Stamp collecting, once a popular hobby and even a form of investment, has taken a pasting.
In Shanghai, as in the rest of China, the availability of other amusements - plus, some say, the overissuing of stamps,
reducing their rarity value - has all but killed a mass pastime.
The city used to have 11 registered markets for stamp collectors and traders, but only two remain active.
At Shanghai Lugong Stamp, Coin and Card Exchange Center on Jumen Road in Luwan District, an official blamed the overissuing
The Lugong market is one of the two largest in China. Beijing has the other.
"One of the key points blamed for the sluggish market (in stamps) is that too many special series, in too many denominations,
have been issued in recent years," said Ma Lianhong, vice director of the market's general office.
The glut dulled the public's appetite, Ma said.
The number of Chinese with stamp albums is estimated to have fallen to 16 million last year from 20 million in 2000.
Ma said the figure today may really be 2 million.
The turning point, in his opinion, was the printing of more than 40 million copies of the stamp marking Hong Kong's return
to the motherland in 1997.
It was the biggest print run since 1949.
But with so many copies available, collectors at the Lugong market - the main "indicator" for stamp traders in China -
saw no reason to pay a premium for the stamp. The same fate has befallen more than 90 percent of the 20-plus stamps issued
Traders and collectors draw some hope from an old superstition: that a bull market in stamps comes every six years.
The last occurred in 1997.
"Since 1979, the principle has worked," Ma said. But he admitted the current situation may be too dire for good times to
return in 2003.
Some recent steps could help. At a postal conference held on September 7 in Changchun, in northeastern Jilin Province,
it was an-nounced every sheet in a set of stamps will bear a fluorescent code showing where it was issued.
"In the past, only one sheet had the code, and it was often removed from a ship-ment" and kept from the public, Ma said.
He called this "a trick used by some traders and corrupt officials to put stamps on the market in violation" of regulations.
Since August, the number of new stamps printed has also dropped, to 11 million from 13 million per issue.
Yet it is still excessive - especially since fewer stamps are being used.
According to the Shanghai Postal Bureau, a local citizen receives about 50 pieces of mail a year, only 2.5 of them private
Business mail is often delivered in bulk to post offices, which collect the total postage and postmark from the folders
or envelopes, bypassing the use of stamps.