We already know that there’s a pretty great amount of resentment towards the rich – not to mention, a wide perception of corruption – here in China, so it’s probably not surprising that a People’s Daily poll recently discovered that over 90% of people think the neo-rich got their wealth by networking with government officials.
The poll found that 74% of people felt the key to success for nouveau riche – usually private entrepreneurs and especially those people that feature on lists like Forbes’ 400 Richest in China and Hurun’s categorization of the same – was “being good at networking with officials.” Only 16% were willing to attribute fortunes to “wisdom and hard work of family members.”
Even with a good one-eighth of pollsters admitting that rich people might have spent some effort getting where they are, only 3% actually had “OK” or “very good” impressions of the upper class. 69% were inclined to think “badly” or “really badly” about the newly rich.
But as much antagonism as the new rich bring, especially with their unabashed flaunting of their money and their tendency to do stupid things like run over poor people in their luxury sportscars, perhaps all that anger would be more useful if directed at much more insidious, and actually provably corrupt figures: SOE bosses.
Says Cai Jiming, director of the Center for Political Economy at Tsinghua University, “It is natural to understand the public’s anger but we should also be aware that the wealth and deals of bosses in State-owned enterprises are more lacking in transparency.”
Citing that same study suggesting that 90% of China’s fortunes were held by 0.4% of the population that officials quickly denied last year, Cai pointed out that many of the rich on China’s richest people lists were “unknown” and were likely obtaining their wealth through abusing industry monopolies or public rights. Incidentally, The Sydney Morning Herald’s John Garnaut has an interesting take down of how SOE officials/bosses end up cheating the public out of tons of money. While most their methods tend to be complicated machinations involving off-shore accounts and manipulating markets, Garnaut (or, more specifically, his source) provided a simple example of how they can use connections to make money as well:
“My friend uses his dad’s connections to persuade the port authority to allow particular ships to load,” says Lee’s business partner. “Ships would rather give the money to my friend and the port officials than waste it out at sea. If they don’t pay a ‘bonus’ then there’s no way they can load their stuff in time. That’s why port officials can earn a BMW per day if they want to, or at least one per week. And that’s why smaller or foreign companies can’t make money because there’s no way for them to get their ships loaded efficiently and cleared to leave.”
Yeesh, compared to that, the nouveau riche are annoying but generally pretty harmless. As Cai states, “While for the private entrepreneurs, I believe they need more guidance, but generally speaking, the booming of the private economy is doing much more good than harm to the nation…” Hmmm, we suppose that’s as long as you’re not getting the worst of both worlds – like Huang Guangyu of Gome and his Guangdong official partners.