Some real-estate developers are hiring foreigners to pose as celebrities to boost flagging property sales in remote parts of China, or "ghost towns", a new mini-documentary released by The New York Times (NYT) on Tuesday showed.
NYT's David Borenstein travelled to regions in western China and filmed speciality firms that gather groups of foreigners, which they rent out to attend events.
"There are many places in China, especially in remote places, where the houses are really overvalued," a real-estate agent from the outskirts of Chongqing told NYT. "But there is this trick: make it international.
"It's a pretty widespread belief (that) if they get a foreigner to perform, the whole thing is bumped up to another level… It's no longer some remote building built by an unknown developer. It becomes an international city of the future."
The agent explained that clients can choose who they want posing at their event, down to the foreigners' nationality and skin colour.
"Now, it is true that the price of white people is expensive," the same agent told the paper. "But it makes the place feel classier."
Upon signing with these speciality firms, foreigners are given new identities and told they are now "models" and "actors".
Mr Borenstein noted that while "it is impossible to gauge foreigners' effect on property sales, the widespread nature of the phenomenon suggests that it works, at least in the eyes of real-estate developers".