Ever since the glory days of Greece, the world has been a veritable chess board for con artists and grifters. From a sea merchant in 300 BC who attempted to sink his ship and collect the insurance money to the tonic salesman of early-America and today’s multi-level-marketing schemes, there’s always someone looking to cheat the system. And while the game might look a bit different depending on who’s playing, the end is invariably the same: to make – or save – a quick buck. Like any profession though, some folks are incredibly talented, bilking millions of dollars off of good-hearted, unsuspecting individuals, while others are… well, not so talented.
One not so talented individual was Zhang Caiwen, the 53-year-old retiree who, four years ago this month, was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison after she got caught trying to skip out on an RMB 8,107 hotel bill. This ain’t your grandma’s con case, however, (though admittedly, Zhang could be someone’s grandma), and she quickly became the stuff of legend.
As a bit of background, on Apr 6, 2016, Zhang checked into the Beijing Taigong International Hotel where she enjoyed a relaxing massage and spa service, followed by an RMB 3,000 bottle of red wine in her room, all of which was allegedly to celebrate her birthday. When it came time to settle up, though, Zhang explained to the front desk that she lost her wallet and was unable to contact her family to pay the bill. To be fair, the latter may have been true, as Zhang apparently lived in Beijing alone after divorcing her husband and cutting ties with her two sons.
As for losing her wallet, however, neither the hotel clerk nor the police was convinced, because this wasn’t the first time Zhang had found herself at the center of some financial funny business. In fact, between May 2014 and April 2016, Zhang had been nabbed for similar dine-and-ditch offenses a staggering 13 times. Incidentally, the hotel caper was the only one that resulted in serious jail time, as China has an RMB 5,000 minimum to charge someone with fraud. Whether Zhang knew this or not is unclear, yet she did keep her previous expenditures to around RMB 3,000, or RMB 2,000 less than that which would land her in the slammer. For what it’s worth, she did spend 14 days in a detention center after each failed attempt at a free meal.
Whereas some grifters know the jig is up when they get caught, Zhang wasn’t going to give up so easily, and this is where her title as the Queen of Freeloading decidedly goes down in infamy. Because during her court hearing, Zhang claimed that she was a freelancer, and described her position as being “in charge of freeloading,” adding, “I wanted to visit the places I haven’t been to, and if I wasn’t able to afford that, I would spend wealthy people’s money.”
To be sure, 2020 hasn’t been too kind to freelancers. However, if Zhang’s 2016 shenanigans are anything to go by, it’s clear that at some point, every freelancer’s – ahem, freeloader’s – free rein comes to an end.