Oct 072009

Fapiao is a Chinese word that basically translates as an invoice. But the confusion surrounding it is pretty steep. I first encountered said confusion when I asked my training school to reimburse me for a purchased book. The receipt I gave them apparently wasn’t enough proof. They needed a fapiao, that elusive invoice with the official red stamp on it. I’ve asked numerous people what the purpose behind the fapiao is, and nobody has been able to give me a straight answer. Even after searching the Internet, I’m still not entirely sure.

But I’m closer now than ever before!

Ultimately, it has something to do with taxes, because a receipt apparently isn’t good enough to determine who owes what. Businesses don’t like issuing fapiaos, though, because, well, they might not be a legitimate business to begin with. Also, the fapiao is an official record of a transaction, and the company will have to pay taxes on that. If you want a fapiao, then, you usually have to ask for it. As an incentive for you to do so, some fapiaos have scratch-off boxes where you can win money. I’m guessing businessmen collect fapiaos to use as tax write-offs, but everyone else just wants to see if they can win their ten yuan back.

Papa John’s (you know, that place with the best pizza in China) offers customers a special bonus if they don’t request a fapiao. They have a small, glass case of toys and other knick-knacks by the cashier, and if you agree to relinquish your receipt, you can take home one of the prizes! What a great restaurant. So I feel a little guilty when my Chinese friends ask other great restaurants to give them a fapiao. Since you don’t tip the servers in China, it’s kind of like an indirect way of expressing your dissatisfaction.


Out on the streets, there are sometimes people dully calling out, “Fapiao, fapiao, fapiao, fapiao…” I never understood what they were doing, whether they were collecting unwanted fapiaos or selling fake ones. It must be quite a magical piece of paper, though, because the lady outside the bus card shop gets a big grin on her face and does a little happy dance whenever somebody hands her one. Fortunately, as a foreign teacher who doesn’t have to pay taxes on his meager salary, the fapiao is something I rarely have to deal with.

  • Kevin

    It applies to regular employees too, not just businessmen. Companies don’t have to pay taxes on employees’ expenses (food, taxi, work-related equipment etc), so it’s cheaper for them to give employees e.g. a 8000 RMB/month salary plus 2000 in “expenses”, rather than 10,000 in salary directly. You have to provide fapiaos for those expenses, so if you only spent 1500 RMB on food that month you get paid 500 RMB less. It makes sense to buy extras for 10% of face value rather than losing the whole amount, or having to waste it on an expensive meal or whatever.

    I don’t think the ones that get sold are actually fakes – I think it’s mostly left over from customers that didn’t ask for a fapiao. Of course some of that just goes undeclared, but if the amount is too low it would just look suspicious – better to offset the tax a bit by selling some of the extra to black marketeers.

    PS I hate the translation of fapiao as “invoice”, it’s totally misleading (unless you mean an actual invoice, which is also “fapiao” in Chinese – I guess that’s where the confusion comes from). “Tax receipt” is a much better translation.

  • http://www.clarknielsen.com Clark

    Thanks for the clarification. I do see a lot of people, though, who will ask for a fapiao, scratch off the box to see if they’ve won, and then just leave it on the table.

  • http://ispyshanghai.com Swiss James

    The people shouting “Fapiao fapiao fapiao” sell fake ones. Or if not fakes, then at least ones for goods and services you didn’t really purchase.

    So you could not spend anything on expenses, and then claim back a bunch of stuff using these fake fapiao.

    I’m amazed that a company as big as Papa John’s is openly rewarding people for not getting their fapiaos- the only reason they can have for doing it is that they’re not declaring that income to The Man.

    It’s the pizza equivalent of getting Ban undocumented Mexican worker to do your gardening.

  • http://www.clarknielsen.com Clark

    I noticed, via Oli’s blog, that you actually won 10 RMB from one of these. The system works after all!

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