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The rise of urban free-rangers

A group of young urbanites challenges consumerism by exploring free weekend activities, redefining wealth beyond money, Gui Qian reports.

By Gui Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-17 05:58
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Chen Lingyi, founder of The Gratis interest group. [Photo provided to China Daily]

How do you typically spend your weekends? For many, it might involve gathering with friends, dining out, watching movies, or shopping.

This was once the routine for Chen Lingyi, a 27-year-old from Shanghai. But three years ago, fresh out of university and starting her career, Chen was startled to find that even after trying to save money for several months, her bank account was still basically empty.

Reflecting on her spending habits, Chen realized that every aspect of city life seemed to demand money, and "leisurely weekends "had practically become synonymous with "consumption".

"Walking on the streets, it felt like every shop window had its own price tag," she said.

However, cities are abundant with resources, so Chen started to wonder whether there were alternative ways to utilize urban spaces beyond consumerism.

Driven by curiosity and a determination to make a change, Chen and 26 friends established The Gratis interest group in May 2022. They launched a social experiment project titled "100 Ways to Enjoy a Weekend in a Big City Without Spending Money".

The group members dubbed themselves "free-range chickens", drawing inspiration from chickens that naturally forage for food, living off farm leftovers or pecking at small insects in open grasslands, resulting in a firmer meat texture due to their constant movement.

"When we came across the term 'free-range chicken', we were thrilled because it aligned perfectly with our identity," Chen recalled.

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