Shortly before the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress this month, as well as its junior body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a leaked directive from the Central Propaganda Department found its way onto the China Digital Times website. The memo warned local media “not to hype the ‘gourmet food’, clothing and accessories of representatives at the Two Meetings”.
But few editors appear to have taken much notice. From the state media down to China’s vibrant blogosphere, the issue of what delegates were wearing and how much their clothes had cost was soon eclipsing much else coming out of the two political gatherings.
In fact, the public scrutiny was such that it began to resemble the fevered speculation that accompanies Hollywood stars down the red carpet on Oscars night.
Even China’s state news agency Xinhua – which could normally be expected to follow propaganda directives to the letter – couldn’t resist running a series of photos entitled “CPPCC Members stage fashion show”.
Among those given the (presumably unwelcome) spotlight were Xu Jiayin, the chairman of one of China’s largest real estate companies. Netizens were soon dubbing Xu as “Brother Hermes” after he turned up at the Great Hall of the People in a Rmb6,000 belt with a large golden H for a buckle.
Then Zheng Mingming, the 66 year-old Hong Kong-based businesswoman managed to get caught on camera twice, sporting different fur-coat-and-bag combinations.
Netizens soon discovered that Zheng’s ALMA and Hermès handbags alone were worth almost Rmb80,000.
But the real ire online was reserved for Li Xiaolin the daughter of former Chinese premier Li Peng.
Li, the CEO of China Power International Development, turned up for proceedings in a salmon pink Emilio Pucci jacket worth almost $2,000.
“That amount could help two hundred children wear warm clothes and fend off the chilly attack of winter,” seethed netizen Cairangduoji.
“Who do these people represent? Has politics turned into a game for the elite?” asked another Sina Weibo user.
Others lamented that the CPPCC and the NPC produced so little of substance.
“We care about their fancy clothes because their proposals are so lame. If they did their job no one would mind,” Jifenbaobei wrote on weibo.
As WiC noted last year the NPC and CPPCC delegates aren’t known for raising proposals that get many Chinese citizens’ blood boiling.
But occasionally there are a few which provoke sensible debate, such as the one by Guangdong’s Huang Xinhua this year to lower the legal age for marriage (currently 22 for men and 20 for women) to 18 for both sexes.
Of course, last year Wang Jianlin, Dalian Wanda’s CEO, made the argument for cutting taxes on luxury goods. His argument was that it would be better to encourage Chinese shoppers to buy their luxury labels at home rather than on trips to Paris or Hong Kong, as it would serve as a boost to domestic demand.
Perhaps a few of his immacutely-clothed colleagues promised their support on the idea?
Wang is supposed to have spent Rmb2 million of his own cash on consultants to prove the economic benefits of his proposal. But the Ministry of Finance rejected his idea, saying the tax wouldn’t have much impact on the final price of luxury goods sold in China.
This year Wang has said that he felt “fooled” by the response from the Ministry of Finance, which he also described as “very unsatisfactory”.
Unfortunately, what Wang was wearing in Beijing this month goes unrecorded…
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