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Consumer rights influencer uncovers "ghost scales" scam

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Consumer rights influencer uncovers "ghost scales" scam

Collusion and corruption in a farmer's market

A video posted by a consumer rights influencer last week has gone viral on social media in China. 

The blogger goes by the name of “Knockout Brother” (狂飙兄弟).

His handle is a reference to the hit 2023 TV Series, The Knockout (狂飙), which tells the story of a police officer's 20-year fight against organised crime and corruption.

The series was such a hit that its title became a popular metaphor for “the fight against corruption”.

That’s why the phrase "anti-corruption knockout" (狂飙) was one of our favourite phrases of 2023.

Knockout Brother is a well-known vigilante consumer rights activist. He uncovers consumer scams and corruption scandals, exposing them on social media.

His viral video from last week shows him confronting a seller in a seafood and farmers' market in the coastal city of Lianyungang 连云港, in northern Jiangsu province. 

He went to the market well-prepared.

After buying a bag of mantis shrimp (皮皮虾 pí pí xiā) from the unsuspecting market seller, he weighed it using his own set of scales which he took from his rucksack. 

According to his scales, he’d bought 250 grams (half a jin 半斤) less than what he'd paid for.

  • (A nerdy Chinese fact, especially if like me you're not great with numbers: One jin (斤) used to be sixteen liang (两) until the end of the Qing dynasty. One jin is now 10 liang). So half a jin used to be eight liang, hence the saying "half a jin, eight liang" (半斤八两), which means "about the same", or "six of one and half a dozen of the other").

Knockout Brother had been sold short.

He’d been had by one of the oldest tricks in the book: a “ghost scales” (鬼秤) scam, in which electronic scales are set to show a heavier weight, and customers are overcharged.

Knockout Brother confronted the market seller on camera.

She became aggressive, started shouting, grabbed the bag of shrimp from him, and threw it on the floor. 

Knockout Brother asked a security manager for help.

He wasn’t helpful at all:

Delete the video, or I won't help you.


Knockout Brother refused.

The security guard snatched his phone off him.

Then Knockout Brother was chased out of the market while being yelled at: “Delete the video!”

Thanks to also having a spare mobile phone, Knockout Brother got the whole thing on camera and put it online shortly afterwards.

After the video went viral online, the Lianyungang authorities opened an investigation:

In response to the blogger “Knockout Brother” report of “ghost scales” while buying seafood in Lianyungang, Jiangsu, and had his phone snatched by market security manager, the joint investigation team from Lianyungang Haizhou District announced the results of their investigation on the evening of May 19: five individuals were detained, and both the vendor and the market management were fined.


Inventive internet users got creative with their entertaining online commentary.

Map software of the city showed updated reviews of the Lianyungang Seafood Market:  

"Seafood and farmers’ market that even Su Bingtian is not fast enough to run away from"


"Seafood market (with free entry ticket to the Hunger Games)."

“海鲜蔬菜苏炳添都跑不出来的市场”、“海鲜直销(提供免费大逃杀)”。 [2] 

  • Sū Bǐngtiān 苏炳添 is China's star 100m sprinter 

And Knockout Brother's nod to the hit drama series, The Knockout, did not go unnoticed either.

Comments online likened the thuggish behaviour seen in the market to characters the TV show:

A group of Tang Xiaolongs, Tang Xiaohus, and the vendors surrounded Knockout Brother...

Seizing an opportunity, he broke through the encirclement and ran for his life, like it was a real life Knockout.

唐小龙唐小虎们和商贩们一起围住狂飙兄弟... 找个机会突出重围一路狂奔,上演了一场现实版《狂飙》。 [4]

  • Tang Xiaohu and Tang Xiaolong are hitmen who work for Gao Qisheng, one of the top criminal bosses in The Knockout. Here they are metaphors for the thuggish security guards who were surrounding Knockout Brother. 

Ghost scales scams are common in China.

In November last year, another social media influencer, superB太, exposed similar ghost scale scam in a food market in Dalian, in northern China.

Collusion between stall owners and the authorities in ghost scales scams is also common.

In the Lianyungang market, the unhelpful security manager probably had a deal market seller. The landlord (likely to be the local government) could also be in on the scam, based on the outcome of the investigation.

So the ghost scales scam uncovered by Knockout Brother is much bigger than one person getting ripped off by another.

It's about trust in the system and the authorities. 

So, that's what we're exploring this week! 

The Favourite Five

Artwork by Derek Zheng

1. 鬼秤 guǐ chèng

ghost scales, rigged scales

博主“狂飙兄弟”发布一则视频称,他在江苏连云港海鲜蔬菜直销市场买海鲜时遭遇鬼秤 - The blogger "Knockout Brother" posted a video saying that he encountered "ghost scales" while buying seafood at a farmers’ market in Lianyungang in Jiangsu. [1]

  • More: Read more about this phrase in the Sinica Phrase of the Week on Sunday. 

  • Related:

    • 骗秤 piàn chèng – tamper with scales

    • 砝码 fǎ mǎ – weight

2. 宰客 zǎi kè

overcharge, rip off customers

该区对短斤少两、欺客宰客等违法行为坚决予以打击 - The district is cracking down on illegal activities such as shortchanging and overcharging customers. [1]

  • Related:

    • 能宰一刀是一刀 néng zǎi yi dāo shì yi dāo – rip off as much as possible

3. 侠客 xiá kè

hero, a modern-day Robin Hood

我都感觉特别解气,仿佛看到一群行侠仗义为民除害的当代侠客 - I feel particularly relieved, as if I am seeing a group of modern-day heroes who uphold justice and protect the people. [3]

4. 吃干饭 chī gān fàn

eat food but do nothing; incompetent, useless

市场监管是吃干饭的吗? - Are the market regulators incompetent? [3]

5. 缺斤少两 quē jīn shǎo liǎng

give less than what is paid, shortchange

在连云港海鲜蔬菜直销市场一摊位购买的皮皮虾疑似“缺斤少两” - It is suspected that the mantis shrimp bought at a stall in the Lianyungang farmers’ market weighs less than what it ought to. [1]

  • Related:

    • 短斤少两 duǎn jīn shǎo liǎng - shortchange (same meaning)

    • 半斤八两 bàn jīn bā liǎng - six of one, half a dozen of the other

    • 足斤足两 zú jīn zú liǎng – give full weight

Consuming the Conversation


Useful words

6. 打假 dǎ jiǎ

crack down on counterfeit goods

关于鬼秤,一直被打假,一直没断过 - The fight against ghost scales has never stopped. [4]

7. 石锤 shí chuí

solid evidence, irrefutable proof

“狂飙兄弟”认为,这石锤是鬼秤,商家可随意操控重量 - "Knockout Brother" believed this is solid evidence of a rigged scales, which allows the vendor to manipulate the weight at will. [1] 

8. 撕扯 sī chě

tussle, scuffle

双方人员发生撕扯,“狂飙兄弟”在视频中称其中一个手机已经被抢走 - A tussle broke out between the parties, and "Knockout Brother" said in the video that his phone was taken. [1]

9. 躺枪 tǎng qiāng

get dragged into something, get caught in the crossfire

无辜“躺枪”的两位老板无奈之下选择报警,等待警方处理 - Two innocent sellers, whose shops were caught in the video footage, had to call the police and wait for them to handle the situation. [2]

10. 幌子 huǎng zi


当然买虾是幌子,伏击鬼秤是真 - Of course, buying shrimp is just an excuse; the real intention is to expose the ghost scales. [4]

11. 窜掇 cuàn duó

instigate, incite

女商贩也变得理直气壮了,在其它商贩的窜掇下更加嚣张 - Emboldened by the instigation of other vendors, the female vendor also became more bold and audacious. [4]

Three-character phrases

12. 九两秤 jiǔ liǎng chèng

nine-tael scales, scales that have been tampered with

那时候所谓的“九两秤”、“八两秤”泛滥成灾 - Back then, "nine-tael scales" and "eight-tael scales" were everywhere. [3] 

  • More: Nine-tael scales have been tampered with in a way that if you put something of 9 liang, it shows 1 jin (= 10 liang), referring to the days where traditional scales were used and it was an open secret that many scales were tampered with.

13. 不为过 bù wéi guò

not going too far

骗秤这种行为的社会危害却怎么高估都不为过 - The societal damage caused by rigged scales cannot be overstated. [3]


14. 肆无忌惮 sì wú jì dàn


骗称、调包肆无忌惮 - They are reckless when it comes to shortchanging customers and selling fake products. [3]

15. 助纣为虐 zhù zhòu wéi nüè

aiding and abetting evil

从商贩的无德挑衅到管理人员的助纣为虐,性质就发生了改变 - It's one thing that the vendor threatened the customer, but it's another that the management encouraged such behaviour. [4]

16. 沆瀣一气 háng xiè yí qì

colluding together, in collusion

公众有理由怀疑,这个市场是否内外勾结沆瀣一气,长期欺骗消费者 - There is evidence to suspect that the market owner has long been in collusion with the vendors to deceive consumers. [4]

  • Related:

    • 串通一气 chuàn tōng yí qì - collude together

17. 有恃无恐 yǒu shì wú kǒng

fearless due to one's power or backing

两家贩子为什么有恃无恐,为什么市场管理者最开始都选择了偏袒不法商贩? - Why did these two vendors have no fear and why did market managers initially choose to cover unlawful vendors? [5] 

18. 货真价实 huò zhēn jià shí

genuine and reliable; the real deal

承受着被围堵、被殴打报复的风险,仍然狂飙向前,是货真价实的侠客 - Facing the risks of being surrounded, beaten, and retaliated against, he still charged forward. He is the real hero. [3] 


19. 吃哑巴亏 chī yǎ ba kuī

suffer in silence, experience a loss or injustice but unable to speak out or complain about it

如果大家都不曝光,受伤害的只能是吃哑巴亏的消费者 - If nobody exposes it, the ones who suffer will be the helpless consumers. [5]

20. 抱团腐败 bào tuán fǔ bài

collusion and corruption

鬼秤的背后,是一种权力寻租,是一种抱团腐败 - Behind the riggedscales is rent-seeking as well as collusion and corruption. [5]

21. 喝西北风 hē xī běi fēng

to have no income, to live in poverty

人家行侠仗义就活该一世清贫喝西北风是吧? - Is it fair to say that those who uphold justice should just accept nothing in return and a lifetime of poverty? [3] 

22. 法不责众 fǎ bù zé zhòng

law does not punish the masses

是执法不严给了他们底气,是法不责众给了他们底气 - It's the leniency in law enforcement that emboldens them; it's the belief that the law does not punish the masses that eggs them on. [4]

23. 偷奸耍滑 tōu jiān shuǎ huá

sly and crafty

总还是难免有一些偷奸耍滑的商家会用“鬼秤”,很难清理干净 - It's still inevitable that some sly and crafty vendors will use “ghostscales”, so it's impossible to eliminate such misconduct. [3]

24. 不问青红皂白 bú wèn qīng hóng zào bái

without investigating the facts, regardless of right or wrong

电话来自全国各地,有的人不问青红皂白上来就骂 - Calls came from all over the country, in which some people started to attack them without knowing who they are. [2]

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