Header graphic for print
China Law Blog China Law for Business

The China Rich….Are Not Like Us?

Posted in China Business, China Travel, Good People

Just got an email from a long-time loyal reader who is now in England studying law. His email was a combination of updates and thoughts and I just loved one portion of the thoughts. This person spent considerable time in Beijing tutoring children of high level Chinese executives, mostly bankers, and here, word for word, are some of his random, insightful thoughts from that experience:

1) None of them had counterfeit stuff in their houses. Even their DVDs were genuinely bought from Walmart, or HK, unlike most Westerners, whose apartments are full with fakes bought openly in Sanlitun.

2) None of them wanted their kids to go to university in China. They all universally hated China’s education system and its high pressures. They all universally pushed their children to top their classes.

3) All of them were getting books banned in China from their frequent trips to HK, or from friends bringing them in. The recent one on WenJiaBao was common, but they also had stuff on Mao, T1a-nanmen etc. They would read and discuss them openly and their kids would read them too.

4) None of them wanted any kind of immediate reform. The best you could get was an admission that the government now was pretty ‘arrogant’ off how well they’d done in the past 3 years. One said this could be hubristic, others said it was well deserved.

5) The currency trader told me that on the day the government announced to great fanfare they’d allow some appreciation of the RMB, he was called in and told to generally not consider this as significant in his trading decisions.

6) The book industry in Beijing at least, must be doing well. Their book stores are massive emporiums, floor to ceiling on 6 levels of books, and incredibly busy. I asked why people don’t go for ereaders. Was told they liked the feeling of choosing the books, and the smell!

The above all jibes with what I have seen with the Chinese lawyers in China with whom my firm works.  

What do you think?

 

  • outcast

    The cynic in me would like to point out that they probably dont want immediate reform because many of them made their wealth through corruption and/or other illegal means, but got away with it because of guanxi. Any reform has the potential to jeopordize this.

  • Bill Rich

    Observation number 3 can not be good for the regime.

  • waiguoren

    @outcast:
    >> The cynic in me….
    No way! It is the clear view of the truth that makes you say it. Don’t devalue reality, whatever else you do.
    Overall, I agree about the general perspective of the educated Chinese as described by the author. Everyone seems to know about everything, you just cannot talk about it in the media.
    In the west, esp. in the U.S., you have endless media of all kinds going in all directions at once… all opinions at odds with all others. In China, there is only one opinion that is allowed. The media is filled with bread and circus kind of variety, but no one is ever allowed [at this stage of the game] to stand up and say: “I disagree and have a different opinion.” Occasionally, some tepid sorts of variety are tolerated in English-language media focused on overseas consumption (read: for the U.S.).
    Therefore, there is a much more developed rumor mill in China. It is quite a contrast when you first visit China to experience information obtained from others rather than through the TV, newspapers, etc. It makes one humble in appreciation for the Press and the political structure[s] of the West.
    Additionally (Stop me before I type some more!), many Chinese are saying “China is no longer socialist” which is so obviously true that you wonder why anyone would bother even saying it. But what they are also meaning is that many things have lost their bearings. The milk powder and other tainted food scandals all point, they say, to a ‘making money is they only thing that anyone cares about.’ Also so true that you wonder why it is mentioned.
    But since there is so minimal regulation, and regulators and judiciary are subservient to the CP, and CP survival and power is the only thing that counts for the CP, then everything else is insignificant.

  • James G

    Bookstores all over China are always fairly full popular because they are much better equipped (and keep better hours) than lending libraries. I don’t know how profitable they are though. Several years ago Shanghai got it’s first 24 hour bookstore, in Pudong.
    It lasted about 3 years. Like a lot of bookstore chains, they suffered from the hordes of readers yes/buyers no, and they didn’t have the online sales to back it up. The one thing that I remember is how incredibly packed they were, even late into the night. The parent company later faced a similar demise.
    Foot traffic does not a profitable business make.

  • JGallagher

    “China-rich” was a term my friends and I used to use when studying abroad to describe the ability to buy rounds of beer or endless chuanr for friends without having to worry about making ends meet till the next paycheck came in…
    I am a young middle-class white American male who travelled from his apartment in Shenzhen to Tsim Tsa Tsui in Hong Kong this afternoon, and is absolutely amazed at the scale of monies being tossed about by the China rich here. Lines for LV like it was being rationed -check, designer bags on every woman’s shoulder-check, suitcases being wheeled around in lieu of shopping carts!!? – yes, check.
    As I sit here in TST enjoying my Guinness, I can’t help but agree with the title of this post. But when I recall the usage of “China-rich” that I am used to, I realize I have come a long way from being the poor American student in China, to holding down a job with a salary that is better than a lot of my fellow recent graduates (though that could be said for just having a job!). Despite my ascension to American middle-class standards and very well-to-do China standards, the China rich that this post talk about are a breeed of their own. I cannot even comprehend their spending power. I watch them behave, and observe the them drag luxury goods in luxury suitcases in one hand, and the other clutches onto their tea thermoses, I feel no connection to them at all.
    Oh wait… two Chinese guys just walked in and ordered acouple Guinesses… guess there’s something we have in common afterall! :)

  • MickW

    I had the ‘privilege’ of coming into contact with the daughter of one of China’s lesser known ministers (though I didn’t know it at the time). She had a western education but did not realise that I could speak and understand Chinese. When I overheard her talking to her friends in Chinese, I was really surprised by her scathing comments about everything Chinese – very much like points 1 and 2. She did not trust anything Chinese made, and did not rate Chinese education, and most of all had a very low opinion of other Chinese! On the other hand, she had a very snobbish status-conscious attitude towards all things western – only the best ‘brand’ would do. I made the mistake of thinking she was from Taiwan, only to get a very prim and sanctimonial rebuke (in English) about how she was a patriotic Chinese.

  • Twofish

    outcast: The cynic in me would like to point out that they probably dont want immediate reform because many of them made their wealth through corruption and/or other illegal means, but got away with it because of guanxi. Any reform has the potential to jeopordize this.
    The trouble is that any reform has the potential to jepordize you if you made your wealth legally.
    Bill Rich: Observation number 3 can not be good for the regime.
    It really is. Most reasonably wealthy Chinese are quite well informed about what’s going on in the world. If you tell them that the government is lying to them the general reaction is “Yeah, we know what’s your point?”
    It’s worth pointing out that Chinese censorship isn’t designed mainly to stop information flow, but rather to prevent people from organizing. I read a banned book. You read a banned book. As long you and I can’t form a book club it doesn’t matter much.
    waiguoren: In China, there is only one opinion that is allowed.
    I don’t think this is quite true. Once the Party-State has made a decision, then discussion stops, but there are a lot of things for which the Party-State doesn’t know what it thinks and on those issues discussion is pretty free. This happens a lot in economic issues. For example, right now the economic press has a pretty lively discussion on whether China should revalue the RMB and to what extent it should do so, and this discussion exists because the Party-State does not know what it should do and is actually encouraging people to give input.

  • Twofish

    Also books are incredibly cheap in China.

  • James G

    Twofish nailed it with his comment about the price of books in China. When I was wanted to buy the same book that I’d used in class in China, it was much cheaper for me to have a friend buy it in China and send it to the U.S. than to buy it off Amazon.
    Good for consumers, very bad for independent publishers, authors, editors, etc. Sadly enough, a US/Walmart-ish version of this is happening in the U.S. – increasingly amazingly cheap access to books, yet at an astronomical cost to publishers and brick and mortar retailers. China has a vastly different relationship with the publishing industry, of course.

  • Twofish

    The other thing is that there is a big difference between “Chinese merely rich” and “Chinese super-rich.” The people that the article described seem to be “Chinese merely rich.” The difference is that the “merely rich” would hire a foreign tutor for their kids (and foreign tutors are quite cheap in China). The super-rich would and could send their kids to private school in England.
    The other thing is that the people involved don’t sound like high level banking executives to me. Mid-level executives, yes. But high-level executives both in the US and China are in the super-rich category and live in their own world.
    ————-
    2) None of them wanted their kids to go to university in China. They all universally hated China’s education system and its high pressures. They all universally pushed their children to top their classes.
    You should notice the irony here. Also this is worth noting the next time you read a report about how miserable US schools are, and how lazy US students are, and how the US should turn its school system to be like China/Japan/Korea.

  • Anonymous

    From my limited contact with different strata of Chinese (and western) society I find that the differences aren’t too great. At some point of wealth, people don’t want fakes or illegal anything (risk/return doesn’t make sense); they want what’s best for their children – just like US parents in Beijing and New York who send their children to private schools – and they know the Chinese system isn’t the best; they want to be in-the-know, well educated, and be seen as knowledgeable – meaning exposure to a variety of opinions and information; like the very wealthy in the US most aren’t that involved in politics (some are, but lots of the super-rich in the US don’t even bother to vote) and those who are don’t want change (how many F500 CEOs want big change on health care, carbon emissions, trade rules, etc. unless it clearly and directly benefits them in the short-run).
    #5 is basically #3 restated and #6 makes sense, as other posters have pointed out, due to price differences for both books and eReaders (and labour of the shop’s people).
    In Canada, very few are that concerned with brands and the status they confer but amongst the masses in China brands are a status symbol. Position, education, and accomplishments are of course important in China (as in Canada) but when choosing friends or employees what they wear and how expensive it is generally is far more important here in China. In Canada we always got told that “everybody is equal” and everybody can grow up to do whatever they want regardless of background. It is possible, in China, to go from nothing to riches but it’s not in the popular ideology nearly as much as in Canada (or, even moreso, the USA).

  • http://www.szcchina.com/blog/ bobshenzhen

    Well said, “outcast” and “waiguoren”.
    “Everyone seems to know about everything, you just cannot talk about it in the media.”
    Everyone knows, people just do not want to mention it, people go straight forward to do what good for them!