Wealth In Chinese Society

Wealth In Chinese Society

Since I moved to China, back in 1988, I realized how different the perception of wealth was from the west. While talking about money can be taboo in the West, many Chinese people discuss money without inhibition.

The first time I celebrated Chinese New Year I was given “红包”( Hóngbāo - Red Envelopes) with important sums of money from customers and suppliers during their celebration’s dinners. I was at first embarrassed and initially refused them, but had to accept the present as a sign of respect. I also learned to say “恭喜发财” (Gōngxǐ fācái) translated as to congratulate, respectfully wishing one joy, to become rich, to make money!

To make money! Money, money, money is the mantra in Chinese mentality and there is nothing wrong with it.

With the time, going out and meeting new friends I always got these three fateful questions: - where are you from? - what do you do? - how much do you make a month?

The same was when knowing a female friend, which made all the Italian passion going down to the... freezer bin.

Being a foreigner at a very young age, however, meant only two things: I was either a wealthy student or the son of a wealthy family. I was neither of them. Instead, I was simply enriched with ambition and convinced I could do make it to run my business in such a different country. So, I played like a successful entrepreneur that, at the end of the day, was exactly what everybody was looking at.

But why do Chinese people seem to prioritize wealth above all else?

In the 1960s, Chinese leader Mao Zedong tried to rid the country of capitalist influences.

What followed was a chaotic decade called the Cultural Revolution, when people were encouraged to hand over anyone suspected of harboring capitalist or so-called anti-revolutionary ideas.

The Cultural Revolution left the Chinese economy in ruins and in 1976 a third of the rural population lived below the poverty line.

Deng Xiaoping, a high Communist official, came to power after Mao's death and tried to free the country from poverty. It has implemented reforms that have opened up the Chinese market and encouraged private companies.

In a few decades, China became the second-highest millionaire population in the world. The children of the Chinese nouveau riche called “富二代” (Fù èr dài – Rich Second Generation), and their extravagant lifestyle have become the embodiment of the country's new wealth.

The country's booming private wealth has helped to remove the social taboos that openly discussed money.

In China, today, 80 percent of wealthy citizens are under the age of 45 while that age accounts for just 30 percent in the U.S. and even a lower number in many European countries. They mostly grew up in extreme poverty and they just want to spoil everyone around them and make sure their kids never have to suffer like that.

But even before China's recent economic rise, the Chinese have long been obsessed with fortune.

China has religious traditions that associate money to circumstances.

Even though 90% of Chinese people identify as non-religious, many still subscribe to religious practices and ancient superstitions that purportedly bring benefits in the material world.

While in the west being interested in material things is considered to be religiously bad, there’s something in Chinese religion that is the opposite.

In China, the religious traditions of Taoism and Buddhism have a deep influence on culture, even though most people don’t identify themselves as a follower of a particular religion.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of karma: “Being born into a rich family means that you were a good person in your previous life.”

In Taoism, there even is the God of Wealth, 财神 (Caishen 'God of Wealth' - a person who brings money to someone), that people pray to for wealth to come to them.

Some subscribe to the ideas of feng shui, which personal wealth can come by making adjustments to one’s environment, such as putting a fish tank in a living room.

As a matter of fact, the Chinese believe that by layering their lives with lucky objects and images, they increase their chances of a happy and prosperous existence. There are five symbols that represent the most sought-after values in Chinese culture:

(Fú – Luck)

(Lù – Prosperity)

寿 (Shòu – Longevity)

(Xǐ – Happiness)

(Cai – Wealth)

Wealth, in particular, refers to prosperity attained through flourishing business, trade, or good harvests.

It differs from “prosperity”, which refers to advancement in rank, position, or status. The desire for wealth and success, as I said earlier, does not have negative connotations but is viewed as a component of happiness. The Chinese surround themselves with images of wealth in the hope that their business runs smoothly, and that profit and fortune will soon come their way.
Symbols that represent wealth include goldfish, the number eight, gold and silver ingots, coins, the “money plant”, and, of course, Caishen, the God of Wealth.