Xi Zhong learned the hard way about the risks of investing in China's stock market.

The 40-year-old day trader and tech-sector dropout says his training over the past 12 years has consisted of losing bets time and again, then learning from his mistakes.

"I've already gained so much experience through losing money that if I gave it up now I'd be throwing it away -- look at how much tuition I've paid," Xi said in the VIP room of a Beijing brokerage after the market close, three screens in front of him.

Still, Xi laments that even today, so many new investors have to go through the school of hard knocks like he did.

"There are so many people who have just entered the stock market who have no idea about the risks involved," he said.

"Many of them invest the savings they've earned from working hard for decades. Some of them are retired and invest their pension money. Sometimes I don't even have the heart to watch."

Xi is not alone in worrying about the lack of understanding of financial basics among many of China's new investors, millions of whom have poured into the market as the country's main share index has risen five-fold since the start of last year.

Though figures are hard to come by, local media and fund managers say Chinese retail investors accounted for the bulk of the turnover before a sharp but brief dip in the market in May.

Concerned about potential financial and social turmoil should the market suffer a big correction, China's securities watchdog has sharply stepped up its warnings about market risks, saying that educating investors is one of its immediate priorities.

"Investor education is a very vital task over the long term and an indispensable part of the development of market infrastructure," Tu Guangshao, vice chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, said on the sidelines of the Communist Party Congress last week.


In 2001, at the end of the last big bull run, prominent economist Wu Jinglian said China's stock markets were like a casino, causing a stir in the securities industry.

Back at Xi's brokerage, all signs indicate that regulators still face an uphill battle.

While the application materials for opening an account start off with a risk disclaimer, the pamphlet's design speaks volumes about investors' mood: a red silhouette of a bull's head takes up about three-fourths of the cover, while a tiny black bear makes its exit off the lower right-hand corner of the page.

Zhu Qiuxia, for one, is not worried about a bubble. The power grid worker has put all her savings into shares, and is planning to keep them there until the Olympic Games next year, when she plans to put her original principal back in the bank and continue to speculate with the profit she's made.

"I'm pretty confident in myself," she said, flipping through a well-worn notebook filled with newspaper clippings and notes.

"Before the Olympics are over next year, just like before the return of Hong Kong (to China), as long as it hasn't happened yet, the market won't collapse. That's the main policy."

Zhu's attitude is common among retail investors -- that because of Beijing's desire to present a good face to the world when it hosts the Summer Olympics next August, it will come to the rescue should the market suffer any major volatility.


William Hess, Greater China manager for Global Insight in Beijing, said that retail investors were essentially replicating the type of "blind investment" that many Chinese companies have been known for in the past.

"But the downside risks for the retail investors are certainly much larger, when they're buying into funds and buying shares when their only knowledge of the stock market is that it seems to continue to go up," Hess said.

"That kind of perspective towards risk and the expectation either that risk is low or that someone will bail them out leads to, call it 'irrational exuberance', on the part of Chinese investors in the same way we've seen in other bubbles."

The central bank recently published a 300-page "Citizen's Finance Handbook" explaining in plain language everything from how interest rates are calculated to share valuations.

In addition to distributing the book to every local library in the country, the central bank has held a series of exhibitions on finance across the country.

The China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) recently launched a pilot program for teaching high school students the basics of insurance, hoping to instill in them a sense of long-term financial planning.

"We need to raise awareness from a young age that people have to use market-orientated ways of insuring themselves, and can't just rely on the government," said Fan Xinhong, deputy head of the CIRC's policy and research department.

But the banking regulator's "public education centre" speaks most vividly of the need to boost people's financial know-how.

To enter it, visitors must pass through a sophisticated security door that rejects those toting suspiciously large bags.

"You never know, some people coming here with a complaint might use violence," one worker explained.