  According to the earliest press interview, Ai Qingqing claimed that she worked for an airplane ticket agency.  However, these extracurricular activities required her to take time off from work.  She claimed that her boss gave her an ultimatum: "Either you stop this thing and work seriously with no further time off through the end of the year, or you can stop working."  She chose to quit.  How does she get by now?  She says that her elder sister is supporting her.

So far, she has traded up to a photograph, a jade buddha, a mobile telephone, a necklace, a digital camera, a valuable stamp and she currently has a 8,000 RMB bottle of Wuliangye wine.  She gave herself 100 days to complete the project beginning on October 15, 2006.

Yes, but so what?

The "So What" of this story is about the power of the human search engine known as the Chinese netizens.  Some people do not believe her story.  They believe that this was inauthentic and insincere, and mostly likely a commercial campaign to publicize something or the other.  But what?  The netizens went to work based upon the seemingly limited number of clues.  Lack of data was more than 'made up' by the massive number of people involved.

First, some netizens noted that she always picked to meet potential traders outside the Modern City real estate agency in Beijing.  What is the significance?  A netizen named Changyuan claimed to have heard from colleagues in the advertising industry that Modern City had commissioned a certain advertising agency to run this campaign.  The advertising budget was 200,000 RMB of which Ai Qingqing received 50,000 RMB.  The effect of this campaign would be worth 10 million RMB based upon the anticipated exposure.  Changyuan wrote, "In the end, she will be able to trade a house with Modern City.  This is a pre-ordained outcome, because the ultimate objective of the campaign is to promote Modern City.  All the intermediate trades can vary depending on the situation without any effect, but it was the ending that matters."

But just when you think that you have the case wrapped up, another netizen researched the advertising agency and found that its official contact person is named Peng Changyuan.  So the netizen drew the conclusion was that the advertising agency through netizen 'Changyuan' had jumped into this event as a free rider using Ai Qingqing to hype itself.  Attempts to confirm this finding with the agency have been unsuccessful.

The next part of the investigation turned to the person of Ai Qingqing herself.  Is she really who she says?  

Super Girl Wang Xiaoguang

A netizen then noticed that Ai Qingqing looked exactly like Wang Xiaoguang, who was a participant in the Hunan Satellite TV singing competition Super Girl, and made it into the final twenty of the Hangzhou regional competition (see  When confronted with the photographs, Ai Qingqing admitted that she was indeed Wang Xiaoguang.  However, she swore that she is not presently signed with any record companies.  Having failed to progress further in Super Girl, she said that "a singing career is really not realistic for me at this time."  In early November, Ai/Wang went to Ningpo to trade unsuccessfully, but she attended a commercial event in which she sang.

Meanwhile another netizen noted that the singer Liu Jialiang had a song titled: "Finding someone who loves you" written by a certain 'Xiaoguang'.  Therefore, it is likely that Ai/Wang works for the same recording company, Zhongchang.  The netizen also noted that Zhongchang has signed another star, Tianxian MM.  The latter is considered the prototypical case of a hyped-up celebrity (see The Real Story of Tianxian MM (天仙MM)) through the handiwork of the Internet promoter Lang Xiong.  So is Lang Xiong also behind Ai Qingqing?

Ai Qingqing denies being acquainted with Lang Xiong.  While some netizens say that the photographs of Ai Qingqing have the same style as those for Tianxian MM, such an inference must be considered speculative.  According to Ai Qingqing, her female cousin named Cao took the photographs.

Then a netizen looked at one of the photographs of Ai Qingqing waiting in the street to meet with a potential trader -- there was a reflection of the photographer in the window!  It was a man, but a woman!  But it is impossible to tell whether this was Lang Xiong.

This case will go on for another couple of months before the 100 days are up.