Waiting in Line Pays $3 an Hour in China

From NPR’s Beijing correspondent Louisa Lim comes a story about China’s epic lines and the money-making opportunity they’ve spawned:

Earlier this month, people waited four days and three nights to register for low-income housing in the central city of Xian, while admission to a certain Beijing kindergarten in Changping last year required a week-long, round-the-clock queue, for which people set up camp beds along the pavement.

A half-day wait at the bank is also apparently not unusual. It’s all led to this:

For the past two years, Li Qicai, 28, has made a career out of waiting in line. What’s more, he now outsources the waiting to others. He employs four full-time queuers and a host of freelancers, who, for a cost of about $3 an hour, will do the waiting for you.

“I’m just selling my time for money,” says Li. “You don’t need any skills, except the ability to suffer. For some jobs, you need to look good. If you want to buy things for rich people, you can’t look like a farmer or they’ll think you’re a scalper.”

The Chinese media pins the phenomenon on an economy driven by laziness, where low labor costs fuel China’s “convenience culture.”

One more point: if it takes a week to wait in line to sign up for kindergarten now, what happens if China’s most populous-province gets its wish, and the country’s one-child policy is overturned?



I liked the article right up to the final line. Please do not explicitly or implicitly condone a policy that has led to infanticide of approximately 60 million baby girls abandoned by their paternal grandmothers to freeze to death on mountainsides. Thanks.


They didn't. It was merely a thought-provoking question. Perhaps if the policy were to be revoked parents would have less money to spend on each child and would therefore have to go to the less popular and cheaper kindergartens. So calm down.


If you have to stay in the queue for almost 1 week, that means the market value of your time is around $500. it would be interesting to compare this with the cost of kindergarten itself, or is it free? what price rise will eliminate the queue?


A friend saw that here in the states when the PS3 first came out. A van drove up to a BestBuy the night before the PS3 went on sale. Out of the van poured a dozen homeless guys, who proceeded to get in line. When asked what they were doing, they said they were being paid between $20-$50 to stay in line (plus food and drink).

Brian Salerni

Huh,that's interesting, I've never heard of such a thing. I wonder how this works exactly; are the homeless people given the PS3 funds up front? If so that amount would outweigh the hourly wage that they are promised. I guess they could just call the "employer" once they are close, but even then you they would have to front the homeless person a phone which would probably cost more than $50.

Either way this is intriguing to me...

Caleb Huitt

I assume that in the Best Buy case it works by having a well-defined release date and time. The people who really want the item probably show up about fifteen minutes early, say "Thanks for saving my place", and pay the person.

For the examples in the article, they sounded like sign-up items, so presumably all you are giving to the line-standers there is the information needed to fill out the form.


Who knew the government cracking down on queue placeholders would lead to disaffected elites demanding institutional reform?


I've never seen a line that orderly in China. Never. Generally, it's a mob of people all trying to be at the front of the line.


The picture is not a typical Chinese line. That's a bunch of school kids lining up to get on a bus for a school trip, the kind of line you'd see in any American school.

I once stood in line at the Guangzhou train station, in the late 80s, when everyone and their cousin was trying to buy tickets to go home for the New Year holidays, and there were 23 lines, each reaching out the front door of the station. You had to put your hands on the shoulders of the person in front of you, in order to prevent people from cutting the line! Most of these people were day laborers from the hinterlands trying to get home for their annual pilgrimage. It took me 6 hours in 90 degree heat to get to the front of the line in order to find out that the tickets to Beijing were sold out.

What made this particularly interesting is that there were policeman standing at shoulder height on cattle fencing, separating the queues with thick leather belts, whacking people, if they caused problems.

I eventually got tickets by using the state-owned travel agency, CITS, which used their backdoor and bought the tickets for me, for a small fee. Thus I learned, there were never any tickets to begin with. Doesn't seem like China has changed much.


Tom Bantle

This has been going on in Washington DC for years. High-powered lobbyists have employed line sitters for Congressional hearings for at least 15 years. Mini-enterprises supply the line-sitters who are usually students, although there are a few professional line-sitters.