This is something you’re warned about like crazy before you come to China. You see in most stores behind the counter a fake bill, along with the number for the police to report it. I recently read a travel book about a man traveling in China, called Lost on Planet China (ten years ago in a very different China) accidentally using fake money and then having to be reported to the police. However, I’ve lived here nearly two years in total, and have yet to (knowingly) encounter it. That changed, twice in one day.
Here’s how we acquired the money in the first place.
1) Me: I went to a print shop to run some copies for class. I pay the guy with a 100, and he hands me a 50 back. This seems normal to me, as I’ve been to print shops several times in China without any problems. (Now it seems sketchy, being a place that literally prints things as a business.)
2) My buddy: his friend wanted to exchange a lot of Canadian dollars for RMB. So he did so and then paid back my buddy with one of these dubiously acquired notes.
Here’s how we discovered their fakeness. We went to Guangzhou for a weekend and the cabbie tried to rip us off by quoting a high price, and we were not in the mood to barter so we begrudgingly accept. We get to our destination, I hand him the 50 I got from the print shop and got out of the cab as usual. He starts claiming it’s fake. I start claiming I got it from a bank. He asks my friend, who speaks limited Chinese, and he answers in the affirmative, which in this case means “oh duh, absolutely, Mikey got it from a bank.”
I didn’t think it was fake because I’ve never been accused of it, so I figured he was trying to rip us off again. Apparently he believed us because he took it.
Later that night, we went out for a bite, and after we paid for our meal and were about 50 yards outside the restaurant, the waiter comes sprinting out, claiming our money is fake. He isn’t being aggressively accusatory, but rather donned the incredibly reluctant-to-bother demeanor of many locals. Sure, we had the money, so we exchanged the supposedly fake note for another and went on our way.
So we head to a 7/11 to grab water and I went to ask the cashier if it’s fake. As I brought up the bill from my hip to literally just about an inch over the counter, he recognized immediately that it was fake. Mid-sentence asking him if it was bogus, he interrupts abruptly. Oh boy is it fake.
The colors and the texture were just completely off. We went two years having never encountered counterfeit money, and within two hours we used them twice. Whoops?
To be fair, this hasn’t been a problem in 99.99% (where’s the repeat bar?) of my time in China, so it’s not something you should be crazy worried about. Rather, it’s just a funny anecdote. Also, it’s ridiculously easy to spot a fake bill if you’re looking out for it; we just hadn’t been doing so actively having never encountered it before in two years.
If you are in the interest of spotting the differences, here is a good guide.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve ever experienced counterfeit money!
Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!