DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The world has nearly 1,500 billionaires. The United States tops the list with 608. For China, which follows second with 440 billionaires, this is a relatively new phenomenon. So an enterprising company has created a course for kids born into super-rich families. NPR's Louisa Lim has our business bottom line as she lifts the curtain on the lives of some wealthy children in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: For a moment, it looks as though this high-end shopping mall has been taken over by baby bankers. Kids in maroon neckties, white button-down shirts and khaki trousers are holding a charity sale to raise money for earthquake victims. They're on a course dubbed a mini-MBA, consisting of weekend classes at China Britain Financial Education. The ulterior motive is to teach these kids how to care about others. Paul Huang, the R&D manager there, describes the excesses some of these kids are used to.
PAUL HUANG: Even for me, for all our teachers, sometimes we feel very surprised to hear how much pocket money they have. One girl told our teacher that for each year at spring festival, she might have, let's say in U.S. dollar, more than 20,000 U.S. dollars pocket money.
LIM: Twenty thousand U.S. dollars. How old is she?
HUANG: Eleven years old.
LIM: To put that in context, that's almost four times the annual income in Chengdu. Urban incomes in China have rocketed; they're 12 times what they were two decades ago. But still, these kids live in another world. Paul Huang describes the dreams of one student.
HUANG: Our teacher ask her, what's your ideal life in the future? She just think about it for a while, say I want to become a princess. I want to have a castle, and I will have lots of servants. I won't do anything, because (unintelligible) money. I just buy whatever I want.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUMPET)
LIM: The charity drive is underway now. One kid is playing the trumpet for money. Another is selling his hastily drawn picture of a tank for $16. That's way overpriced, but because it's for charity, people are buying.
Nine-year-old Allen is selling off his old books. You can pay what you like, he says, because it's all about showing a loving heart. But this budding businessman hasn't brought all of his books, he says; otherwise his family would lose money.
LISA ZHENG: (Chinese spoken)
LIM: Generally, Chinese kids are spoiled, admits his mom, Lisa Zheng. Her husband is the biggest culprit, she says, since he buys their son everything he wants. But there's a bigger problem too, she says: Money is the be-all and end-all in modern day China. Paul Huang agrees, saying this mindset has created a morality vacuum, which plays out among both rich and the poor.
HUANG: For the wealthy family, their problem is that they don't know and don't care where the money get from, and they spend money in a kind of disgusting way. For children from the poor families, when they grow up, they try to do anything to get money. They don't think it's right or wrong. So that's another problem.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
LIM: Now the debrief: These 25 kids raised $375 for charity, far more than if they'd been doing this on the streets. They've also learned cooperation, communication and the experience of giving back to society. But it's ironic that learning the value of money comes at no small price. A year's lessons cost the parents almost $10,000. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.