At a mere $492 USD*, Apple is offering its latest iPhone at a much more palatable price for its fans in mainland China than previous iterations. Nevertheless, the term “kidney machine” (肾机, our translation) is still used to refer to Apple’s smartphones.

Four years ago, a 17-year-old boy from Anhui province sold one of his kidneys in order to buy an iPhone. Through Tencent’s QQ messaging app, he connected with several black market kidney agents who found a buyer for his kidney and made arrangements for the surgery. After the operation was over, the 17-year-old received 22,000 RMB for his kidney (link in Chinese). Subsequently, his health began to deteriorate.

Thus, the term “kidney machine” was born. It’s worth noting that at the time, iPhones weren’t exclusive just because they were insanely expensive. Even if you had the money – in those days, an iPhone ran for about 10,000 RMB or almost 1,500 USD – you might not be able to buy one due to a limited stock of iPhones in mainland China. Hardcore Apple fans from China, as well as enterprising Apple resellers, would sometimes travel all the way to New York City to line up for an iPhone (or several).

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Eva Xiao

Eva Xiao is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. Contact her at eva.xiao@technode.com or evawxiao (wechat & twitter).