Currency of the Week: Panbucks

The  comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese  and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.

Pānbì 潘币

One Panbuck from the “SOHO Real Estate Bank of China.” SOHO China, Pan’s real estate company, is the biggest developer in Beijing. (Artist: Rebel Pepper)

A fictional invented by netizens to mock property tycoon and simultaneously express disgust with the housing bubble. Pan is the chairman of SOHO China, China’s largest prime office real estate developer, a firm he co-founded with his wife Zhang Xin in 1995.

Steve Jobs’ death on October 5, 2011 triggered an enormous reaction from Chinese netizens. On Weibo, Beijing real estate tycoon Pan Shiyi chimed in with the following post:

PanShiyi (@潘石屹): Apple’s board of directors should make the following decision: To immediately manufacture iPhones and iPads that are under 1000 yuan [about US$157] so that more people can afford Apple products. This is the best way to commemorate Jobs.

“苹果”董事会应该马上做一决定:大量生产1000元人民币以下一部的iPhone手机和iPad,让更多(人)用上”苹果”,这是对乔布斯最好的纪念。[Chinese]

One netizen replied:

@TangRouding9983 (@唐若丁9983): When Mr. Pan passes away some day, your company should offer homes that are under RMB1000 per square meter. Over a billion people will commemorate you then.

潘总哪天要也去世了,也请贵公司推出1000一平米的房子吧,十几亿人民都会纪念您。[Chinese]

Pan soon deleted the original post, but his new title, “1000 Pan,” spread rapidly. Netizens turned their frustration at China’s housing bubble on Pan by naming a new form of money, the Panbuck (Pānbì 潘币, literally “Pan currency”), in his honor. The base unit of the currency is derived from @Tangrouding9983‘s suggestion: one Panbuck is equivalent to 1000 yuan per square meter. Thus, an apartment that normally costs 24,000 yuan per square meter would only cost 24 Panbucks per square meter.

In May 2017, exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui, who has known connections to China’s Ministry of State Security and is engaged in a heated publicity battle with Zhongnanhai, levied allegations of bribery and bid-rigging against Pan Shiyi. Pan was one of many businessmen, media professionals, and ranking Party officials targeted by Guo’s many unverified claims in recent months. After Pan denied the allegations, Guo chided him to file a lawsuit. In June, Pan became the first to publicly strike back at Guo by filing a defamation suit against him in New York.

Years after netizens created the Panbuck, resentment of the superheated and the government’s sometimes intrusive efforts to cool it down continue to fester in major Chinese cities. Helen Gao described these frustrations on Thursday in an op-ed at The New York Times:

More than just a place to live, private housing in the past two decades came to underpin the aspirations of urban Chinese. Homeownership, especially in cities, proved to be a reliable investment outlet. The skyrocketing values of housing have been providing money for sickness and old age in a country where the state has largely dismantled the welfare system. Real estate profits have allowed parents to finance their children’s education abroad.

But the impressive size and wealth of the propertied class belies the growing strains plaguing new home buyers. The country now has some of the least affordable housing markets in the world. The ratio of median home price to median income, a common measure of affordability, in most first-tier cities has soared to higher than that of London.

[…] To address the overheated , city governments should stop relying on stopgap measures that encumber urban residents and just exacerbate the problem over time. Instead, they need to devise long-term structural solutions, such as delinking housing and public services like schooling, or increasing the subsidized-housing supply, to fix market imbalances. […] [Source]

These issues have boiled over in separate protests in Beijing and Shanghai this week, stemming from municipal crackdowns on apartment buildings in commercially zoned districts that have set property values plummeting in recent months. Residents of the Zijinxinganxian community in Beijing’s Changping district staged two days of protest after learning that their children would be bussed to school in a less affluent area. In Shanghai, hundreds of residents reportedly took part in a tense standoff with police in a shopping district over a similar crackdown on commercial-zoned real estate, and web-users shared images of the protest along with critique of authorities.

Can’t get enough of subversive Chinese netspeak? Check out our latest ebook, “Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang.” Includes dozens of new terms and classic catchphrases, presented in a new, image-rich format. Available for pay-what-you-want (including nothing). All proceeds support CDT.