And Finally

To the manor born

How a French palace symbolises China’s new style of online showing off


The inspiration for it all...

Louis XIV – the longest reigning monarch in European history, with more than 72 years on the throne – ­­is remembered as the inspiration for Louisiana, a southern state in the US.

In China this winter one of his more direct creations was making headlines, however, with ‘Versailles Literature’ trending online as a term for how to flaunt one’s wealth.

To be considered ‘Versailles’ – a reference to the opulent palace that Louis built 12 miles from Paris – a post on social media must show off a superior lifestyle but with a hint of some form of self-ridicule.

Essentially the idea is to present a situation that is both bothersome but also an appropriate source of envy. “It’s so annoying that this house is too big. Even if I switched to a new bedroom every day, I still couldn’t sleep in them all” is a classic example of the genre.

A post that is ‘Versailles’ might also include references to foreign places or people. Frequently English vocabulary is inserted into the Chinese text.

“Yesterday I went to Lisa’s party [the English name is deliberately deployed] to have fun. I met a blond-haired, blue-eyed stud. He said I was very pretty (I’m very fat), and he said my English pronunciation is very authentic, identical to that of a California native. Maybe it’s because growing up I had a Yale-graduate tutor me from home.”

The idea behind the ‘Versailles’ boasting is to treat extravagance as commonplace. Luxury should never be a source of surprise to the person concerned, no matter how extreme the lifestyle. Any reaction to gifts, compliments and privilege should suggest that it is a completely normal occurrence too.

‘Versailles Literature’ was created and popularised by a weibo user who goes by the name of ‘Creamer’. She has even conducted classes online to teach people about the practice, although the theme gained new momentum on social media this month after she announced the death of ‘Versailles’.

“November 8th is the day Versailles Literature dies. Everyone please offer a moment of mourning,” she wrote. “Versailles is only for the select, the elite, and only the most sophisticated nobles have the right to participate.”

Creamer’s censure implied that she was irked that ‘Versailles’ postings had become a bit too mainstream. However, her posting earned widespread attention on weibo, igniting an even bigger wave of interest. Many were inspired to contribute to a “one person, one Versailles sentence” competition, trying to use the fewest words to express the most absurd opulence.

Although Creamer popularised ‘Versailles’ on the Chinese internet the initial idea behind the term originates from the comic The Rose of Versailles. The 1970s Japanese manga series, written and illustrated by Ikeda Riyoko, was inspired by French queen Marie Antoinette. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the comic described the selfish indulgence of the royal household, none of whom had any regard for more ordinary folk.

A similar fascination with lives of great wealth, including the rise of ‘new money’ elites in China, has launched movie franchises like Tiny Times, which transports its viewers into the high-fashion, moneyed world of Shanghai (see WiC245). More recently Nothing But 30, a TV show also based in Shanghai, portrayed the lifestyles of China’s ultra rich and how they displayed their vast fortunes (see WiC506).

People are mostly partaking in the ‘Versailles’ trend as a joke or as a means of escapist fantasy. But it also signals the vast gulf in wealth between the richest Chinese and the majority. The country’s Gini coefficient – a measure of inequality in income – is about 60% higher than countries in Europe, for instance, and well above the Asian average too. That implies a much more imbalanced society in wealth terms, which is something of an embarrassment for a self-described socialist economy, even though Xi Jinping’s government has been striving to narrow the income gap in recent years.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.