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(China Daily)

08:57, December 10, 2012

Pawnshops were banned after New China's founding but are re-emerging with a friendlier face. Xiao Xiangyi reports.

The traditional image of a pawnshop is dark and desperate. Typically in China, as elsewhere, they were a place where the poor went to put food on the table and entering one came with a large slice of social stigma attached.

That may have been true of traditional Chinese pawnshops, which disappeared nearly half a century ago, but the new model is quite different.

The dusty rooms, abacuses and bean counters have been replaced by modern display cases, smartly dressed staff and computers. The clientele are also largely different, with wealthier individuals and businesspeople comprising the main customer base.

Pawnbrokers first appeared in China, Rome and Greece about 3,000 years ago, and are among the world's oldest financial institutions. The trade has re-emerged in China in recent years, mainly as a source of quick financing for small enterprises.

A typical customer is Wang Qinghong, who owns a small company that makes drinking straws in Tianjin. In October a supplier pushed forward the date of a down payment, and Wang had to raise all the money within two days.

"At first, the bank was the only lender I could think of, but it would have taken at least a week to get a loan from the bank," Wang says.

But the pawnshop was able to give him money a few minutes after it verified he owned an apartment.

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