Society

In China, Making Money Can Mean Losing Friends

As China’s economy opens up, wealth is accumulating in the hands of a new generation of “very rich.” For the new owner class, money means more power and influence – but it can also breed resentment.

Wealth divide in the parking lot (Mark Heard)
Wealth divide in the parking lot (Mark Heard)
Brice Pedroletti

BEIJING Chinese people may be fascinated by the very rich. But they don't much like them.

Chinese gripes with other people's wealth are popping up everywhere. In early May, information surfaced accusing the public company that runs the former Chinese imperial palace of quietly turning one of the Forbidden City's apartments into a private club for billionaires. The news hit China's Internet community like a bombshell, which reacted with outrage to the corruption scandal.

Wealthy young drivers who consider themselves above the law are another favorite target. In 2010, the son of a local police chief in the city of Baoding struck and killed a female student on the Hebei University campus. What caused a scandal wasn't the accident itself, but the young driver's arrogant behavior. When the police tried to arrest him, the young man – expecting special treatment – cried: "My father is Li Gang!" For Chinese Internet users, the now-famous phrase became a symbol of impunity.

In 2011, the public was treated to another grizzly story involving a young man and an automobile. After hitting a young woman with his car, Yao Jiaxin, a student, finished the victim off by stabbing her several times. Observers were quick to describe this tragic incident as a sign that money-obsessed China is losing its moral bearings. Yao Jiaxin explained his actions by saying he thought the girl, were she to live, would try to extort money from him. Yao Jiaxin was sentenced to death and executed last June.

In Chinese it's called chou fu – hatred towards rich people. Signs of it are everywhere. According to some analysts, it is the result of a gradual, 30-year-long process of opening the economy and allowing wealth to accumulate in the hands of select individuals. In the past, Chinese inheritance laws prevented wealth from being passed along to the next generation. That has now changed.

Second-generation wealth

"When a reckless young man drives a BMW, he is considered a member of the ‘rich second generation," If he is caught, it increases tenfold the anger people feel," says Yang Yiyin, from the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). According to Yiyin, Chinese people do not object to wealth in and of itself. "They all want to be rich! Particularly when considering that most of the people who became rich these last 30 years were poor before," he says.

Nowadays, however, people "are convinced that it has become far more difficult for them to rise socially than in the 1980s," adds Yiyin. "When they think about the reasons why these people were able to become rich, they can't help thinking that they must have done it illegally in some way. The Chinese consumer-citizen feels powerless."

Guo Yuhua, a sociologist at the University of Tsinghua, in Beijing, puts it a slightly different way: "People don't hate the rich. They hate the fact that power knows no control. Those who have power do what they want. They can exchange their favors for an apartment, a car, or even their professional status!"

Because of the recent speculation bubble, the race to buy real estate has split the population in two: owners and non-owners. The privatization of urban real estate over the past 20 years in China has helped the urban middle class gain wealth. But it did nothing for the rural lower-class, which still lives on collective lands.

For the growing number of wealthy Chinese, resentment from others, may help account for rising rates of emigration. A recent study by the management consulting firm Bain & Company found that 60% of "high return investment individuals' – people with at least $1.5 million to invest – have already moved abroad or consider doing so. And among the "super rich," people with more than $15.4 million, roughly a quarter decided to change their nationality.

Still, links between the different social classes exist: in big cities, many former migrant workers are now entrepreneurs operating small businesses. According to researchers Gilles Guiheux and Pierre-Paul Zalio at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, young people come from out of town to work in the service sector as "white-collar migrants." They work in less than ideal conditions, but sometimes the job pays well.

Is the Chinese dream turning sour? In Guo Yuhua's opinion, today's expressions such as "rich second generation," "second generation executives' and "second generation migrants' all reflect "opportunities closing." Power, he explains, is passed down from generation to generation. But so is poverty.

In addition, many Chinese who would be part of the middle class in other countries – civil servants, small business owners, teachers and executives – refuse to be considered as such in China. Why? Because, according to Guo Yuhua, they have no sense of professional or economic security. "Your flat can be demolished overnight. You can be evicted. There's no guarantee of any stability," he says.

To protect themselves, Chinese people want to become rich, very rich… even if it means that they will be despised.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Mark Heard

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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