If you are still banging on about the xiaozi (小资, petty bourgeoisie), China’s young middle class obsessed with their education and all things highbrow, then your knowledge of Chinese society is out of date by at least a decade. China’s online public have taken a shameless turn toward heightened levels of snobbishness. The xiaozi, with their Starbucks-stained French novels, are out, and the tuhao (土豪), “the tacky rich”, are in.
To be more specific, tu means “tacky” or “uncouth”, while hao, coming from fuhao (富豪), means “the very rich”. The word fi rst went viral on Chinese social media, later appearing everywhere from subway ads to news headlines. It no longer serves as mere description for China’s emerging, high-profile nouveau riche; it’s any behavior that’s deemed expensive and showing no class.
And, if tuhao were a color, that color would be gold. When Apple’s gold iPhone 5s debuted, it sold out instantly, with prices reaching 13,000 RMB on the black market. Since then, the color has often been dubbed “tuhao gold” (土豪金), and anything made of “tuhao gold” easily grabs headlines, from gold sports cars to the newly renovated People’s Daily building that (from certain angles) looks like a giant golden phallus—not to mention the path paved with 200 gold bricks in a Wuhan shopping mall. Even though this all seems vulgar, tuhao gold can lean toward the highbrow. China has been broadcasting the Vienna New Year’s Concert since 1987, and, for Chinese people, the Großer Saal is probably much more familiar than the Teatro alla Scala— “sacred to musicians around the world” according to CCTV. Actually, anyone with the cash can make it happen. Simply known as the “Golden Hall” in Chinese, 133 concerts there were held by Chinese in 2013;the performers included summer camp children, middle school students, and business people who were willing to pay for their golden dream come true.
The rise of the tuhao and the fall of the xiaozi is a product of China’s newfound wealth. China, apart from being the world’s biggest manufacturer, is also the world’s fastest producer of rich people. According to the 2013 Hurun Rich List, China has 1.05 million millionaires (“millionaire” meaning an individual with personal assets of at least 10 million RMB), a three percent increase on the previous year and the biggest growth in the past fi ve years. Hell, if you thought that was impressive, get this: there are currently 8,100 billionaires in China—China’s dafuhao (大富豪,the super rich). And if your disposable assets are a mere one million USD, then you are pretty much a pauper and in among the rabble that make-up China’s 12 million-strong middle class.
This bad taste can take a terrible toll. There’s Guo Meimei, for example, who at 22 has justifiably become the princess of all things tuhao—she’s the ultimate combination of compulsive money flaunting coupled with absolutely no brains whatsoever. She became notorious in 2011 for showing off her villa and her Maserati—all while claiming to be a manager at the China Red Cross. China Red Cross credibility was, of course, bankrupt after this, even though the story later turned out to be false. But with the controversy came fame, and now she just won’t let up and continually posts pictures of her expensive designer goods, stirring up sporadic fits of rage online. People still doubt the legitimacy of the China Red Cross to this day.
The word tuhao doesn’t always evoke such hatred, often merely drawing wide-eyed stares of sheer incredulousness. The grand inauguration ceremony of the new movie base Oriental Movie Metropolis in Qingdao (or Chollywood to the masses), was the brainchild of moneyed mastermind Wang Jianlin (the dafuhao that invested 5 billion RMB in the project), currently the richest man in China according to the 2013 Forbes Rich List. Hoping to give his grand scheme an “international” flavor, Wang effortlessly bought a long list of veteran A-list stars for the debut, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Nichole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Travolta, and Kate Beckinsale. To give it a genuine Oscar feel, Cheryl Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures, was also invited along, as were the CEOs and board directors of six major fi lm studios, including Warner Brothers, Sony, and Paramount. However, the supposed glamor soon went sour. The venue looked more like the opening of a rural market, and that was the least of their worries…
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