If you are a foreigner visiting Beijing, there is a good chance that a pair of polite art students will approach you at some point during your stay. First they will ask where you are from and then they will invite you to their art exhibition, which is always 'just five minutes away'. Nine times out of 10, their invitation will be refused by foreigners pushed for time or wary of being taken for a ride. This is a great shame because the students are always courteous, the work they show is often good, and they only give prices if asked. The stereotypical starving artist is easy to find in Beijing, and such invitations are their way of trying to make an honest living. But they are only one side of the story. Artists are moving with the times and finding other ways to make an impact. Take the Beijing-based group Artists from Asia. Its online sales site, www.artistsfromasia.com , was born unexpectedly just before Christmas last year over a meal between friends. Marketing manager Li Lin, a Xian University graduate in marketing and foreign languages, said: 'It was quite funny. We were eating and drinking and our [lawyer] friend suggested we go online. When we accepted the idea, we stopped eating and worked on a business plan late into the night. Sometimes, I think western people are a little mad about business.' As China has the world's second-largest online population (after the United States), with skyrocketing growth predicted over the next five years, it makes sense to turn to the Net to lure potential buyers. Starting out from scratch, the team behind the online art gallery approached it with the same passion as they do their art. 'We bought many books about Web marketing from Amazon.com,' Ms Li said. 'Other than that, we have looked at making good use of search engines, news groups and e-mail, as well as word of mouth. We also have relatives overseas and former clients of our shop in Beijing who live abroad. 'Having said that, we are learning all the time.' The artists behind the scheme come from a variety of backgrounds but lean towards contemporary works. Among them is Cui Zichong, a leading member of the Calligraphy Association and Academy of Painting. 'We chose the internet to show our modern culture to the western community,' Ms Li said. 'Tourists to Beijing generally want bird-and-flower and other traditional paintings. But today China is about much more than that. We want to express our feelings and also to meet western artists and exchange ideas. 'Of course, we'd also like to make some money but who doesn't?' She said there was nothing suspicious about the absence of prices on the site. 'We started showing prices. Right now, we're testing a no-price site,' said Ms Li. 'Maybe, clients will focus more on the beauty of the work. If they really like a painting and cannot afford it, we are ready to offer a big discount.' It seems the Chinese art of bargaining, reassuringly, lives on in the internet age. Ms Li seems genuine when she insists: 'Our goal is to promote our culture, not just make money from it. That's why we offer certificates of authenticity, shipping and money-back guarantees. 'If the customer isn't happy, neither are we.'