China’s “second generation of rich” likes showing off their money. This group of 20-somethings can be seen driving luxury sports cars, wearing designer brands, or tapping on the latest electronic goodies. Their parents have given them everything they need, without any effort on the kids’ part.
The new wealth of a few Chinese came suddenly, and the result is a substrata of young people who have a skewed and unrealistic outlook on the world. The majority of this group, who have no qualms about spending lavishly in fashionable nightspots, often lack any grasp of the true value of money.
Developed countries have a longer history of personal wealth, and those rich families in developed countries are far beyond their second generation of offspring. There’re plenty of spoilt brats elsewhere in the world, but they’re unusually common in China right now.
The UK possessed, and still does to an extent, a landed aristocracy. Within a small percentage of the population, wealth has been passed on along the bloodline for hundreds of years. As in China, children from rich families often receive the best start in life, going to expensive, and confusingly named, “public schools” like Eton and Harrow that cost around $45,000 a year in school fees.
In China, rich parents can afford to send their children abroad to receive the finest education that money can buy. In 2010, the majority of the 284,000 Chinese students who studied abroad did so through private funding.
Upon returning to China these West-educated graduates are almost certainly in a better position to find employment than their Chinese-educated counterparts; and have little to worry about financially as their tuition fees and living costs have all be taken care of.
The UK government has suffered from an image of being dominated by public school educated, Oxbridge graduates who were able to attain their position thanks to the wealth that they were born in to.
There are signs that majority of high level positions within Chinese industry and commerce are already becoming dominated by the children of wealthy parents, whether through nepotism or the benefit of foreign education.
However, many of second generation of rich show little sign of wanting to enter into politics, content instead with pursuing their own business interests using their parents’ capital.
In the early 20th century, US wealth exploded almost as quickly as China’s. However, at the moment when the US started to hit the dizzying heights of its new wealth, preceded by a period which saw the likes of multi-millionaires like J.D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie take centre stage, the 1929 Wall Street Crash intervened. Overnight, men became penniless. The turn of events provided many with a new perspective upon wealth, and the importance of prudence.
However, as time passes this perspective has waned. The similarities between rich American youngsters and rich Chinese youngsters are clearest in those once-disenfranchised groups where the parents had to struggle for their own wealth. The distinction is often between thinking that wealth is a right rather than a privilege.
The idea that we “should” be rich, and that it has been a long time coming, contributes to the often arrogant approach taken by the so-called second generation rich in all countries. The one-child policy simply makes this more acute in China, just as the concentration of wealth in a few cities like Beijing and Shanghai makes it more visible.
Wealth is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be a divisive issue, but is a natural occurrence within today’s world economy.
The second generation of the rich often incur the ire of the wider society, especially when they act as if they’re entitled to, rather than lucky to have, their unearned riches.
The author is a freelance writer based in Beijing. [email protected]