“The standard is the effect that the content has,” Zhang said. “Can spreading this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious, and work harder for a beautiful life? Or does it cater to people’s vulgar desires?
Douyin, the video platform, said this year it had closed about 4,000 accounts in two months, including those that posted videos of people “spreading renminbi.” Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like lifestyle app, announced last month that it had marked nearly 9,000 rich posts from May to October.
The inequality in China is huge. One percent of Chinese own 31 percent of the country’s wealth, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute. The coronavirus pandemic further exposed the disparities as the rich returned to luxury spending while other Chinese continued to struggle.
If left unchecked, the imbalance could pose a threat to almost total control of the authorities, which is based on a promise of economic comfort. The exorbitant prices of urban housing and the acceleration of competition for white-collar work have made many young people feel that the “dream of China” is out of reach. Even Xi has described the rich-poor gap as an “important political issue” affecting the legitimacy of the party.
But the campaign against the display of wealth, with its focus on cracking down on the traps of wealth, not wealth itself, underscores a broader question of how far Xi’s rhetoric will go. Despite his broad power, Xi still has to adopt tactics that may prove unpopular with the middle class or elites, many of whom have ties to the party. Policies such as property taxes and inheritance taxes have stalled for a long time and labor rights remain weak.
“It’s more about trying to alleviate the public dissatisfaction of certain actors without, at least right now, seriously touching anyone’s cake,” said Zhang Jun, an assistant professor at Hong Kong City University who studies the policy of Chinese class. internet crackdown.
Extravagant materialist displays have long found an enthusiastic online audience, with the Chinese Internet being no exception. In a viral trend in 2018, Chinese users posted photos of themselves lying on the ground surrounded by expensive objects. There is a whole industry to help users look richer than they are.
Authorities began paying attention. In July 2020, the cyberspace administration announced a plan to “thoroughly clean up information that promotes bad values such as comparing or flaunting wealth, extravagant fun, etc.”
The campaign was spurred by widespread state media coverage, with Xinhua, the state news agency, saying the display of wealth “could upset the social atmosphere.” In recent weeks, it gained a new round of attention when Xiaohongshu, the app, invited users to make videos denouncing wealth and promoted them to other viewers.
One of the guests was Yi Yang, a hostel owner in Dujiangyan, a small town in Sichuan Province. Last month, 35-year-old Yi shared a video, with peaceful piano music, of her husband gardening and wrapping wontons as she described how they made their own furniture and grew their own vegetables. He contrasted his lifestyle with the people who bragged online about buying their first sports car or paying in full for the extensive villas.
“We have dreams, we have flowers, we have freedom,” he said. “This is real wealth.”
In an interview, Yi said he was concerned that young people watching flashy videos develop unrealistic expectations. When they fail to achieve similar material wealth, he said, “they will have doubts about society and themselves.”
Others have said that concerns about the display of wealth are exaggerated. On the social networking platform Weibo, some users said that the videos satisfied their curiosity or were just entertaining.
However, despite the government’s strong rhetoric, it is unclear how, and with what rigor, the campaign against the ostentation of wealth is being implemented.
Douyin and Kuaishou were each fined about $ 43,000 in October for allowing an ad that, according to authorities, promoted “excessive consumption.”
Xiaohongshu announced last month that it had improved its algorithm to identify the wealth they show off, but gave no details. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
But apps are still full of status symbols. The search for luxury brands in Xiaohongshu still yields countless results. A blogger showed off her 121 pairs of designer shoes. Another compared the merits of his Fendi, Burberry and Louis Vuitton scarves.
Compared to the total number of posts on these sites, the number marked is “basically nothing,” Zhang said.
And even if all these publications disappeared, he added, little would change about the actual distribution of wealth. “We all know that just because people don’t show pictures of their money, their cars, their handbags and their jewelry doesn’t mean they don’t have the money.” But for some critics of the display of wealth, perhaps the point is to turn to display, not wealth.
Jassie Chen, 38, who was invited by Xiaohongshu to make a video against the display of wealth, said she had no problem getting celebrities to advertise for fashion houses, or her rich friends. publish on glamorous holidays or wear expensive watches. They knew how to be subtle, said Chen, a Beijing university professor who usually posts a blog about professional advice.
His main complaint was with the owners, people who took pictures with bags or cars that they didn’t really have.
“Actually, in my opinion,” he said, “some people have money and some don’t, that’s very normal.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.