Seventy children of Chinese entrepreneurs crammed into a Beijing hotel over the weekend to learn how to behave themselves, as Chinese authorities increase their criticism of the bad behavior by the offspring of the country’s nouveau riche.
A series of scandals – including a Beijing car crash during a road race between young drivers in a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, as well as the online antics of the son of China’s richest man – led to a call last week from President Xi Jinping for officials to guide the nation's "second-generation rich" in “how to behave after becoming affluent.”
The class, now in its third year, was established at the request of an entrepreneur worried about his son’s love of racing cars, according to its organizer, a district government official from Xiamen, in southeastern Fujian province -- one of China’s most freewheeling business environments.
Most of the students work for their parents' companies and come from Fujian, with an average age of 27. In class, they were given a grounding in traditional Chinese culture and morality, with sessions that involved the study of Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist classics, the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper reported. In addition to reciting Confucian scriptures on filial piety, they attended classes on management and economics and were expected to take part in community service activities.
The students – who jetted in from as far away as Tibet and Taiwan – had to donate 1000 yuan -- around $160 -- to charity if they arrived late or missed a session. Course supervisor You Xiaobo said children of wealthy families “often have a sense of superiority” and such strict rules would teach them discipline and responsibility.
One of the attendees was quoted as saying the course would help students to deal with the “pressure” of growing up rich, and would enable them to "raise their level" and contribute to society and the country.
Private entrepreneurs now play a dominant role in the creation of wealth in China, but some observers believe they are still regarded with suspicion by the authorities, and a number of top entrepreneurs have been jailed on financial charges in recent years.
With the Chinese leadership currently cracking down on corruption and seeking to rein in excessive behavior -- as President Xi seeks to shore up the Communist Party’s legitimacy by calling for a return to more traditional socialist values -- last week’s government comments could be seen as a veiled warning to private entrepreneurs and their offspring.
According to the official United Front Work Department, which is organizing the attempt to guide the young and wealthy, “Some rich young people… know only how to show off their wealth but don’t know how to create wealth. If this behavior becomes a common problem for family-run businesses and makes all private entrepreneurs look bad -- or affects social confidence towards private businesses -- it will no longer be simply an economic problem.”
The department urged them to invest in “their businesses, the real economy and charitable endeavors, instead of merely focusing on their quality of life,” and said it would teach them to “increase their faith in the party and the government.”
The comments are the latest example of the increasingly puritanical tone promoted by the government. Earlier this month, the organizers of the Miss World China pageant announced they were abandoning the contest’s trademark bikini round, and would instead send contestants for training with leading Confucian scholars.
Officials have also banned scantily clad models from China’s biggest auto show and digital gaming expo in recent months, and Chinese state media have published a number of articles criticizing “vulgar celebrities" – directed, among others, at Wang Sicong, the son of Wanda Group boss and real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man.
The younger Wang has gained celebrity and notoriety in equal measure on Chinese social media. He was criticized earlier this year after saying that his main criterion for choosing a girlfriend was that she have a large chest. He attracted further criticism after he was reported to have made vulgar comments about his dog on social media and then posted a picture of the same dog wearing two Apple watches.
The Chinese media and online community were also shocked by a case in the U.S., in which six wealthy Chinese young people studying in Los Angeles reportedly kidnapped a female classmate who they then tortured and abused in a public park. Three of those involved were minors, and there was further controversy after one of the parents of those involved tried to pay a witness not to give evidence.
One Chinese media commentary Monday suggested that this bribery attempt was a reminder that many wealthy people in China believe they can behave as they wish, but said that U.S. law might not be so forgiving.
Last week, China sentenced Zhou Yongkang, the nation's former security chief, to life in jail. The case involved bribes of approximately $21 million that were alleged to have been paid to his wife and son by business contacts.
But while there has been plentiful evidence of corruption involving heads of private companies and excessive behavior by their offspring, some of China's wealthy young people believe they are being stereotyped by the media. Lin Han, a 28-year-old contemporary art collector who founded a nonprofit art museum in Beijing’s 798 art district, said in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post that people usually focused on the “worst aspect” of China’s second-generation rich.
“There are many people like me who are making big efforts, but have not received enough attention,” Lin said.