Random Image Display on Page Reload

China’s ChatGPT Opportunists—and Grifters—Are Hard at Work

Jun 21, 2023 2:00 AM

China’s ChatGPT Opportunists—and Grifters—Are Hard at Work

Chinese entrepreneurs are using AI to start content businesses and write self-help books. But the real money’s in selling the dream.

Photo illustration showing repeated images of businessmen holding red briefcases with a yellow ChatGPT logo.


Competition for jobs is fierce in China right now. After he graduated from college with a business major earlier this year, David struggled to find work. There were too many applicants for every position, and, he says, “even if you find a job, the pay is not as great as previous years, and you have to work long hours.”

After David—who asked for anonymity to talk freely about his business—saw some videos on Weibo and WeChat about ChatGPT, the generative artificial intelligence chatbot released to great fanfare late last year by the US tech company OpenAI, he was struck with an idea. There’s a thriving essay-writing business in China, with students asking tutors and experts to help them with their homework. Brokers operating on the ecommerce platform Taobao hire writers, whose services they sell to students. What if, David thought, he could use ChatGPT to write essays? He approached one of the sellers on Taobao. He quickly got his first job, writing a paper for a student majoring in education. He didn’t tell anyone he was using a chatbot.

“You first ask ChatGPT to generate an outline with a few bullet points, and then you ask ChatGPT to come up with content for each bullet point,” David says. To avoid obvious plagiarism, he tried not to feed in existing articles or papers, and instead asked the chatbot open-ended questions. He picked out longer sentences, and asked ChatGPT to elaborate and give examples. Then he read through the piece and cleaned up any grammatical errors. The result wasn’t the smoothest, and there were a few logical gaps between paragraphs, but it was enough to complete the assignment. He submitted it and made $10. His second job was writing an economics paper. He glanced through the requirements, picked up a few important terms like “dichotomy,” and asked ChatGPT to explain these terms in easily understandable ways and give examples. He made around $40.

ChatGPT is not officially accessible to Chinese users. Emails with Chinese domains, like QQ or 163, can’t be used to sign up to the service. Nevertheless, there’s an enormous interest in the potential of the system. Youdao, a popular online education service operated by the tech giant NetEase, recently released an online course: “ChatGPT, from entry to proficiency,” promising to “increase your work efficiency by 10 times with the help of ChatGPT and Python.” On Zhihu, China’s quora, a forum website where questions are created and answered, users ask “how to make the first pot of gold using ChatGPT”; “how to make RMB1,000 using ChatGPT”; “how ordinary people can make money using ChatGPT?” The answer—which ChatGPT itself told me when I asked it how to make $100—is content. Lots of content.

Yin Yin, a young woman who has worked for a few social media influencers as a content creation assistant, came across ChatGPT after seeing a viral YouTube video. In April, she found a Taobao store selling home decor using traditional Yunnan tie-dye techniques. She approached the owner and offered to help him improve its layout and to do some social media promotion. The store’s product descriptions were plain and lacking in details, she says. She tracked down the most popular home decor items on Taobao, extracted their product descriptions, and fed them to ChatGPT for reference. To make the content even more eye-catching, she asked ChatGPT to specifically emphasize a few product features and to add a few emojis to make it more appealing to the younger generation. She is now paid monthly by the Taobao shop owner.

Others are using AI for way more than product descriptions. One user, Shirley, who also asked to be identified using only her first name because she writes under a pseudonym, Guyuetu, on the fashion and lifestyle sharing platform Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), published a whole book written using AI. She decided on the subject: the correlation between blood type and personality (a pseudoscientific belief that is relatively common in Japan and Korea). She asked ChatGPT to “create an outline for a book about Japanese’s people’s take on blood type and personality,” then used it to generate an outline for each chapter, and then to generate different sections for each chapter. “If you don’t like what’s been written, you can always ask ChatGPT to rewrite, like rewrite a paragraph using a more fun, lighthearted tone,” she says. Within two days, she finished the book “The Little Book of Blood Type Personality: The Japanese Way of Understanding People,” with a cover and illustrations created by Midjourney, a service which creates images from text prompts. She published the book on Kindle.

Most Popular

That writers are turning to AI is hardly surprising. China’s online literature market is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, with millions of titles produced each year, spanning romance, science fiction and self-help. On social media, there are many accounts of books being written with ChatGPT—although the reviews point out the plots tend to be disjointed, with random, sudden twists.

Even though ChatGPT has been available for only a little more than six months, it has spawned an ecosystem of influencers—like Yizhou Li, who has published a series of 18 videos on how to use AI including ChatGPT on his Douyin account. He has 2.3 million followers, and his AI-related videos have been watched more than 10 million times. Companies are starting to hire staff to work with ChatGPT: Banggood, a cross-border ecommerce platform, is advertising for a “ChatGPT training expert” to optimize and improve the performance of the chatbot for listing, illustration, and advertising. The salary is up to 40,000 yuan ($5,607) per month—a lucrative salary in the current weak job market but, according to a report by Jiemian News, in line with similar positions.

And of course, there’s good money to be made telling others how to get rich. One influencer, Yang Yi, who claims to be a former director at a tech company, launched a “break the game of ChatGPT & AI club” on Zhishi Xingqiu, a platform that connects content creators with hardcore fans. Within six weeks, the “club,” which promises to teach people how to use AI, had 20,000 members, who each paid 368 yuan ($51.60) for a course on how to use ChatGPT.

Teaching others or getting a full-time job may be the way forward, because although there are many new ChatGPT entrepreneurs, few of them seem to be making a living. Shirley’s book on Japanese blood type theory hasn’t sold many copies—no chatbot-written book has. David has found that agents selling essays would prefer to pay for top graduates and native-level English speakers.

In May, Vince Liang, an experienced product manager in the tech industry, announced on the Little Red Book that he was challenging himself to make 1 million yuan ($140,525) using ChatGPT. Liang, who gained popularity on social media last year by selling courses on how to use TikTok, says it has proven harder than he expected. When we spoke, 10 days after he launched his challenge, he’d made only a couple of thousand yuan.

His current favorite project is to generate names for newborn babies and companies. “I charge 288 yuan for 10 names,” he says. “It is very simple. For example, I tell ChatGPT to generate elegant names for a newborn with the surname Liang. The results are pretty good; the names generated have graceful meanings and aren’t too common. If customers don’t like the results, I will just ask ChatGPT again.” He has also tried to use ChatGPT to generate numbers for lottery tickets. So far he hasn’t won anything.

Get More From WIRED

Tracy Wen Liu is an investigative journalist. A former auditor, she writes about China and its relationship with the US for the New York Times, Foreign Policy and other publications.
More from WIRED

Runaway AI Is an Extinction Risk, Experts Warn

A new statement from industry leaders cautions that artificial intelligence poses a threat to humanity on par with nuclear war or a pandemic.

Will Knight

For Some Autistic People, ChatGPT Is a Lifeline

The chatbot can help rehearse communication skills and for some provides a resource to turn to when life is tough.

Amanda Hoover

Meet the Humans Trying to Keep Us Safe From AI

As artificial intelligence explodes, the field is expanding beyond the usual suspects—and the usual motivations.

Will Knight

The Last AI Boom Didn't Kill Jobs. Feel Better?

ChatGPT is stoking fears of mass layoffs, but a study of several EU countries found the deep-learning boom of the 2010s actually created job opportunities.

Will Knight

Google DeepMind’s CEO Says Its Next Algorithm Will Eclipse ChatGPT

Demis Hassabis says the company is working on a system called Gemini that will draw on techniques that powered AlphaGo to a historic victory over a Go champion in 2016.

Will Knight

Apple Ghosts the Generative AI Revolution

Apple unveiled the Vision Pro headset and a number of AI-powered features yesterday, but largely ignored generative AI applications embraced by Google and Microsoft.

Khari Johnson

Meet the AI Protest Group Campaigning Against Human Extinction

Fears that artificial intelligence might wipe us out have fueled the rise of groups like Pause AI. Their warnings aren’t that far-fetched, experts say.

Morgan Meaker

All the Ways ChatGPT Can Help You Land a Job

Whether you use ChatGPT, Bard, or Bing, your favorite AI chatbots can help your application stand out from the crowd.

David Nield

Credit belongs to : www.wired.com

Check Also

High-tech London, Ont.-area farm delivers fresh produce all year. Could it be an answer to high grocery costs?

At a farm north of London, Ont., researchers with Western University are planting the seeds …