Quick story, which is good ’cause we are on the cusp of a week-long holiday here in Chinaland. Longtime readers of this blog know that I have a somewhat eclectic taste when it comes to topics. But the tale I am about to tell you has it all: income inequality, intellectual property infringement, heck, even social media and the Internet. It’s the China Hearsay Rosetta Stone.
Courtesy of the Ministry of Tofu blog, here are the basics:
A user “Little Xixi Xi” achieved a certain notoriety and triggered the powerful human flesh search engine on Sina Weibo, after she posted a photo of herself carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag on one hand, and a Hermes Birkin bag on the other.
If you’ve forgotten, the “human flesh search engine” phenomenon refers to the practice of information gathering by Netizens, often confidential personal details of folks accused of wrongdoing. Some call them vigilantes or nuisances, others see them as heroes. Depends on who they’re going after at the time.
In this case, you’ve got some dizzy chick who posted a photo of herself with two designer bags. She’s proud of her toys and wants to show them off. Natural instinct, I suppose. She has pics of handbags; I do the same thing with my cats.
Netizens were not amused. They went after her with a vengeance. Why? It’s just not cool to flaunt your wealth these days. So the mob started digging and came up with the following:
In this case, they found that the real name of “Little Xixi Xi” is You Yixi. Her father is You Chenghua, the deputy chief of Jinping County, Guizhou province. A net user who sounds like an insider even said, “She now goes to college in Guiyang (Jing: capital city of Guizhou province), and often buys luxury goods. She plunks down at least several thousand yuan at a time, and often tens of thousand.”
Oops. Yeah, the human flesh search engine crowd is not too partial to corruption by government officials. If this girl is spending Daddy’s cash, which turns out to be the ill-gotten gains of a public servant, the online mob is going to go apeshit.
Well, things got ugly, and Daddy’s bosses started to ask uncomfortable questions. That’s when Daddy pushed back with a cover story: the “designer” bags were just cheap knock-offs! Nothing to worry about here!
This is where my head exploded. If you compartmentalise these issues (i.e. corruption and IP), then it all makes sense. But together, this is really surreal. To summarize, Daddy is saying “My daughter/me would never flaunt our wealth (which we don’t have of course). She doesn’t buy expensive things, she buys products from known counterfeiters!”
Daddy was rather forceful with this cover story, allegedly saying: “I pledge with my 27 years of (Communist) Party membership that I saw with my own eyes that a mail carrier delivered a 80-yuan bag to my home.” This was backed up by Dutiful Daughter, who insisted that she bought the bags on Taobao for around RMB 200.
Did the Netizens buy it? No way. More digging ensued, and Dutiful Daughter was now not only being accused of owning expensive accessories, but of attempting a really weak cover-up of the fact. Moreover, Netizens also claimed that she was romantically involved with a Sugar Daddy, a rich dude into shady construction deals. This may have taken some of the pressure off of her father with respect to corruption charges, though.
The best part of this wonderful story? No one even bothered to point out that even if everything said by Daddy and Dutiful Daughter was correct, that would mean the girl was admitting to buying knock-offs, and Daddy, a government official, was practically boasting about it.
Is this messed up or what? Well, actually it makes a lot of sense. Just going by domestic politics and government policy priorities, we already knew that flaunting one’s wealth is definitely a mortal sin in China these days, but purchasing counterfeits is merely a venial sin.
This place is so complicated. Makes me tired. I’m glad we’re heading into a long holiday.
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