Ever since China started growing rich, it has had rich-people problems.
True, every nation has issues with income inequality. But rich-people problems in a communist country are different.
In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, writer Jaiyang Fan gives us an in depth look at one source of the trouble.
Fan profiles a number of the children of China’s super rich who’ve been sent to study and live abroad.
They’re called fuerdai.
In this case, the kids are living in Vancouver (though the scene is also repeated in cities like Singapore and London). They come with all the accessories of the global jet set — incredible cars, massive houses, and their own reality YouTube show (it’s called The Ultra Rich Asian Girls of Vancouver).
The problem, though, is that they don’t necessarily feel Chinese, and their parents don’t want them to come home. The parents want social and political stability for their children (and the assets their children take with them).
As one protagonist in the story, a 26 year old named Pam, put it:
“The thing is, I’m not sure I’d fully fit in there now,” she said slowly. “I lack my parents’ Chinese business know-how. Westerners are all about being straightforward and direct. But, when you negotiate a deal in China, it’s all about what’s unsaid, simultaneously hiding and hinting at what you really want. In China, I’m treated like a naïve child, and sometimes I feel like an alien.”
Another woman said that her father said it would be better that she stay in Canada, rather than come home and ruin the family business.
Conform or die
It’s a problem because the fuerdai’s high-profile disconnection from the Chinese Communist Party comes at a time when the country can’t afford large-scale brain drain and capital flight. It can’t afford unrest. It needs everyone to pull in the same direction.
That is because China is trying to manage an major economic transition in the midst of a major economic slow down. It’s going to require painful change.
Brookings Institute senior fellow Jeffery Bader said Xi’s encroachment into all facets of life as a way to prepare for “the massive disruptions that the economic reform program will bring.”
President Xi Jinping knows this, and has been trying to shore up power and strengthen the Chinese identity any way he can — even to those abroad. Since taking office, he’s made a big push for shutting out Western thinking and replacing it with a modern version of what what Communist Party founder Mao Zedong presented as “dialectical materialism.”
To recap, dialectical materialism was the official philosophy of the Soviet communists. Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, later outlined his own version of the philosophy in a 1937 essay. Basically it encourages people to fall into the party line.
This idea is all over state media. Xi said in one meeting that “studying dialectical materialism and historical materialism will help CPC members get better understanding of Marxist philosophy.”
This is his way of re-anchoring China philosophical thought in Maoist principles. He is telling everyone, “Get with the program”.
This all may sound very intangible, but Beijing has put it in practice by targeting high schools, universities and think tanks, and pressuring Western-sounding academics to change their tune.
“Think tanks should stick to Marxist ideology, follow the CPC’s leadership and provide intellectual support to help rejuvenate the nation,” said a report by Chinese state-media agency Xinhua.
It is in this context that the son of China’s richest man, Wang Sicong, told the BBC that “escaping”and living outside China’s strict political system would be suicide.
The fuerdai don’t think this way, however. They have resources from within China, but are not part of the system.
That is why, the word from the CCP is that even Chinese students studying abroad need to fall in line. As the New York Times reported, a recent party document explained how this would be done.
“Assemble the broad numbers of students abroad as a positive patriotic energy,” the document says. “Build a multidimensional contact network linking home and abroad — the motherland, embassies and consulates, overseas student groups, and the broad number of students abroad — so that they fully feel that the motherland cares.”
What China really wants, however, is to have these wealthy Chinese students care about the motherland. That will be tough. If the ‘Rich Asians’ are any indication, they’re having a pretty good go of the West.
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