World of Weibo

Sister Rolls-Royce

A casual brag invites an online backlash

The same week that the national broadcaster aired a drama showcasing the achievements of Xi’s crackdown on corruption (see page 18), a video of a wealthy woman bragging about her political guanxi went viral.

Dubbed “Sister Rolls-Royce” by netizens (because of the luxury car she drives), the woman was filmed casually claiming that in her home city of Harbin she would be able to close off the roads so that she could drive unimpeded.

“Does China today really still have people who dare to so brazenly flaunt their privilege?” one writer asked on, a news website.

Perhaps not, because the video is in fact a snippet from the travel documentary Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure, which was aired by British broadcaster ITV in 2015. It only recently grabbed the attention of China’s online community after it was shown in Taiwan with Chinese subtitles.

Sister Rolls-Royce, or Madame Lu as Lumley refers to her, is the typical tuhao: she even has a gold iPhone, which was considered the unofficial badge of China’s show-off nouveau riche.

“I’m feeling very emotional about this,” one weibo user wrote, “I want to know who she is, and what guanxi she has that lets her dare behave and speak this way! Also, who are her high-level connections?”

Well, ask and you shall receive: the Chinese internet is adept at performing “human flesh searches” and Sister Rolls-Royce was soon discovered to be Lu Bingchun, chairwoman of a finance company in Harbin and the wife of real estate mogul Cao Yongji.

“This woman clearly can’t speak English, and yet she’s involved in high finance and real estate? This is too funny,” a popular comment read.

Lumley and Lu spoke through a translator, with the translator seeming to know more about Lu than she revealed. When asked what business she was in, Lu replied, “Finance.” But the translator elaborated, “Financial services, and also real estate”. The translator at one point was also urged by Lumley to tell Lu to stop using her phone while driving, after her own polite warnings went completely unheeded. “When the foreigner said ‘It’s best not to play with your phone when driving’ this really was a slap in the face to Chinese people,” conceded one weibo user.

The slap probably stung a little harder since Lumley had to educate Lu on road safety while the translator was attempting to explain how rapidly China had developed over the last decades, which some saw as revealing how uncultivated many of the country’s new rich are. As one Weibo user surmised, “We’re not lacking in tuhao, but we do lack a rich class.”

A search on weibo for “Sister Rolls-Royce” now provides Lu Bingchun’s profile as the top result. More surprisingly, it was discovered that in 2011 she really did have a street closed in Harbin, for her father’s birthday celebration.

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