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MLM companies have been trying to find ways around China's prohibitions, or have been developing other methods, such as direct sales, to take their products to China through retail operations. The Direct Sales Regulations limit direct selling to cosmetics, health food, sanitary products, bodybuilding equipment and kitchen utensils. And the Regulations require Chinese or foreign companies ("FIEs") who intend to engage into direct sale business in mainland China to apply for and obtain direct selling license from the Ministry of Commerce ("MOFCOM"). In 2016, there are 73 companies, including domestic and foreign companies, that have obtained the direct selling license. Some multi-level marketing sellers have circumvented this ban by establishing addresses and bank accounts in Hong Kong, where the practice is legal, while selling and recruiting on the mainland.
The legal distinction between MLMs and traditional pyramid schemes has been characterized by many authorities as a legal fiction. Jurisdictions that retain a legal distinction between MLM pyramid businesses versus illegal pyramid schemes retain said distinction on two key distinguishing features: 1) that MLMs always encompass the sale of actual products/services, while traditional illegal pyramid schemes ordinarily do not (though sometimes they do), and 2) that climbing an MLM pyramid is overwhelmingly statistically improbable (especially to its highest participant levels) but not theoretically impossible, whereas climbing a traditional illegal pyramid scheme is both statistically and theoretically impossible.