CITIES AROUND the world have embraced the ''sharing economy'' Seoul, Amsterdam, Milan, but  China is the first country to frame it as a ''national priority''.

While innovation can't be conjured on demand, Beijing has financed start-up incubators, offered tax incentives, formed think tanks and kept foreign competitors away.

''This is state capitalism,'' says Jefferey Towson,  a private-equity investor and  a professor of investment at Peking University.

Other ideas, on closer inspection, hardly look innovative : The ''shared bookstore'' is really just a lending library. And the ''shared washing machine service'' - isn't that a laundromat.

China's sharing economy has veered sharply away from how the term was originally defined  ;  as  a peer-to- peer exchange of underutilized goods and services.

In China, ''sharing'' now means almost any short-term rental of a product or a service activated by a  smartphone.

Moreover, the things on offer' like Olfo's  6.5 million bikes, are not spread out among individuals but are owned by the  tech companies  themselves.  The same is true for the spoils, from revenues to data. 

As a result, the ideals that still animate the concept in many other places - the reallocation of unused resources and the community that forms around it - are essentially absent in China.

''I was thrilled when I first heard China was so committed to the  ''sharing economy''  says April Rinne, an adviser  who is a  member of  China's National Sharing  Economy Commission. ''But it's all so transactional, and the definition of  sharing has gotten so broad that it's almost meaningless.

As China defines it, even  Amazon would be a part of the sharing economy.''

Who can blame China for hanging on to the term ''sharing economy''?  It fits with the image that Beijing wants to project :

Warm, generous, egalitarian.

Robin Li, the  chief executive  of the  Internet giant  Baidu, said last year that    ''the idea of sharing economy is quiet similar to to that of a communist society,'' because both focus on ''distribution according to needs.''

The prize of  puffery goes to   The People's Daily , the Communist Party mouthpiece, which in August celebrated   umbrella-sharing   enterprise as  '' a show of human care, releasing the warmth of the city.''

A few weeks after that, nearly all  300,000  umbrellas distributed by a new company called Sharing E Umbrella had been either lost or stolen.

The self-congratulation masks a growing awareness that for all its economic success, China has become a   hard-edged society, where the spirit of  sharing and social trust is in short supply.

The bike -sharing battle exposes these cracks, too.

Some start-ups struggle with theft and vandalism; one company Wukong , reported lost  90 percent of its bikes in just six months.

The Honor and Serving of the latest Operational Research on Economies, Nations, and Views continues. The World Students Society thanks author and researcher Brook Larmer.


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