Money buys a yacht and a rubber stamp

2011-03-11Asia Times

BEIJING - The extraordinary and surprising news on China came from Italy this week: the majority of Italy's most expensive yachts and boats last year were sold to China.

Yet, some in China who own a plane - perhaps a million-dollar Gulfstream that even parked on land costs as much as renting an apartment - don't fly it; those who own a vessel - maybe a multimillion dollar Italian motorboat for which berthing fees also cost the same as an apartment - don't sail it.

The reason is that restrictions by the air force and the navy can at times curtail private activity in the skies and on the sea.

However, in China private planes and boats are selling better than anywhere else in the world. Within this funny paradox, the social and cultural profile of many Chinese nouveau riche is revealed. They have plenty of cash, they want to quickly amass the symbols of power and wealth that in other parts of the world took many generations to acquire. But most of all, they don't have a sense of how difficult becoming rich can actually be.

The new Chinese rich are businessmen with strong political connections, but they are non politicians; they feel everything was fast and easy to achieve. Twenty years ago they were underfed, today they are the top of the world affluence; so they feel deep in their flesh and bones that making money is easy and thus money can be spent even more easily.

However, Chinese, businessman or not, doesn't like squandering. They know that good stuff is expensive, that's why they want to get good things at a bargain. Once they see something worth the money, they buy it up, thus satisfying both the taste for profit and spending.

For example, the boom in boats purchasing came because they are very durable goods which with time do not lose value but gains it.

They share a great passion for culture and like to be called ru shang, scholarly businessmen. They love music, painting, theatre and history but politics is taboo. The social pact enabling them to get rich is based on their not interference in what is "not their business".

The government allows them to get rich and even to dodge taxes, as long as they don't meddle in politics. Surely at the ongoing plenary session of the National People's Congress, they have been generously invited.

Reportedly, the 70 richest people out of the 3,000 members of the Chinese parliament have a total fortune of 493.1 billion yuan (US$75 billion). The 70 richest people out of the 535 members of the US Congress own $4.8 billion in total. However, these comparisons are misleading. The Chinese parliament does not take many decisions; it is mostly an advisory body, so it is fair enough that the biggest private taxpayers are at least partially involved in a political system based on consensus not majority decisions.

Moreover, the Chinese representation is quite assorted.

Among the three thousands, there are billionaires, writers, historians, scientists, famous directors and actors, even mullahs and priests. In this assembly everybody is included, or at least everybody who is anybody and is willing to cooperate with the government.

The money of the rich serves also this purpose, to be introduced to best political salons, even if just as privileged spectators. Maybe this also is like owning a plane or a sailboat without actually using it.  (2011-03-11 Asia Times)


+MoreOther Commentary