When former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ushered in a new round of economic reforms, he said it was okay if some of the population got rich before others.
Deng clearly hadn’t foreseen the social media age or he would have added the caveat “but please don’t flaunt it”.
Over the last few years there has been an explosion in ‘wealth boasting’ posts – real and pretend – on apps like Kuaishou, Douyin and WeChat. One of the higher-profile examples came from Wang Sicong, son of the billionaire Wang Jianlin, who talked about buying two, limited-edition gold Apple watches for his dog (see WiC284). But there are many more cases – such as people posting photos of expensive clothes and goods, with the price tags on ostentatious display next to them.
Much of this content is fake or designed to help the person become a social media celebrity or influencer, who can then earn some real money. But that doesn’t stop the showing off from being harmful in the eyes of the Chinese government, which wants to play down the growing gap between rich and poor, especially in a year when the Chinese Communist Party is set for its hundredth anniversary.
To curb the trend – known as xuanfu in Chinese – Douyin and Kuaishou have banned ‘wealth flaunting’ and removed content deemed ‘unhealthy’. But the genre has such a wide reach that Douyin needed to list out the various sub-categories of transgression that’s encompassed by the ban.
These included: ‘creating fraudulent rags-to-riches personalities’, promoting ‘money worship or a culture of indulgence’, ‘displaying large amounts of cash’ and ‘ridiculing poor people’.
“Wealth flaunting pollutes the atmosphere of the community and damages peoples’ mental and physical health, especially young people,” Douyin said.
Income inequality is a growing challenge for policymakers and some of the previous debate on the topic has touched on sensitive political areas. In the past the authorities have tried to block the publication of China’s Gini Coefficient, a key marker of social inequity.
More recently policymakers claim to have slowed some of the widening gulf between richest and poorest, although officials worry that wealth differentials are a potential source of social disquiet.
Despite a 70-year history as a Communist country, many Chinese are still obsessed with wealth and status too, as a recent audio recording of a teacher in the eastern city of Tianjin illustrated.
In the recording a teacher called Miss Xiao berates a child whose parents don’t earn as much as the parents of other children in the class. “How much does your mother earn in a month? And your dad? Don’t blame me for despising you,” she is heard as saying.
The teacher has been fired and Douyin said it had deleted almost 4,000 accounts as part of its own purge. Kuaishou reported an even bigger haul, with just over 10,000 deletions. State media said the steps were needed to promote “rational consumption”.
“Only a clean and upright cyberspace can better guide the society,” wrote Xinhua.
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