Tea Leaf Nation

China’s Rich and Shameless

They drive gold-plated cars and build office buildings that look like Versailles -- meet China's tuhao.

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A new term is making the rounds on the Chinese social web: tuhao, which is a combination of tu (meaning “dirt” or “uncouth”) and hao (meaning “splendor”), and refers with disdain to China’s growing legion of nouveau riche. As FP‘s Rachel Lu writes, “Their love for bling has become the backbone of the global luxury goods industry, yet they are also the subject of disdain, the butt of jokes, the punching bag for that which is offensive to good taste.” The collection of images that follows — of sprawling chateaus,  gold bars displayed in suburban malls, a phone encrusted in ivory — depict the lavish and often-ludicrous lifestyles of the country’s tuhao.

This solid gold, gem-encrusted toilet, which Chinese web users would likely deem very tuhao, was valued at $4.8 million in February 2005 while on display in a Hong Kong jewelry store.

 

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Is this the world’s most ostentatious office? This office building of the Harbin Pharmaceutical Group, located in the northeast Chinese city of Harbin and shown here in September 2011, was modeled after the Palace of Versailles. 

STR/AFP/Getty Images

This phone, made of ivory, lay on display during a December 2006 exhibition in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Wu Lvming/ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Young shoppers in a Beijing mall admire a stack of gold bars.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

A saleswoman in the coastal Chinese city of Qingdao shows off glittering iPhone and iPad accessories in March 2011.

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

This mansion, pictured in September 2010 on the outskirts of Beijing, mimics a 17th century Baroque-style mansion, the Chateau de Maisons-Laffitte, in France.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

A crowd gathered to look at this gold-plated Infiniti on display outside a jewelry store in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing in March 2011.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Sport shoes and miniature cars made of gold lent the November 2007 China International Jewelry Fair in Beijing a bit of extra pizzazz.

TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images

The Galaxy Casino and Hotel complex in Macau wowed visitors in July 2013 with this gold BMW.

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

This government building in Fuyang, pictured in February 2007, seeks to combine the U.S. Capitol with the White House.

Cancan Chu/Getty Images

David Wertime is a senior editor at Foreign Policy, where he manages its China section, Tea Leaf Nation. In 2011, he co-founded Tea Leaf Nation as a private company translating and analyzing Chinese social media, which the FP Group acquired in September 2013. David has since created two new miniseries and launched FP’s Chinese-language service. His culture-bridging work has been profiled in books including The Athena Doctrine and Digital Cosmopolitans and magazines including Psychology Today. David frequently discusses China on television and radio and has testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. In his spare time, David is an avid marathon runner, a kitchen volunteer at So Others Might Eat, and an expert mentor at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator and seed fund. Originally from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, David is a proud returned Peace Corps volunteer. He holds an English degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University. @dwertime

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