Throwback Thursday: Envisioning Life Before the Sharing Economy

2 weeks ago

Throwback Thursday takes a look back into Beijing’s past, using our 11-year-strong blog archives to glance at the weird and wonderful of yesteryear.

The sharing economy has been a hot topic ever since the first Uber rides and Airbnb rentals were made, in what seems like a bazillion years ago. Whether you love it (users) or hate it (other businesses and government), it’s here to stay.

Back in 2012 – two years before Uber officially launched in China, and five years before Didi became available in English, thereby opening up the service to many expats and tourists – the Beijinger asked the public: would you share a cab with a stranger? The blog, which now seems adorably antiquated, gives us a glimpse into a bygone world in which hailing a taxi could apparently sometimes take hours if not days.

Back then, the head of the Beijing Transportation Law Enforcement Bureau was trying to resolve “the ever-increasing problem of finding a taxi in Beijing.” His bright idea? Permitting taxi co-hires if all of the passengers board at the same spot and head in the same direction.

At the time, Beijinger readers were split on the issue, with the commenters claiming that cab sharing had been a popular practice for years, where instead of splitting the fair, drivers simply charged individual prices per head, thus making double or triple what they’d earn via an honest meter. Others argued that it should become a standard procedure, especially in places where catching a cab was nigh impossible. Finally, some even blamed the article’s author for taking a cab at all, rather than the subway, therefore being complicit in the slow death of the planet.

The author goes on to acknowledge that allowing cab-sharing in this manner would not go very far towards solving the capital’s transportation woes, and in a stroke of foresight, pre-empts the Uber/Didi boom: “If Beijing is serious, the only solutions I can see involve designated taxi stops (which sounds like a terrible idea) or some kind of taxi social networking site.”

Fast forward seven years, and Beijingers are sharing everything. Didi is king, and its groundbreaking rideshare option doesn’t even require another person to get in at the same spot. Other super successful sharing economy options of course include the shared bikes, and even shared power banks, conveniently located in restaurants and cafés around town.

Besides those, life in China now offers a frightening array of weird sharing options. For every Didi, there are a dozen shared sex-dolls (self-explanatory), shared hotel rooms (rapidly shut down for “promoting prostitution”), or shared stools (as in seat, you sicko).

Yes, it appears that the sharing economy is not going away any time soon. And yet, with increasingly strict regulations being implemented on what was once a practically lawless new market model, it will now take the brightest minds to envision what will be the next major craze. Strangely enough, the next big thing wasn’t sharing your leftovers.

READ: 5 Years On: Disappearance of Beijing-Bound MH370 Remains a Mystery

More by this author here.

Images:, Didi, Quartz

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