Had we found the holy grail, WiC wondered last week, on evidence that we might have finally uncovered the Chinese Baywatch?
This followed publication of a series of photos of a group of young bikini-clad women training on a beach. But on closer examination, it looked more like an episode in an especially cruel reality show. The women were carrying heavy logs, being kicked as they crawled commando-style through the sand, and being dunked underwater by their burly instructors.
While the photos were undoubtedly released as a PR stunt, the training is real enough. Beijing-based TianJiao Special Guards is one of 3,000 private security companies that have sprung up in recent years to provide bodyguards to China’s newly-minted rich. And TianJiao, like other firms, is now recruiting women as demand for their services has grown.
“A third of China’s rich are females so they are more likely to want a female bodyguard,” TianJiao’s founder Chen Yongqing told Beijing Morning News. “In addition, their relatives and kids are also at risk and female bodyguards can pose as nannies and house keepers.”
Twenty years ago there was little need for bodyguards, male or female. No one dared threaten a senior politician; international stars rarely visited; and the country didn’t have a single billionaire.
Today China is home to at least 243 individuals with assets worth more than $1 billion. At the same time, inequality has risen dramatically. Though the government has stopped publishing official figures measuring social inequality – the Gini co-efficient is the best known – a recent report from China’s National Economic Research Institute suggested that the richest 10% of Chinese households now earn some 65 times more than the poorest.
That, combined with the perception that many of the newly rich have made their money through corruption, has fuelled widespread anger.
“Fairness was not a concern when the country was starting from scratch. Now, even without an official Gini co-efficient, everybody – with the exception of the ultra-rich – is fuming over inequity,” claimed state news agency Xinhua, in an editorial timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s southern tour.
The private security companies usually point out that China is generally a very safe place. But they also peddle the notion that it gets a lot less safe the richer you get.
Hence the need for more security professionals. Xin Yang, the founder of Beijing-based Yun Hai Security, mainly hires former soldiers and athletes, with an 800-hour training course including sweeping for explosives and measures to detect poisons.
But the main part of the course is martial arts as bodyguards are still not supposed to carry guns in China. Nor are they allowed to refer to themselves as bodyguards. The word in Chinese – baobiao – is rife with connotations, translating literally as ‘guarding the treasure’. As such, it has historical associations with groups like the triads (supposedly eradicated by the Party, but still very much around, see WiC135). As a term it is also ideologically unsound. “Baobiao are what the rich used to have before 1949,” says Xin. “We are a socialist country, so we cannot call our employees bodyguards.”
Instead, the rules require that they are known as ‘security consultant’. Bosses like Chen and Xin shudder at the terminology: “If someone is willing to risk his safety for you, he is certainly not a consultant,” Xin told WiC.
Xin’s clients are mainly coal barons, real estate moguls and bankers. But he adds that female clients often want female bodyguards, as they are more comfortable with them in closer proximity. Men often want to hire woman too, because they can pose as secretaries or dinner dates at events where bodyguards are not welcome.
Chen of Tianjiao dismisses the idea that some of the more beautiful girls aren’t real bodyguards, capable of protecting their male clients. He points to Wendi Deng’s famous attempt to prevent a protester from covering her husband with a foam pie last year. “We know from Rupert Murdoch’s wife that Chinese women are some of the most protective in the world,” Chen warns.
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