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In China, Bragging About Your Wealth Can Get You Censored

Financial regulators have cracked down on the country’s tech giants, extracting pledges of loyalty and hefty donations. Tycoons have been detained on corruption accusations. And online, authorities have ordered social media platforms to scrub the hugely popular videos that make clear the gap between the haves and have-nots.

December 26, 2021 / 06:42 PM IST
Three of the five highest grossing movies of 2021 so far have come from China. These include 'Hi, Mom', 'Detective Chinatown 3', and of course 'The Battle at Lake Changjin', which has already earned $859 million at the box office. (Image: Shutterstock)

Three of the five highest grossing movies of 2021 so far have come from China. These include 'Hi, Mom', 'Detective Chinatown 3', and of course 'The Battle at Lake Changjin', which has already earned $859 million at the box office. (Image: Shutterstock)

He started by exploring the sauna, built into the palatial bathroom of the hotel’s presidential suite. Then the video blogger moved to the dining room, where a chef waited with a glistening steak. The next morning, he awoke to a lobster breakfast, which he ate cross-legged in bed.

“Today’s bill: 108,876 kuai,” or more than $17,000, he said after checking out from the hotel in Chengdu, China, waving his receipt at the camera. “I slept away the equivalent of multiple iPhones,” he giggled.

The video was tacky, sure. Ostentatious, definitely. It’s also a violation of Chinese internet regulations.

Chinese authorities have declared war on content deemed to be “flaunting wealth,” amid sweeping calls by Chinese President Xi Jinping to combat inequality. As Xi positions himself for a third term, he has cast himself as a man of the people, leading a campaign against entrenched interests.

Financial regulators have cracked down on the country’s tech giants, extracting pledges of loyalty and hefty donations. Tycoons have been detained on corruption accusations. And online, authorities have ordered social media platforms to scrub the hugely popular videos that make clear the gap between the haves and have-nots.

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The hotel blogger amassed more than 28 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, by posting videos where he toured expensive hotels and sampled delicacies. But after being singled out by state media, he deleted those videos. His recent posts show him trying convenience store snacks.

“We will strengthen our management and increase the power of our crackdown, to make internet platforms feel there is a sword above their heads,” Zhang Yongjun, a senior official at China’s cyberspace administration, said this year.

There is no clear definition of what constitutes flaunting or wealth. Although officials have laid out a few examples, such as showcasing receipts or over-ordering food, they have largely outlined a sort of “I know it when I see it” rule.

“The standard is the effect the content has,” Zhang said. “Can the spread of this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious and work harder for a beautiful life? Or does it cater to people’s vulgar desires?”

Inequality in China is vast. One percent of Chinese own 31 percent of the country’s wealth, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute.

If unaddressed, the imbalance could pose a threat to authorities’ near-total control, which rests on a promise of economic comfort.

(Author: Vivian Wang and Joy Dong)/(c.2021 The New York Times Company)
New York Times
first published: Dec 26, 2021 06:42 pm
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