Chinese property tycoon issues his own ‘currency’

Mr Pan Shiyi, the Chinese real-estate mogul who became an object of online ridicule earlier this month, on Wednesday showed an ability to laugh at himself – as well as an ability to turn a public-relations stumble around.

Mr Pan, chairman of SOHO China, said on his Sina Weibo microblog earlier this month that Apple could best commemorate the passing of co-founder Steve Jobs by making cheaper versions of its bestselling iPad and iPhone – under 1,000 yuan (S$198) – so that more people could afford them. This struck a chord – the wrong kind – with many Chinese netizens, who had heavily criticised developers such as Mr Pan amid worries about unaffordable home prices.

Retweeting the post, one netizen said: “If Mr Pan passes away, please offer houses below 1,000 yuan per square metre. More than 1 billion people will commemorate you.”

Online wags ran with the joke. Some mocked up “Panbi”, or “Pan currency”, with his likeness and with a value of one Pan equalling 1,000 yuan per sq m.

On Wednesday, Mr Pan offered his own version of Panbi on his Weibo feed. His one-Pan bill looks suspiciously like China’s 100-yuan note, except with himself on the front instead of Mao Zedong. The back features a quote from the Baha’i faith, which Mr Pan prominently practises and preaches on Weibo from time to time. In his post, Mr Pan said he hoped China’s central bank, which oversees the yuan, would not mind the new currency.

China has been struggling to curb price increases in the property market, a vital growth engine for its economy but also a source of asset inflation. Though prices remain firm, housing sales have been declining in many cities in recent months after the government introduced tightening measures that include higher downpayments and limits on purchases.

Mr Pan said behind all the Panbi mockery was the frustration of high property prices. He said he was a big fan of Jobs and many Weibo bloggers had misunderstood him.

He deleted the post about Jobs and kept quiet, he said, because he knew that people had been very unhappy about housing prices and emotions ran very high.

But he decided to talk about it after he found that Panbi had become the only thing that people would focus on him and his company. At the airport, he found that “almost everybody” shunned him and laughed at him secretly.

“I felt as if I had nothing on,” he wrote.

Mr Pan, ever the showman, decided to make this stumble into a marketing opportunity.

In addition to the Baha’i quote, the back of the one-Pan bill features one of his new Wangjing Soho development in Beijing, SOHO China’s logo and a sales hotline number.

Source : Today – 27 Oct 2011

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