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Why it’s no longer cool to be a crazy rich Asian in China

The rich in China only got richer in recent years, leaving others to feel left behind

Is 650 yuan ($ 101, £ 72) enough to cover a day’s meals?

Not according to Su Mang, the former editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar China, whose comments about it on a reality TV show enraged Chinese social media.

“We need to eat better, I can’t eat with such low standards,” she added on the 50km Taohuawu show, which features 15 celebrities living together for 21 days.

Appalled at his comments, netizens pointed out that their own daily meal allowance is generally less than 30 yuan.

Although Ms. Su, known as “Chinese Devil Wears Prada”, has since clarified that this was a “misunderstanding” – the 650 yuan was for her entire time on the show, she said – the public was not convinced.

“She can try to explain it, but the truth is celebrities are elitists without realizing it,” one person wrote on the Weibo microblogging platform.

Hers is just the latest case of public anger directed at a personality over their wealth.

Why it’s no longer cool to be a crazy rich Asian in China

Su Mang is the former editor-in-chief of upscale magazine Harper’s Bazaar China

Earlier this year, Annabel Yao, the youngest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, infuriated the internet when she suggested that she had lived a life of combat.

“I never thought of myself as a so called ‘princess’ … I think I’m like most people my age, I had to work hard, study hard, before I could get into a good school. “she said. said in a glitzy 17-minute video documentary announcing her singing career.

Sharing the film on her Weibo account, the 23-year-old, whose father is worth around $ 1.4 billion, said signing with an entertainment company was a “special birthday gift” she got. was offered.

‘Does not deserve’

For years, China’s wealthy glamor have been known to be ostentatious, showing off their luxury cars and handbags online – often to the envy of their followers.

But increasingly, any sort of wealth displayed – intentionally or unintentionally – is met with hostility and contempt.

People like Ms. Su and Ms. Yao are targeted because many believe that celebrities as well as so-called fuerdai – the rich children of the second generation – simply do not deserve their exorbitant incomes.

“When it comes to stars and their seemingly ‘easy’ jobs, people will complain about their hard work and how little they earn,” said Dr Jian Xu of Deakin University, who studies Chinese media culture.

Dr Haiqing Yu, professor of media studies at RMIT University in Melbourne, added that “Su Mang’s comments about her meals made people angry because they peel the crust that China is trying to eat. hide “- that some people have too much, while others get by with very little.

The wealth gap in China is glaring.

While the country’s average annual income is 32,189 yuan ($ 5,030; £ 3,560), or about 2,682 yuan per month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, Beijing also has more billionaires than any other city in the world. .

Wealthy Chinese listings earned a record $ 1.5 billion in 2020, roughly half of the UK’s GDP, according to wealth tracker Hurun Report.

For the rich, blatantly showing their strengths is therefore instantly perceived as deaf. While this is common for most countries facing a problem of income inequality, China finds itself in a particularly difficult position, experts say.

For a long time, people felt that they could achieve “common prosperity” – which former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping said was the goal even though it meant that some people and some regions became first. rich.

“But more than 40 years after opening the country, the rich are only getting richer, leaving others far behind and feeling disillusioned and helpless,” said Dr Xu.

Sometimes the anger is heightened because of what he calls an “expectation for celebrities to contribute more (to society) because they are known to the public and have symbolic power.”

Last month, for example, there was outrage when it was revealed that actress Zheng Shuang was being paid around 2 million yuan per day for a television role, for a total of 160 million yuan for. the whole project.

“What is the concept of 160 million yuan? Ordinary employees who earn 6,000 yuan per month have to work continuously for 2,222 years, probably since the Qin Dynasty, ”someone wrote on Weibo.

Why it’s no longer cool to be a crazy rich Asian in China

Actress Zheng Shuang has been criticized for her high salary

But the audience was even more upset because Ms. Zheng was already mired in controversy. Earlier this year, she was embroiled in a dispute over surrogacy – illegal in China – when it was alleged that she had abandoned two children born to surrogate mothers overseas.

So that a person earns so much money when he is not considered a good role model is therefore very problematic.

It’s also why in 2018 there was little sympathy for star Fan Bingbing when she was under house arrest for tax evasion, even though the actress was one of the country’s most popular stars.

The art of humblebrag

The contempt for ostentation is also linked to the idea that it signals a lack of culture, experts say.

As the Chinese middle class has grown, educated city dwellers interpret display of wealth “as a lack of sophistication or even as ‘lower class’ origins,” author Dr John Osburg told the BBC. by Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New Rich.

“It’s a tough business,” he said, adding that it is also a sign of “insecurity” about his social standing.

Why it’s no longer cool to be a crazy rich Asian in China

China overtook Japan as the number one personal luxury market in Asia-Pacific

Still, the country’s appetite for luxury isn’t going away anytime soon.

China has overtaken Japan as the number one personal luxury market in Asia-Pacific, according to market research firm Euromonitor International, and is expected to see sales growth return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year. the year.

The key, then, is for the rich to be able to find the ultimate balance – to indicate success, but in a more understated way.

Dr Yu noted how, for some, this spawned quite a movement involving humble bragging. “Some rich people are now trying to show themselves in a veiled way, instead of just showing pictures of material goods,” she said.

For example, influencer MengQiqi77 – known for regularly sharing luxury lifestyle updates – once “complained” on Weibo that there weren’t enough electric car charging stations in the city. his neighborhood. “So we had no choice but to move to a bigger house with a private garage for my husband’s Tesla,” she wrote.

Another time, she said that her husband was “too thrifty” for choosing to wear a Zegna cashmere suit costing “only 30,000 yuan”.

Of course, it wasn’t long before such messages hit internet users as well.

Critics have since made fun of his publications, even giving them a name: “Literature of Versailles”. The trending term was inspired by the Japanese manga The Rose of Versailles, based on the lavish life of Queen Marie Antoinette in the 18th century, and for months sparked internet joke articles mimicking her writing style.

A disgruntled internet user suggested a way to annoy a Versailles literary writer. “Just pretend you haven’t noticed what they’re trying to show,” he wrote on the Quora Zhihu-type site.

Seems like there are no easy fixes for the rich and famous.

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