When I first visited Hong Kong it was during the height of the financial crisis. The economy was on a downward spiral and cash was tight. You can imagine how astonished I was to see long queues outside of several high-end retail outlets, such as LV and Gucci. Upon closer inspection, I noticed many of these ladies had large cases with them and were speaking mandarin, but local Hong Kong people speak Cantonese, not Mandarin. It was obvious that these were mainland Chinese ladies (know as “taitai”, part of China’s new rich) visiting Hong Kong on a mission to shop. I asked several local Hong Kong friends about this phenomenon. They explained that these ladies will buy a suitcase full of luxury goods on a one-day shopping spree in Hong Kong and jet back to their own city that evening. But this is just the beginning. Some mainland Chinese come to Hong Kong and buy houses, in cash. I was shocked by the degree of hatred and disgust displayed by locals when speaking of mainland Chinese, referring to mainland Chinese as locusts. They think of mainland Chinese as coming to Hong Kong in a plague, eating up the local resources, showing off their wealth and acting very rudely in the process. Mainland Chinese in Hong Kong are known to treat shop assistants like dirt, spit on the floor (even inside buildings) and letting their children urinate in public places.
How can such uncivilized people be so rich? And why would anybody buy a house in CASH? It’s no secret that China’s economy is thriving, and a large majority of the wealth is distributed by means of corruption. They buy houses in cash to avoid a paper trail. But why the frequent and ostentatious displays of wealth often accompanied by rude behavior? Western aristocracy can be criticized for being arrogant, but they are for the most part cultured and civilized. Why are the Chinese so different in this regard? In fact, it wasn’t always like this. Long ago, the Chinese aristocracy included great scholars and artists; people of culture and refinement. Then along came Chairman Mao and his proletarian revolution.
With the proletarian revolution, Mao pulled the rug from under the feet of the rich and privileged. There were indeed some powerful tyrants who got what they deserved, but the majority of people who suffered were the well-educated middle-classes. Teachers were publicly humiliated and sometimes even murdered by their students. The homes of famous writers were burned down or trashed. Cultural relics destroyed. Those who were lucky and avoided harm were sent to labor camps in rural areas for “re-education”. Everything was nationalized. Assets were seized from landowners and now belonged to the government (or “the people” as they would say). China’s new leaders were peasants, and each male child was awarded with a plot of land for farming. There were no landowners.
Mao encouraged reproduction, and soon China was a crowded squalor run by peasants (some might argue it still is). Existence for most families was defined by famine and poverty. After Mao’s death, DengXiaoPing came into power. Little did people know then (nor do they realize now!), Deng would spell the end of Mao’s China and the beginning of the modern China we see today; Socialism by name, capitalism in practice. Socialism with Chinese characteristics, they call it. China opened its doors and money came flooding in. The average Chinese person, however, was not able to just start a factory and make a fortune. It was only those with access to government resources; city and provincial officials; peasants who were at the right place at the right time, and on the right side during Mao’s proletarian revolution. Hence China’s new rich were born. Nepotism was rife, with leaders using their special authority to look after their relatives and friends. Government resources, assets which had been seized from China’s aristocracy were now being used and abused by local peasant leaders who had gained power under Mao and now given the right to profit under Deng. Those local peasant leaders soon became local tyrants, and they’re children who are now coming of age are notorious as China’s “second generation Rich”.
Though the majority of wealth comes from government connections, there are many who got lucky on property allocations. Under Mao’s policy, land was divided and distributed amongst peasants. Each city/province has different rules, but typically the boy of the family was allocated a plot of land by the government. Some of those plots of land later became extremely valuable as China’s cities developed, especially places such as ShenZhen which was once countryside and now a major city! Again, peasants became rich through a bit of luck.
So there we have it, China’s new rich are peasants who won the lottery – Rich but uncivilized.