China’s "fu’erdai," or China’s second-generation rich, stink, but they’re not the main problem.
After getting into hot water for saying that breast size is his main criterion for choosing a girlfriend, Wang Sicong – the son of China’s richest man, Wanda magnate Wang Jianlin – made the headlines again for buying a pair of golden Apple watches for his dog. On his Weibo microblog, which has 12 million followers, the younger Wang wrote that giving his dog four watches – one for each leg – "seems much too tuhao [a term which roughly means "the vulgarity of new money"], so I kept it down to two." It is hard to see what difference that makes.
The United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee is trying to guide the behavior of "fu’erdai" away from actions and statements like this. The Party is right to be worried that the fu’erdai’s open flaunting of their wealth could undermine social harmony.
The fu’erdai will continue to blow lots of money on luxury products, but they may now be more discreet in doing so. However, the new guidelines will perhaps have no impact on rebellious fu’erdai like Wang Sicong, who has loudly declared he has no interest in following in his father’s footsteps.
China would do better to address its widening wealth gap. China’s Gini coefficient, the standard yardstick for measuring socio-economic inequality, shows that the degree of wealth concentration in the country has risen by a third in the past 35 years and now exceeds the degree of wealth concentration in the United States. This rising disparity has fuelled perceptions among ordinary Chinese people that the deck is stacked in favor of the rich and their offspring.
China has indeed made notable progress toward addressing this problem in recent years. In particular, the government has eased the tax burden on rural residents while improving the rural education and healthcare systems. These moves seem to have played a role in the recent narrowing of the urban-rural income gap.