LIFESTYLE OF THE RICH AND WEALTHY IN CHINA

LIFESTYLE OF THE RICH IN CHINA

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Cartiers in Beijing
The rich in China are generally characterized as thinking only about money and themselves and having little a social conscience. Many are quite ostentatious with their wealth. They run around in expensive cars; live in gaudy mansions; send their children abroad to school so they can brag about it; wear flashy clothes and diamond studded Rolexes; and act with a certain haughtiness that comes with knowing that in China having money allows one to behave as if they are above the law. A lot of people with money travel around with an entourage.

China is now the No. 3 buyer of Rolls Royces. In 2006, demand in China for the new $381,000 Phantoms was so high that Rolls Royce hired 200 new employees and required existing workers to put in double shifts. Items offered at the Shanghai Millionaire’s Fair include diamond-studded cell phones, French chocolates and $100,000 purebred dogs. At the second annual fair in 2007. 11,000 people showed up.Italian luxury brands are highly sought after. One woman at a luxury shopping mall in Shanghai told Reuters, “I definitely would not buy any named brand products that are “Made in China “...It’s a real turn off...If you are rich and buy fakes, you would really lose face.”

The Chinese edition of Vogue is so thick with advertisements you have to be a weightlifter to carry it. Wealthy Shanghai ladies sit in the front rows at Paris fashion shows, where movies stars and European nobility once sat. In 2011, vending machine in rich shopping areas of Beijing began selling gold bullion. [Source: The Times.]

“More Chinese professionals and entrepreneurs than ever are settling abroad, partly due to dissatisfaction with their home country’s rigid political system. Latest polls in China show that at least 60 percent of residents in upper-income brackets had either completed procedures for emigration to Western countries or were about to do so [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation, May 6, 2011]

Big Spending Chinese

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Fendi fashion show at the Great Wall
Many of the big spenders in Ginza these days are Chinese, snapping up designer-label goods by the dozen and dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars in single shopping spree. There are so many of them in fact that stores have began hiring Chinese-speaking staff. A survey in 2009 by the Global Research Fund based tax-refunded tourist spending found that Chinese have displaced Russians as the biggest shoppers in France

The Chinese are challenging Russians and Middle Easterners for the title of the biggest spenders in London’s West End. According to figures kept by the New West End Company, which keeps track of sales on Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets in London , the average Chinese shopper spends $1,300 and were spending 21 percent more in 2009 than they were in 2008 and spending almost $1,500 per person on Bond Street, more than Americans, slightly less than Russians and a few hundred less than Middle Easterners.

According to Jane Tyrell of New West End Company, the Chinese market “is relatively new. Like many emerging market the rich come first. Then as the middle class gets money, they start traveling too. These groups want luxury---top-end jewelry and designer suits. For us its smaller in volume, but much higher in terms of what the transactions are worth to us.”

There are so many super rich Chinese that China is now one of the hottest markets for private planes even though flight restrictions make them difficult to use in China. Many private planes have no legal identity and are flown secretly with out their flight plan being reported to air traffic controllers.

The rich in China are buying more and more luxury boats. As of 2010 there were about 1,000 Chinese-owned luxury yachts mored around China. That number is expect to rise to 10,000 by 2015. The head of the China Cruise and Yacht Association told AFP, rich Chinese businessmen “want to go out on the ocean and have fun---and take VIP clients and negotiate deals.” Power boats are more popular than sailboats mainly because they are easier to operate.

Increasing demand for race horses from China is breathing fresh life into Japanese stud farms. Organizations and wealthy Chinese organize horse races while riding and polo are becoming popular among the rich. A single horse farm in Jilin bought over 100 horses from Hokkaido stud farms. In Hokkaido in Japan, Chinese are buying up vacation homes near golf courses and ski resorts at bargain prices and purchasing troubled manufacturers of ski-wear and golf clubs (Phoenix and Homma Golf) to go along with them.

How China’s Rich Spend Their Money

Clifford Coonan wrote in the Irish Times: A few floors down in one of Shanghai’s ritziest hotels, at a showcase fair for China’s luxury-minded billionaires, Norah Jones warbles softly through Harman Kardon speakers as Rupert Hoogewerf, publisher of the Hurun Report, which counts China’s wealthy and analyses what they do, lists off the brands favored by the country’s rich: Patek Philippe watches, Mercedes E-Class cars, Gulfstream jets, Armani suits, Azimut yachts and Louis XIII brandy. [Source: Clifford Coonan Irish Times, January 22, 2011]

“They also like to spend money on diamonds---no surprise there---wine, travel and their children’s education, a message that our universities are well aware of as they try to woo Chinese students to study in Ireland. More than 50 per cent of rich parents are sending their children to schools in the US and Britain. Canada is ranked third, followed by Switzerland. [Ibid]

“More than 50 per cent of the mainland’s wealthiest, who each have assets of more than 10 million yuan ($1.57 million), spend between one million yuan ($157,000) and three million yuan ($,,000) every year, and own more than three cars. These cars---the white BMW 7-Series, the black Audi A6 models with extended wheelbases, the Porsche Cayenne SUVs---throng China’s fabulous new network of motorways. [Ibid]

“Even more than watches, or cars, or yachts, what China’s wealthy people like to buy is property. Their main investment choice is real estate. Half of the richest people on the Chinese mainland are spending at least a million yuan ($157,000) a year, mainly on real estate, luxury watches and diamonds, and Rupert Hoogewerf, head of the Hurun research group, says this shows that luxury brands have a very special place here. “Lots of people like to receive luxury brands to improve their status. It’s a noticeable trend,” Hoogewerf says. “The time for China to learn from Europe is over. People here are becoming better educated. They are getting to know luxury brands that are not even familiar to some Europeans.” [Ibid]

“Ni Xiao owns a chain of shops and spends a lot of his money on the stock market. “My monthly outgoings are about 100,000 yuan [$15,700], which I spend on eating, entertainment and my girlfriends. I travel a lot to the US. I probably spend about a third of my time there. My annual income is about four million yuan [$629,100], and I own a few apartments in Beijing and Shanghai.” [Ibid]

“Zhang Hongli, marketing manager of a publishing company, owns two apartments in Beijing and one in her home town, in Hubei province. “I never spend more than 100,000 yuan [$157,000] a year on luxury items, which is about a third of my income,” she says. [Ibid]

“Zhang Yue, an actor, spends between 30,000 yuan ($4,720) and 50,000 yuan ($7,860) on shopping each month. “Most of this is on luxury brands, because as an actress I need it. Together my husband and I spend about a million yuan [$157,000] a year, and we change our cars frequently. My annual income is more than 500,000 yuan [$78,000], and we own five or six apartments here in Beijing.” [Ibid]

“Mr Yang, a marketing manager in a foreign company, is buying a present for his girlfriend in the China World Trade center shopping mall. “My monthly expense is around 30,000 yuan [$4,720 ], and my annual income is around 600,000 yuan [$94,000]. I seldom buy luxury things for myself, but, as all girls love Louis Vuitton bags or Chanel, sometimes I buy this for my girlfriend. My expense on luxury things is about 100,000 yuan [$15,700] to 150,000 yuan [$23,600] per year.” [Ibid]

Young and Rich in China

It is not uncommon to find company bosses who drive around in $100,000 BMWs to be in their mid or late 20s.

Young people with money flock to the Babyface club on Guangzhou’s Pearl River and drink $12 Flaming Lamborghinis, one of the clubs most popular drinks.

Explaining why a new golf clubhouse in Ningpo was being built next to perfectly fine 10-year-old one, an employee at the golf club explained, “Rich people in Ningo are quite young. It’s not like the U.S. where rich people tend to be older. Things in China change so fast, you have to build quickly. You have to renew your stuff very quickly to catch the new people.”

The developers Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, a married couple, are regarded as the king and queen of the Beijing nouveau riche elite. At the Olympics they hosted a party for over 1,000 of their best friends and business contact at the Commune at the Great Wall. Among those in attendance were media tycoon Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendi Deng and Baidu.com CEO Robin Li.

China’s Newly Rich Flaunting Their Wealth

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MG TD
Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, China’s newly rich love luxury products---imported French handbags, Italian sports cars---and even more, they love to show off their bling. That seems to be creating headaches for China’s communist rulers, who after three decades of exhorting their subjects to get rich are facing growing discontent over a widening income gap. Officials now talk about making sure wealth is more evenly distributed, and how to get the rich to tone it down. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, August 18 2011]

It doesn’t help the government’s case when the rich keep showing off their bling. Exhibit A might be a 20-year-old woman calling herself “Guo Meimei Baby.” Guo---whose name “Meimei” means “Pretty, pretty”---became a recent Internet sensation in China, and prompted a national scandal, when she posted photos of herself on her microblog posing with her collection of imported Hermes handbags and showing off her white Maserati sports car, called “little horse,” and her (married) boyfriend’s orange Lamborghini, called “little bull.”

The initial outrage was over suspicion that she was linked to China’s largest, government-run charity. But many here said the “Guo Meimei scandal,” as the story became known, exposed a common, and unflattering, aspect of China’s headlong rush to get rich: a tendency among China’s new super-rich to show off how much money they have. “People like showing off their wealth,” said Yang Xu, who runs a shop called Vogue 2 that specializes in secondhand designer handbags. “The consumption of luxury products has grown too fast. It’s beyond anybody’s imagination.” In his shop, for example, Hermes bags have become more popular than the Louis Vuitton brands for a simple reason: They are more expensive.

Experts say the phenomenon of showing off wealth is a complex one, rooted in China’s long struggles with poverty and famine and a sense that expensive possessions confer a higher social status. ‘showing off wealth shows that China’s economic development has not been long, and Chinese society’s psychology of consumption is still not mature,” said Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “In China, wealth is the only criteria to measure social status. People hope to show they have a higher social status by wearing luxurious brands.”

Many of those who show off tend to be the newly rich, and they are often young---the children of wealthy parents, the “rich second generation,” or young women with wealthy boyfriends or suitors. “They want other people to look up to them,” Ouyang said of the Guo Meimei phenomenon. “They want people to know that other people love them and take care of them.” “The deeper reason for this showing-off phenomenon in China is that luxury products help your personal confidence,” Ouyang said. “If you wear designer clothes, or carry a designer shopping bag, people will give you more respect. A bartender will give you excellent service. . . . If you go shopping or to have lunch, an Hermes bag is like your ID card---it’s a really important ID card.”

Wealth and Vanity, Taken Too Far

On popular microblogging sites, many in China are openly questioning whether the country’s new creed of amassing wealth has gone too far. For example, a professor at the prestigious Peking University was widely criticized recently after he used his personal microblog to tell his former students not to come visit him if they had failed to make at least $6 million by the time they turned 40.

Also, a millionaire in Shanxi province caused a stir and became the subject of a video that went viral after a guard at a Qing Dynasty tomb site told him that the underground tombs were closed to the public. The millionaire began throwing cash at the guard’s feet, demanding to go inside and claiming he had enough money to buy the ancient tombs.

But not all luxury consumers here are into showing it off. Zhang Yan, a 30-year-old shop assistant at a shopping mall, has several designer bags and is a particular fan of Louis Vuitton. But when she goes to work, she carries a simple Coach bag, mainly because it is more low-key. ‘some of my workmates can’t afford it,” Zhang said, ‘so I don’t want to show my Louis Vuitton or something to them.”

Even Guo seems to have conceded that she perhaps went too far. In her first television interview since causing the stir, Guo, seated with her mother, told a Chinese television host that when she came to Beijing to study acting at the film academy, she became afflicted by “vanity.” A nervous-looking Guo also admitted that only two of her Hermes handbags were real. Yes she also admitted that it was true she owned a Maserati, a present for her 20th birthday, but she said her second car was not a Lamborghini---merely a Mini Cooper.

Luxury Car Consumers in China

In 2011, Chinese bought more Lamborghinis and Rolls-Royces than anybody else in the world. In time for Chinese New Year this month, Rolls is unveiling a "Year of the Dragon" model with hand-embroidered versions of mythical animals on leather headrests. Prices start at $1.6 million. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2012]

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Audi sports car
When Zheng Huizhong was growing up in the Henan countryside, he was proud his father owned a three-wheeled farm tractor. Back in the 1970s, that was as automated---and fast---as most people could get in rural China. Today, however, he is out shopping on Beijing's swanky Jinbao (Treasure) Street for an addition to his Bentley and cannot quite decide which 300km/h (190mph) sports car to splash out on. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian July 11, 2011]

"I like Aston Martins because I used to watch James Bond films. But I think I prefer Ferrari, even though they are more expensive," muses the former farm boy, who has made a fortune as a yacht salesman. Each of these cars cost more than 4m yuan [£390,000] but price is not Zheng's main concern. "Turning heads with a luxury car is not as easy as it used to be. They are common now. Many people can afford them," he says. "So I focus on comfort."

It is an increasingly familiar story as ranks of wealthy Chinese move from bike to Bentley and moped to Merc in a generation. This has not only transformed the streets of Beijing, it is reshaping the business strategies of the world's biggest carmakers.

Luxury Car Makers and the Chinese Market

Jinbao Street,a leafy promenade between the Forbidden City and the central business district which aims to be Beijing’s Ginza district, feature is a clutch of car showrooms. One side of the street is home to Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Maserati, Jaguar and BMW. On the other, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Mercedes. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian July 11, 2011] Most of these luxury brands have only moved in within the past few years, but the chief outlets on this street---and others like it in Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou---have rapidly become the leading profit centres for the world's prestige carmakers.

Maserati and Lamborghini have introduced uncharacteristic SUVs with the Chinese market in mind, after the success of Porsche Cayenne SUV in China. In 2011 more Rolls Royces were old in China than anywhere else in the world. The car company has stepped up its marketing effort in China so that a purchaser of a $1 million Bentley Mulsanne can now drive the car out of the show room the same day of purchase (only a few years before one had to wait 10 months for such a car. The new Rolls Royce Phantom II series includes special holders for champagne flutes that are intended to “elevate the spirit of ecstacy to a new level of sensory indulgence” among Chinese buyers. [Source: The Times.]

Sales of ultra-luxury vehicles in China have increased by 30 percent a year. Bentley sells more cars in China than in Britain, with China accounting for 25 percent of its sales. Mercedes-Benz opened a new design studio in Beijing. Mercedes---one of the first foreign firms into the market---announced the highest monthly worldwide car sales in the company's 110-year history which it attributed to sales in China. . BMW has also just attributed its best ever six-monthly sales to high demand in China.

Audi---another early arrival sold more than 200,000 cars in China last year, nearly overtaking Germany as its biggest market. Its vehicles are now the must-have status symbol for Communist party cadres and government officers. According to the finance ministry, the government spent 86 billion yuan last year on official cars. Audi have tried to cement their hold on this lucrative niche by customising models with temperature-controlled holders for the tea-flasks carried around by officials.

In 2010, Lamborghini sales tripled in China to 247 cars, Rolls-Royce's rose 146 percent to 678 cars---overtaking the UK and on course to soon surpass the US. "It will only be a matter of time before the market becomes the largest market in the world for the company," Jenny Zheng, general manager of Rolls-Royce' regional office, told China Daily. Bentley's sales almost doubled to nearly 1,000 cars, making it the firm's third-biggest market. Porsche---which has been in China for 10 years sold 13,800 cars, up 60 percent from 2009. In recognition of where growth is coming from, Volkswagen, which encompasses the Audi, Bentley and Bugatti marques, plans to invest an extra $15bn (£9.3bn) in a joint venture by 2015. [Source: China Daily]

Flaunting Wealth on China’s Roads

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Cars have become one of the most visible symbols of an increasingly divided society. The Aston Martin Rapide---which Zheng is considering---has a six-litre engine, a top speed of 303kmph and a price tag of 4 million yuan. This is almost twice as expensive as in the west due to high import tariffs. According to the Hurun Rich List, China has almost a million dollar-millionaires, each of whom owns an average of three cars. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian July 11, 2011]

Luxury car ownership has distinct Chinese characteristics. On average, Chinese owners are 10 years younger than their counterparts in the United States and Europe. They are also more likely to be women. Fiat estimates the percentage of women buying its Maserati models in China is triple that of Europe, while the percentage buying its Ferraris is double the global average.

Regardless of the jams, China's nouveaux riches increasingly flaunt their wealth on the roads, much to the envy of others. Among the most widely circulated photographs on the internet in recent years are those of the ostentatious wedding parades for the daughters of Shanxi coal barons. One reportedly featured a parade of four Rolls-Royce Phantoms, four Ferraris, six Mercedes Benz, six Bentleys, 20 Audi Quattros, six Jeeps, a Hummer plus several BMWs, Porsches and Range Rovers.

Analysts see little indication that the passion for big, fast engines will dampen any time soon. "The appeal of the car is rising because in China, it has become the symbol of fortune and social class," said Hu Xingdou, economics professor at Beijing Institute of Technology. But China's traffic looks likely to slow of its own accord. Despite the surge in sales of 300kmph cars, the rush-hour speed in Beijing is rarely above 25kmph. Nor can the comfort of plush interiors fully compensate for the inconvenience of nightmarish congestion. According to a survey by IBM last year, seven out of 10 drivers in Beijing have at least once given up on getting to their destination and turned back because the jams were so bad. In a "commuter pain index" of 20 global cities, the world's most painful commute is into the Chinese capital.

Luxury Club at the Forbidden City

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Following public concerns over the recent Forbidden City members-only scandal, a nationwide investigation into similar illegal luxury clubs run by or set up in public museums and other cultural heritage institutions has been launched. According to Dong Baohua, deputy director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, the administration has ordered local authorities to investigate any possible cases and report their findings today. [Source: Mao Renjie, Global Times June 6, 2011]

Fierce criticism was generated after the discovery of an exclusive club in the Forbidden City's Jianfu Palace, where memberships were reported to cost as much as 1 million yuan ($153,846). It was reported Friday that the management team of Beijing's White Dagoba, or Beita Temple, which has been selected as one of China's Important Historical Monuments under Special Preservation, has rented part of its temple houses to two companies.

One runs a high-end restaurant, where the average consumption per person is 920 yuan ($142.05) and non-dining tourists are not allowed to enter, while the other sells tatty artifacts like Buddha statues, persuading tourists to buy thousand-yuan goods with the threat of bad luck otherwise. He Pei, management director of the White Dagoba, responded Monday that the rooms in question do not belong to the protected area. He added that the restaurant has been appointed a Five Star Tourism Restaurant by the Beijing Tourism Bureau, and is an expansion of the temple's "service functions."

According to He, the White Dagoba collects 1 million yuan ($154,400) rent every year from the restaurant and most of it has been spent on "relic protection." He said that government funding for the temple is less than 100,000 yuan ($15,440) a year, while the actual cost of keeping the tourism site running and renovated exceeds 700,000 yuan ($108,08). The 20-year contracts have strict regulations, forbidding changes to architectural structures and the temple can immediately suspend contracts if any illegal actions are conducted.

Businessmen and Violence in China

Some businessmen run the towns where they operate like party bosses and gangsters. They provide jobs and opportunities but also impose their will, cheat people, punishment people who cross them with impunity and have little fear of being punished themselves.

Zhou Wenchag, the owner of a large bus company in Xingyang, a city of 650,000 in Henan Province, is known at the “dirty emperor” on his home turf. He has reportedly forced farmers to pay for buses they never received; manipulated the justice system to imprison former executives that turned against him; dished out bribes to gain the support of local government and party officials; and used the police to kidnap people that owed him money and hold them until relatives paid their debts.

Li Haicang ran a steel company that accounted for two thirds of the economic activity in Wenxi, a city of 340,000 in northern Shanxi province. Once listed as No. 27 on the Forbes list, with assets of around $200 million, he provided jobs, built roads and schools and served on a number of government and civic organizations. Taxes from his businesses accounted for much of the local government’s revenues. His reign of power ended when a friend from his school days pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and shot him in the head and then shot himself because Haicang wouldn’t sell him land to build a factory.

Bodyguards in China

The large number or rich in China has also resulted in a growing presence of bodyguards. Rather than being big, musclebound behemoths that bulge out of their suits and are meant to intimidate, Chinese bodyguard tend be unimposing, relying on martial skills rather than firearms or brawn, Many try to bled in as drivers, nannies, private secretaries. A surprisingly number are women. [Source: Keith Richburg, Washington Post, September 22, 2010]

Micheal Zhe of Beijing VSS Security Consulting Ltd, told the Washington Post , “In China, we don’t need people who know guns. Bodyguards can use one or two blows to stop an attacker,” Chen Yongchin of Tianjiao Special protection said, “If they?re too big, it would be too obvious. We can get lost in the crowd.” He said 40 percent of his body guards are women. One stands 5 feet four and weighs 121 pounds told the Post, “When we practice I fight two guys, no problem.” She specializes in guarding Chinese and Hong Kong celebrities.

VSS Security was founded in 2002 and is regarded as China’s oldest private security firm. When Zhe started the company he had few rivals. As of the end of 2009, there were 2,767 firms employing more than two million security guards in an industry valued at $1.2 billion. These figures reflect not only he high number of rich but also the concerns that the rich have as the gap between them and the poor grows and cases of kidnaping and violence have increased.

Ni Shoubin, a professor at the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade, told the Washington Post, “The booming of the security industry reflects the rich people’s worry about the safety of their families and themselves. The population is disgruntled by how these rich people are becoming rich, and all society has started to hate the rich. And rich people must feel that resentment, and it make them feel insecure.”

The private security business has grown so much and so fast and there are so many fly-by-night operations out there as well as ones that hire out thugs and enforcers that the Chinese government is starting make some effort to regulate and bring the private security industry under some kind of control.

Going hand and hand with these trends is the desire of the wealthy to keep a low profile and refrain from flaunting their wealth.

Shanghai Hosts Debutante Ball

In January 2012, Shanghai played host to China's first International Debutante Ball with 13 young women from across the globe charming audiences at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel next to the city's historic Bund area. Wang Ling wrote in the Global Times, A debutante ball is an event where a young female, or in some cultures, a young male, is formally introduced into society. In some cultures, a debutante ball is associated with wealthy and socially-influential families. In countries like the United States, Ireland and Australia, variations have been developed out of the tradition that started in Britain in the late 1700s. [Source:Wang Ling, Global Times, January 10, 2012]

And here in China, people got a taste of this European aristocratic occasion. Decked out in white gowns and tiaras, the girls made their social debuts on the Shanghai scene as event organizers trumpeted the glitzy event, foreign but attractive for the locals. Vivian Chow Wong, Executive Director of the Shanghai International Debutante Ball, said the event was less about social class and more about an event for girls to be the princesses they want to be.

"I think girls will be girls, and they want to be princesses. A debutante ball is about looking like a princess or pretending to be a princess for a day, for some girls. And it's not just a classist thing. Debutante balls are being held, for instance, in Australia or New Zealand in high schools."

For those who are taking part in the first Chinese International Debutante Ball, the event offers them a chance to develop their confidence and networking skills. Seventeen-year-old Larissa Scotting of Britain is crowned the "Debutante of the Year" at the event. "I feel very honored. It's so wonderful to have been chosen, and I am very excited and very happy. I am thrilled to be given this award here in Shanghai. So it's been great. It's been a really wonderful experience."

Scotting said after the event, she looked forward to starting her university life, studying English at King's College. The 13 debutants include two Chinese -- one from Hong Kong and one from Taiwan. Despite the lack of a representative from the Chinese mainland, Vivian Chow Wong expects to promote the event as a mainstay of Shanghai's social scene.

"The first thing is that we have arrived in China. The reason why our International Debutante Ball had no participants from the mainland is not that we did not include them, but it's just that we have not yet found someone suitable." After the debutantes arrived in Shanghai earlier last week, organizers immediately started training them on the strict traditions and etiquette of the ball's 230-year-old history.

Hobbies of the Rich in China

According to AFP: “Among the privileged minority, chosen sports are indicative of status -- usually tennis and golf to start off with, graduating to skiing or riding. But equestrian sports are far beyond most people's budgets, he says, with riding courses generally costing "250 to 400 yuan per hour plus coaching fee" and needing 30 hours to complete. For more populist disciplines -- in particular racing -- the picture is different.[Source: Agence France Presse, July 31, 2014]

The Chinese elite enjoy golf, skiing and even polo. In a survey in 2007 rich Chinese listed traveling as their top leisure activity while spending time with their families places a distant seventh. In another survey 67 percent of millionaires said they were sacrificing their health for money.

Horse breeding and riding are becoming increasingly popular among China’s nouveau riche. The owner of Beijing door factory, who own three thoroughbreds, told AFP, “Horse are a hobby for me, not investment objects. Riding is a form of communication without language, where man and horse try to understand each other. In 2008, there were more than 100 riding clubs in the Beijing area, up from 80 a year before. The Equuleus International Riding Club was founded near an upscale villa compounds outside of Beijing in the 1990s mainly to meet the needs of the expatriate community but now is used mostly by wealthy Chinese. Many of its 100 or so horses are retirees from the jockey clubs in Hong Kong and Macao.

China's Wealthy Embrace Polo

In July 2014, AFP reported: “Gripping his mallet, Peng Zhichun gallops towards goal on a Chinese polo field, one of a growing number of the country's wealthy elite discovering the joys of the saddle and the whip. "New clubs are opening, people are more into equestrian sports, into polo, there are more international players coming, so it's growing really fast," the young man, dressed in an expensive leather helmet, boots and white trousers, said after dismounting. Peng, who was taking part in a luxury lifestyle event in the northern port of Dalian earlier this month, spent several years in the United States and is typical of China's emerging upper class, with a keen interest in travel and Western leisure activities. [Source: Agence France Presse, July 31, 2014 ==]

“In June, Shanghai hosted a stage of the Longines Global Champions Tour for the first time, a five-star showjumping event, the highest in the International Equestrian Federation's rankings. At Beijing's Tango Polo Club members are "select" and wealthy, says deputy chairman Chen Xie, and their numbers are growing steadily. "Polo is special. Members have to be rich enough to afford the membership. Courage is also needed as you can see, the sport is quite fast, intense and dangerous on the field," he told AFP. "The major customers are those above white-collar workers, say, entrepreneurs, or at least 'golden-collars'." ==

“It is undoubtedly a rich man's game. Club members have spent as much as three million yuan ($500,000) on a polo pony, and in one case 80 million yuan on a racehorse, Chen said -- sums which are lifestyle expenses rather than investments. "Horses are like humans, they go down in value when they pass their peak." ==

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Sara Jane Ho, founder of the high-end Beijing finishing school Institute Sarita, took a group of 50 to Tianjin” to learn about polo. "We have a class called Introduction to Noble or Expensive Sports. So we teach our clients how to understand a game of golf, horse riding, dressage, polo, skiing — we break down the mechanics of it," she said. "A lot of them are just completely clueless." Ho's seminar covers the history of polo, its rules and equipment, its connection to royalty and even how to dress as a spectator. "What Chinese people struggle with most with polo is what to wear. A lot of Chinese men, they think that a suit is the answer to everything. They don't know how to do smart-casual occasions. And for Chinese women … we have a very meticulous handout. For example, no stilettos."

After their afternoon in VIP seats, Ho said, several of the women expressed interest in Tianjin's summer polo camp for their children. "Now that Chinese people are rich, they are trying to adopt a high measure of quality of life. They are holding themselves to higher standards," she said. "They also want to earn the respect of other people around the world." [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2014]

Chinese Polo Club

Describing an event at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In the clubhouse, a shiny, white, life-size horse mannequin stood harnessed to a red-and-gold carriage straight out of a Cinderella storybook. At the wine bar showcasing bottles from France and Napa Valley's Sloan Estate, a quartet of foreigners belted out "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)." Upstairs, VIPs, including the ambassadors from Chile and Argentina, sipped Champagne and grazed on foie gras, Peking duck and Spanish jamon. Outside, on a polo field covered with man-made snow, Team England was riding to victory over Chile in semifinals of the 10-day, 12-team tournament. "I was really surprised to come here the first time and find all this," said Guillermo Terrera, an Argentine who suited up for the three-man Hong Kong China squad (alongside another Argentine and a Brit). "The organization is first-class." [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2014 /=/]

“Basic memberships to the club — where "the new nobility gathers," according to the brochure — start at $165,000.” The club hosted the Snow Polo World Cup 2014 and “plans to host three other polo events this year, including a summer inter-varsity tournament with teams from U.S. and British schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge. So far, the club has more ponies (200) than members (about 60), and is buying 80 more horses from abroad this year (much to the delight of the ambassador from Argentina). The club will eventually boast three fields as well as an indoor arena, where even the specially engineered sand is imported from Britain. /=/

“If it sounds like a major outlay, it's a drop in the bucket considering the $10 billion that Lee said Goldin is spending on the entire Tianjin development. Besides the homes, the polo club and a 167-room private hotel for club members, the company is building 10 office towers and a 117-story, 1,958-foot skyscraper (the third-tallest in China), due to be completed by 2016. "Be sure to visit the pavilion on your way out and see the wonderful villas here at Fortune Heights!" the polo announcer boomed during a break in the action.” /=/

Luxury Polo Housing Development in China

The luxury community linked with the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club includes a hotel, villas and a business district. Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Among the homes that have just gone on sale at the new 2,000-unit development are apartments priced from $1 million to $5 million and stand-alone villas of 11,000 to 60,000 square feet. (Asking price for the top-end mega-mansion? North of $90 million.) Still, convincing China's ultra-wealthy to shell out millions for a palace in a subdivision on the outskirts of a city like Tianjin, 75 miles southeast of Beijing, takes more than swimming pools, home gyms, saunas, walk-in humidors, wine cellars, mah-jongg rooms and granite-walled underground garages for 10 cars. (Yes, all are available at Fortune Heights.) [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2014 /=/]

“So the developer behind Fortune Heights, the Hong Kong-based Goldin Group — a conglomerate with businesses including consumer electronics, financial services and vineyards, including Sloan — is peddling turnkey entree into a new aristocratic realm, no need to fly all the way to West Sussex. All homeowners are granted membership in what the brochure calls "China's largest and most prestigious polo club." "Our product, in one word, is lifestyle. We sell lifestyle," said Harvey Lee, a UC Berkeley graduate who is vice chairman of Goldin Real Estate Financial Holdings. "What we want to do is sell to the tip of the wealth pyramid. That is our target client. So that's why you see polo, wine and real estate development like this. This is the common link." /=/

“Even locals who have no hope of affording a home at Fortune Heights seem taken with the idea of a polo mecca in their midst. "In this country, there's nothing else like this place," said Ma Cengkun, a retired engineer from Tianjin who has become well acquainted with the sport after having been invited to several events by a friend who works at the complex. "Before, this was just some kind of farmland," said Ma, dressed smartly in a blue beret and black leather jacket for the final day of the World Cup, where Team England beat the Hong Kong China squad. "The atmosphere here is really nice." /=/

Belgian Racing Pigeons for Rich Chinese

Reporting from Kortrijk, Belgium, Philippe Siuberski of AFP wrote: Rich Chinese pigeon fanciers are offering tens of thousands of euros to buy Belgian champions, to the despair of local pigeon-lovers unable to compete in such sky-high auction bids. Pigeon-breeding is an old Chinese passion, even though long-distance pigeon-racing has never caught on the way it has in northern Europe. [Source: Philippe Siuberski, AFP, March 10, 2012]

Pigeon racing in China goes back to the Ming dynasty, when they were used as carrier pigeons. Banned during the Cultural Revolution, it made a comeback in the 1970s. According to Chinese state media, there are about 300,000 people in the country involved in the sport.

In late January, a rich Chinese industrialist Hun Zhen Yu came to Europe and paid 250,000 euros ($328,000) for "Special Blue", a world record for a champion of legend. The bird's former owner, Pieter Veenstra from Holland, has sold 245 pigeons over the past few years for more than two million euros, according to the specialised Pigeon Paradise (PIPA) website which claims that half its customers are from China.

Rich Chinese fanciers will pay very large amounts "if the pigeon has won several prizes and is of good lineage," said Nikolaas Gyselbrecht, the head of PIPA, speaking on the sidelines of the second world pigeon fair in Kortrijk, Belgium. "I think Belgium is the kingdom of homing pigeons," said one of the fair's visitors, Johnson Kiang from Taiwan.

But not everyone is pleased by the Chinese invasion. "I find it too expensive. 200,000 euros, that's not a normal price," said Marcel Candenir, who travelled to the fair from Lille in northern France. "It's daft, it's killing the sport, how do you expect a young person to start out?" asked fellow Frenchman Gilles Vanneuville.

Willy Anquinet, a 75-year-old from the village of Gooik, near Brussels, fell victim to this new golden goose-like craze. In early February, one of his champions -- the "Black" -- was stolen from his pigeon loft. "I'd been offered 15,000 euros (19,600 dollars), but I wanted 20,000 so that I could buy a new car," he said. A few days after a visit by would-be customers, "the lock to the pigeon loft was broken". "They stole "Black" and tried to take another, but just broke its wing," he said, saddened by the loss both of his champion, and by the injury that will force the second bird to retire from competition.

Marc De Cock, who owns 600 pigeons in Temse, northern Belgium, has invested in a top-of-the-range secure lock-up for his birds, some of which are worth 100,000 euros. They are watched by 15 video cameras, have their own shower and solarium, a sort of sauna for pigeons, and are treated like top sport champions. De Cock is looking to sell many of his birds to Asian clients. "The Chinese attach a lot of importance to prestige. Even if they don't want to breed them, or race them, they want to buy a luxury pigeon much like an art collector would like to buy a Rubens or a Rembrandt," said De Cock who remains very discreet about his earnings.

Human Breast Milk Popular Drink among Shenzhen Rich

In July 2013, Chris Luo wrote in the South China Morning Post, “While many Chinese parents continue to struggle to find safe and trusted milk powder for their babies, some in Shenzhen are paying to enjoy a new “nourishment” – human breast milk – and a few of them are doing so by breast feeding, according to Chinese media. Increasing numbers of adults have been hiring wet nurses so they can consume breast milk for its nutritional value, Lin Jun, a manager of Xinxinyu Household Service Company in the southern city of Guangdong, told the Southern Metropolis Daily . Lin went on to say that his company is promoting and expanding its breast milk supply business from babies to adults, the newspaper reported. [Source: Chris Luo, South China Morning Post, July 2, 2013 **]

“Clients can choose to consume breast milk directly through breastfeeding … but they can always drink it from a breast pump if they feel uncomfortable,” the paper quoted Lin as saying. He claimed breast milk was now popular among adults with high incomes and high-pressure jobs and who suffered from poor health. “Quite a few of our clients hire in-house wet nurses to ensure a supply of fresh breast milk on a daily base,” Lin said in the report, adding “wet nurses rarely raise objections as long as the price is right.” **

“A spokesperson for the company who refused to be identified claimed the report was entirely false, insisting his company’s household services did not include recommending wet nurses. The allegations were malicious gossip aimed at driving his company out of business, he told the South China Morning Post. However, Xinxinyu Household Service Company’s advertisements can be seen on a number of marketing websites, promoting the high quality services of its wet nurses, as well as its nannies, stewards, confinement nurses and tutors. The advertisements state that the company’s wet nurses can provide services to adults in poor health. Photos online show wet nurses and staff with what appear to be company logos on the walls. **

“According to the newspaper report, a wet nurse who provides breast milk to adults can earn an average monthly wage of 16,000 yuan (HK$20,238). A healthy and attractive wet nurse can earn even more, the paper was told. The claims seem to be supported by adverts placed by Xinxinyu on at least one recruitment website for positions of wet nurses with monthly salaries of between 12,000 to 20,000 yuan. “Consuming human breast milk is quite popular among my social circle … spending 10,000 to 20,000 yuan hiring a wet nurse is not uncommon at all,” Southern Metropolis Daily also quoted an anonymous client as saying, “although only a few people would suck breast milk directly from a wet nurses’ nipples.” **

“The anonymous client said he paid 15,000 yuan to a wet nurse and had her live at his home for a month, according to the report. Legal experts have warned that the practice may be a form of sexual service. “There is an essential difference between sucking on a breast and drinking from a pump, as the former largely exceeds the necessity of diet,” Guangdong lawyer Mei Chunlai said. But Shenzhen police told the paper that it would be difficult to prove if the act was a sex crime as it was hard to acquire evidence. **

Wealthy Chinese Travelers Lining Up to Travel in Space

Cao Li wrote in the New York Times, In June 2014, “Sheng Tianxing made good on his name, which translated literally means “sky travel.” With a single click online, he paid $100,000, about a third of his annual income, for a seat on a rocket that will carry him into space. Come 2016, if all goes as planned, Mr. Sheng, 41, a tea trader from the southeastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, will spend up to six minutes floating 64 miles above the Earth as one of the first civilians aboard a commercially operated flight beyond the planet’s atmosphere. “I’ve always wanted to go into space,” he said recently, recalling that he got hooked on space films and science fiction as a boy growing up in a mountain village. “I’ve always wondered if Armstrong did actually walk on the moon. I’d like to have a look myself.”[Source: Cao Li, New York Times, September 6, 2014 \*/]

“Well-to-do Chinese business people are lining up for one-hour voyages to the cosmos, and tour operators say China is set to become the world’s largest market for the incipient space tourism industry. Already, more than 30 mainland Chinese have purchased or made down payments of 50 percent on tickets for journeys offered by XCOR Aerospace, a company based in Mojave, Calif., that plans to begin operating suborbital flights late next year. The tours went on sale in China in December, two years after the company began selling them elsewhere, and one in 10 of all bookings have been by Chinese citizens, according to Dexo Travel, the Beijing-based sales agent in China for the trips.

“There are wealthy people everywhere in the world, but there are not so many wealthy people who also dream of going into space,” said Alex Tang, chief executive of XCOR Aerospace’s Asia operation. China, he said, had both. In a survey this year of more than 200 Chinese luxury travelers by the Shanghai-based research firm Hurun, about 7 percent said they hoped to visit space within the next three years. Mr. Tang attributed the Chinese passion for space travel to the recent successes of the nation’s space program. Zhang Yong, chief executive of Dexo Travel, described the people booking seats as business executives and entrepreneurs who already have luxury homes and cars and are turning their sights beyond earthly objects. Two-thirds are male, he said. Influenced by books and films like “Gravity,” a hit in China, they long for the transcendent experience of gazing upon Earth from space, Mr. Zhang said.

Interest in the spaceflights is high even among those without the means to go. Some would-be space tourists have become minor celebrities long before the first liftoff. After Tong Jingling, a 40-year-old banker, booked a ticket in April, she started getting invitations from businesses to be their spokeswoman, she said. One company asked her to conduct medical experiments while in space. Ms. Tong, a graduate of Beihang University, formerly known as the Beijing Institute of Aeronautics, has capitalized on the attention by trying to launch several crowd-funded ventures. One would arrange weddings in space. Another would produce a reality television show in which contestants compete for a ticket for space travel. An investment of 100 renminbi, or $16, gets you a T-shirt that says, wo yao shang taikong, or “I want to go up into space.”

Companies are now selling suborbital trips to altitudes just beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, at prices that put the dream of space travel within the reach of wealthy Chinese. After long delays caused by technical and safety issues, XCOR Aerospace and Virgin Galactic, founded by the British entrepreneur Richard Branson, say they are planning flights in 2015. Because Virgin Galactic spacecraft are powered by rocket engines manufactured in the United States that use technology considered to have potential military applications, citizens from 22 countries, including China, are barred from traveling on them, the company has said. Virgin Galactic said it hoped that future United States government rulings would enable it to offer spaceflights to an expanded roster of nations. XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx shuttle uses different engines that do not appear to raise the same concerns. A $95,000 ticket with XCOR buys a flight late next year to an altitude of about 38 miles — what the company calls “the edge of space” — while a $100,000 ticket will take a passenger beyond the atmosphere in 2016. Each flight carries one passenger, who must undergo medical screening and training.

Mr. Zhang said he expects Chinese interest in space tourism to increase further once the first civilian flights are underway. “Many from business circles and celebrities have told me that they’ll buy tickets once the test flights succeed or the first tourists return safely,” he said. Several Chinese who have booked seats said they had confidence in the safety of the shuttle technology, though some had not told their families of their plans. Zhang Xiaoyu, 29, an entrepreneur in Beijing, said he told his parents only that he planned to fly at a “relatively high altitude.” He did not tell them how much the ticket cost, either. But Mr. Zhang said traveling to space meant more to him than putting a down payment on an apartment or buying a car in the congested Chinese capital. “You will be able to look back at the planet where you were born and experience complete solitude,” he said. “You wouldn’t be able to experience this anywhere else.”

Growing Disdain for China's Super-Rich

Ning Hui wrote in The Atlantic, “For a China still undergoing rapid economic development, a new and divisive character has emerged: the wealthy young scion. Children who come from money in China, colloquially called fu'erdai, are often associated with many negative stereotypes. Fu'erdai literally translates to "rich second generation" and are generally either guan'erdai, meaning "government official second generation;" xing'erdai, meaning "super-star second generation;" or hong'erdai, children whose families have strong roots in the Communist Party and can "eat from both plates." [Source: Ning Hui, The Atlantic, March 12, 2013 *-*]

“Perhaps the most representative incident of backlash against fu'erdai occurred in 2010, when the 22 year old Li Qimin, intoxicated and speeding in his luxury car, hit a college girl and killed her. When apprehended, he shouted "My father is Li Gang!" referring to a well-known local official. The phrase quickly went viral, and to this day represents fu'erdai arrogance.” *-*

One “case that angered millions of Chinese microbloggers was that of Li Tianyi, who was both fu'erdai and hong'erdai. Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of famous Chinese general and singer Li Shuangjiang, was prosecuted for his involvement in a gang rape. Many Chinese netizens saw Li Tianyi's crime as proof that their negative feelings about privileged families were right, and stoked their worries that the privileged will always be above the law in Chinese society. The case of Li Tianyi and Li Shuangjiang differs from those of other rich and powerful families because Li Shuangjiang's popular "red songs" from the Cultural Revolution praise the Party's greatness. In this case, online criticism was directed both at Li's wealth and his political privilege. Even the People's Daily, a state-run media outlet, recognized the significance of the issue : "Multiple incidents involving 'keng die' [children whose misdeeds have tarnished their fathers' reputations] have become hot-button issues in society, because of who they are and because of the violence or arrogance involved. Moreover, the era they live in is characterized by a public trust gap that stems from China's current class divisions, and we must build a bridge to re-build that trust." *-*

“Anger among the public is directed not just at these individuals, but at an unaccountable justice system. As one user wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, "We already have a society that lacks trust. Do you trust the police? No, they are corrupt. Witnesses? No, also corrupt. Judges? No, they listen to the people in power. Do you trust government agencies? No, they only follow orders." *-*

“As fu'erdai increasingly become stand-ins for this lack of accountability, social media is becoming a dangerous place for children of the wealthy. A few days ago, photos posted by a 16-year-old fu'erdainamed Zhang Jiale went viral online, with many Web users ogling at his lifestyle and trying to investigate his family background. Chinese netizens have often conducted "human-flesh searches," probing every detail of a person's internet history, to expose corruption and other crimes. Thus far, Web users have not come up with any information to implicate Zhang Jiale.” *-*

Xu Danei, a columnist for the Chinese-language version of the Financial Times, cautioned: “In this society which has lost its accountability, [fu'erdai] must be deeply aware that they should not give the other side a chance. Enjoying their high lives, they must stay cautious and never slip, because if they do, there will be millions of hands to take people like Li Tianyi to hell. For grass-roots Chinese who feel deeply abused, this perhaps is their only opportunity to address the unjust gap they feel exists between themselves and the rich and powerful, even it's only by oral 'revenge.'” *-*

Hui wrote: “It is clear from reactions to fu'erdai that the issue is larger than the young people involved. As with most labels, fu'erdai simplifies a complex issue, serving as an anchor for negative feelings about societal, economic, and political conditions in today's highly unequal China. Whether the stereotypes associated with the term will change over time depends largely on how China handles the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the role of privilege in society.” *-*

China's Elite Show Restraint Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Drive

Don Lee wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “President Xi Jinping has been pressing a campaign to rein in the lavish ways of the nation's political and military elite. Warning that corruption could threaten the Communist Party's survival, Xi has waged a highly public effort to rid officialdom of ostentatious living. Ceremonial red carpets and floral decor are out. Flying coach is in. Party cadres are being told to double up in hotel rooms. And in what has become a particular crowd pleaser with the public, Beijing is going after those who have long abused the privileges of military license plates, which almost guarantee immunity from traffic laws and other such inconveniences. [Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2013 +++]

Jerome Taylor of AFP wrote: “China's big spenders are reining in overt shows of wealth, shelving shopping trips in Hong Kong and Macau gambling sprees in the face of the Communist Party's anti-corruption and frugality drive, analysts say.” Xi’s much-publicised graft crackdown has included “a series of high profile takedowns of party officials sending shockwaves through an elite who once did little to hide their prosperity. A related austerity drive -- ordering an end to excessive gift-giving and banquets within the state sector -- has also meant officials are wary of popping too many champagne corks. [Source: Jerome Taylor, AFP, August 13, 2014 ||||]

“Fearful of attracting any scrutiny that might lead to a potentially career-ending probe, many of China's most powerful are either tightening their belts or being much more careful about how they spend their money publicly, analysts say. That shift has been most keenly felt in the Chinese elite's nearest playgrounds of Hong Kong and Macau. But a ripple effect is beginning to have an impact as far afield as the luxury fashion houses of Europe. "The corruption crackdown shows no signs of slowing down. It has created a lot of concern within the country and as far as I can see a lot of high profile individuals are much more cautious about their overt spending," Steve Vickers, a risk consultant and former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police’s Criminal Intelligence Bureau, told AFP. ||||

Lee wrote: “It's a much-debated question here whether this wide-ranging campaign is aimed at the root causes of corruption and income inequality, or only addressing the most visible symptoms. Whichever the case, Xi and his lieutenants have good reason for their frugality program. Beijing has long maintained control in part by tacitly promising that over time everyone will benefit from the country's new wealth. Rampant corruption and the garish displays of affluence by senior officials and their families strike at the heart of Beijing's promise that it is working to make life better for all. Ordinary Chinese, often through microblogs and other social media, have increasingly lashed out at what they see as a privileged class of political elites. +++

“Minxin Pei, an expert on Chinese governance at Claremont McKenna College, thinks Xi has two objectives with his anticorruption program: "To appease the Chinese public to show that he has heard their voice … [and] to tell officials throughout the system that the new leadership has absolute authority." Whatever the government's purpose, the campaign has affected spending on all kinds of high-end goods and services. Some analysts blame Xi's crackdown for China's disappointing economic growth in the first quarter, which has brought financial pain to many workers. The repercussions of the austerity drive aren't just domestic. Official visits sponsored by government entities to the United States and other countries are rapidly declining, according to travel industry sources. That is sure to be felt by California, a popular destination among the Chinese.” +++

Image Sources: Wikicommons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated July 2015

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