To join China’s Sports Car Club (SCC), you need two things. First, you have to be able to pay a 10,000 yuan ($1,616) annual membership fee. Second, you need access to an unbelievably expensive sports car.
How expensive exactly? In 2011 Bloomberg reported that a Porsche SE 911 (sold in China for $220,000) was considered entry-level at the Beijing branch — other members had $3.9 million Tramontanas and $4.3 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4s. According to the International Business Times, one branch now requires its members to have a car better than the Porsche Carrera GT, which was first sold in China during 2004 for $448,000.
While it was first formed in 2009 as a simple car enthusiast club, over the years the SCC and its associated social events have become linked with the negative concept of “fuerdai” — young second generation rich known for flaunting their wealth. The club is stirring up elements of class hatred in the communist country.
It’s not totally undeserved. This month, two rumoured members of the SCC began posting photos of their bank accounts online after a bizarre feud over allegations about a “sex party” at a yacht show. One bank account appeared to have over 9.9 billion yuan in it — $1.5 billion.
The screenshots (which may, of course, be faked) crystallized concerns about what the club means for China. On Weibo “SCC” became the number one trending topic, according to the South China Morning Post.
“Thank you SCC,” one Weibo user wrote after the scandal broke. “You make me understand that I’m not living at the bottom of this society, I live 180 floors beneath the bottom.”
“By my current income, I can become a SCC member in 1,000 years,” wrote another. “That is to say, I don’t eat, drink or spend a penny in those 1,000 years.”
While there are reportedly just 1,500 members of the SCC, they have an habit of making news. When the absurdly fabulous life of a young woman in Shenzhen went viral earlier this year, it didn’t take long for people to realise she was an SCC member.
In 2010, GQ China interviewed six Chinese twentysomething members of the Sports Car Club. One notable quote came from a man dating a pretty woman, who then realised her car was “five years out of fashion.”
“Secondhand goods,” the SCC member said, ditching the girl. (GQ China was later forced to pull the issue after it emerged their reporter had not made it clear they were recording the conversations for publication).
Sports cars themselves have become intrinsically linked to corruption in the public imagination. Last year the 4 a.m. car crash of a $1 million Ferrari and subsequent cover-up led to the dramatic sidelining of a key Beijing politician (it’s believed his son was driving the car, and may have been killed in it). One of the more light-hearted aspects of last year’s Bo Xilai scandal was the constant discussion of what car his Harvard student son drives.
For many Chinese citizens, the SCC and sports cars in general seem to represent the big new problem in China — economic inequality.
For example, the monthly membership fees for the SCC are almost twice the average annual salary for Beijing (based on official 2011 data). Even if a person earning this salary paid no taxes and had no other expenses, it would take them almost 50 years to buy a Porsche Carrera GT at $448,000.
As Lily Kuo at Quartz notes, China’s Gini coefficient (a measure of income inequality) was officially 0.47 in 2012, and other studies say it could be as high as 0.61. The global average is 0.44, and 0.61 would be 50 per cent above the “risk level” for social unrest.
Exactly how the SCC feel about being a symbol of inequality isn’t clear (interview requests put in to the group were not answered).
In one 2011 interview English-language interview, two members of the group were asked by a CCTV interviewer how they became so rich. They responded awkwardly, one explaining that he works in shipping and the other saying he is “running a company that’s doing luxury branding and distribution.”
It’s also worth noting that not all of the members are spoiled young fuerdai — one magazine estimated that 30% of members were entrepreneurs themselves (the rest appeared to be second generation rich). Time Magazine spoke to Zhang Kuan, the founder of the Beijing branch, last year. Zhang came from a modest background — his first car was a Volkswagen.
“People in my generation, we always want the next thing,” he told Time. “It’s how we express ourselves and live our dreams.”
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