|A flower-buyer leaves money into the piggy bank, March 11, 2013. (Photo/Xinhua)|
FUZHOU, March 14 (Xinhua) -- An un-manned flower shop in east China that uses a piggy bank to collect customers' money hopes its success can buoy people's faith in the honesty and goodness of others.
About 200 potted plants, flowers and cacti are on display at the flower stall at Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University, accompanied by a placard asking patrons to put their money into the blue piggy bank.
Liu Haisheng, the shop owner and a graduate from the university, said the store has sold over 20,000 pots in the past two years and he has never been short-changed.
In 2012, Liu opened the tiny shop, hoping that he could cover some of his tuition fees by selling plants he raised. A junior at the time, he often left the stall unattended while he went to class.
"Once, I received a message from a student who wanted to buy flowers. I was in the middle of a class, so I asked him to pick up whatever he liked and leave the money somewhere. When I returned, I found the money tucked under one of the pots," Liu said.
Inspired by the honest customer, Liu adopted a self-help management technique in which he collects money from the piggy bank two or three times a week. "Sometimes, I find more money left in the piggy bank -- some customers leave 10-yuan bills for flowers priced at 9 yuan and do not worry about the change," Liu said. (10 yuan is equal to about 1.61 U.S. dollars.)
Liu has expanded his self-service flower business to six stalls in two universities in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, with plans to open more off-campus shops in the future.
Liu hopes his experiences can boost people's confidence in society and inspire people to act in faith in a society fraught with fraud, plagiarism and other sorts of dishonest behavior.
Sociologists say China's ruthless pursuit of prosperity and a lack of punitive laws have resulted in a moral decay, which has been evidenced by a spate of food safety scandals, tourist price gauging and legal disputes in which tumbled elders have framed their helpers into paying medical fees. These cases, they say, have further dampened people's faith in society.
Liu's story has stirred mixed reactions online. While some have praised the honest acts of Liu's customers and the trust he has put in them, others have shown concern that such commercial prowess would flounder off-campus.
"The customers are well-educated college students. If it opened on the street, I guess even the piggy bank would be filched," commented one microblogger on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter.
Critics, however, may be surprised to learn that self-service businesses are thriving elsewhere in China. A self-help vegetable stand on Guling Mountain in suburban Fuzhou has reported no instances of short-changing or theft in the four months since it opened.
Gan Mantang, a sociology professor at Fuzhou University, said self-help businesses show an owners' trust in customers, thus putting moral pressure on buyers to repay the kindness.
"Besides, if one follows reason, he would find the plants are a few bucks at most, but cheating may bring blame and shame, which costs much more than that," Gan added.
But Gan said trust-based businesses are deserving of praise, even if they could not thrive on a larger scale.
"They remind the public of the good side of society and encourage them to follow the good trend," he said.