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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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Unlocking free weekends

The 27 "free-range chickens", all in their 20s and from diverse backgrounds, including students, designers, architects, artists, and scholars, shared a common inquiry: Is spending money the prevailing approach to weekend activities nowadays? Why are lifestyles consistently intertwined with consumption? How has urban space evolved?

By distributing questionnaires to the public, they uncovered numerous surprising ways to enjoy weekends without spending money, such as dancing and exercising on a park lawn with a speaker, hosting book clubs and movie screenings at home, collecting stones by the river, interacting with small animals on the roadside, volunteering at temples, or even becoming a hair model for a free haircut.

Chen herself also began to pay closer attention to the free resources around her. She discovered that some flower shops offered free flowers to passersby, and some coffee shops or barber shops displayed signs like "Free Coffee" or "Free Haircut", offering practical training opportunities to their new staff.

Among these ideas and tips, the purpose of not spending money was the main topic of consideration for The Gratis members.

Zhang Congzhi, a graduate student at the University of Hong Kong. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"Not spending money doesn't mean not giving anything. Rather, it makes us realize that money is not the only currency," said Zhang Congzhi, 23, a graduate student at the University of Hong Kong.

A Ting (pseudonym), another member of the group, hopes that the satisfaction of not spending money won't come from the excitement of "taking advantage" or "finding bargains", but from an awareness and control over one's desires and choices.

Chen quoted Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, who said, "Access is better than ownership." Kelly argued that free things don't generate a strong sense of ownership, and not owning things frees people from the responsibilities of care, maintenance, organization, cleaning, and storage.

Behind these perspectives lay the personal stories, research, and reflections of The Gratis members. Feeling that there was so much to share on this topic, they collectively produced a magazine titled Spending Time Alone Without Spending Money.

This magazine is not for sale; instead, it is freely distributed to various locations such as bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, and co-working spaces. Currently, over 80 venues offer this magazine, covering major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, as well as smaller towns including Zhangzhou in East China's Fujian province, Lijiang in Southwest China's Yunnan province, and Huangshan in East China's Anhui province.

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