The Good Life on Display at China's 'Millionaires' Fair'
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Three decades have passed since China's then leader Dong Xiaoping decreed to get rich is glorious. Many Chinese have responded with enthusiasm. China now has an estimated half a million U.S. dollar millionaires, some of whom have been congregating at a millionaires fair in Shanghai. NPR's Louisa Lim snuck in to see what Chinas wealthiest people do for fun.
(Soundbite of music)
LOUISA LIM reporting:
Jazz tinkles as some of China's super-rich sashay beneath the crystal chandeliers. The men are in black tie, many clamping enormous cigars between their lips, the women in evening dress, dripping jewels. It's all about show.
Unidentified Man #1: These are the - well, the new wealthy people in China, who are looking for another challenge, another way of spending their money.
LIM: Ito Knowle(ph) is hoping to sell two or three luxury yachts at the fair. At $4 million each, they're a pricey status symbol for your newly-minted Chinese millionaire.
Mr. ITO KNOWLES (Yacht Salesman): He wants to show other people that he has arrived, but he has already two or three houses. He has many cars already. The only thing he can go do is yachting.
LIM: It's where an average millionaire can fulfill all their desires. It's where you can pick up a swanky car, like a Porsche, a Jaguar, or maybe even a Spyker, which is James Bond-like car with doors that open upwards like wings. It's also where you come to pick up a few diamonds or maybe buy a plasma screen TV big enough to cover one entire wall. It's an absolute orgy of conspicuous consumption.
As a sales woman shows her diamond rings, Yang Way(ph) is having the time of her life. She's wearing a sea-blue satin gown. Her earrings are long, glittering diamond loops. Her millions come from her husband's property business and his chain of budget hotels. And she's busy of finding new ways of spending her wealth.
Ms. YANG WAY (Attendee, Millionaire's Fair): (Through translator): I think the fair is so beautiful. All the things they're showing are exquisite and very fashionable. I'd like to buy everything here.
LIM: It's a sign that China's millionaires are now out and proud. It's a far cry from a few years back, when no one wanted to admit to being rich, fearing unwelcome attention from the taxman, among others. Rupert Hoogewerf compiles annual list of the richest people in China, and he says bling is in.
Mr. RUPERT HOOGEWERF: The image of wealth in China is changing very dramatically. I mean, I think seven, eight years ago people would be quite frightened to be seen, to be in public at a fair such as the Millionaire Fair. But today, you know, I think, you know, people are a lot more confident because they've not got 20,000, they're paying all of their taxes, their money is relatively clean now, at least it's above aboard. What's there to worry about? The next step is to learn how to spend it properly.
LIM: And for the millionaire who really does have everything, there's even a chance to buy a whirlpool bath plated with 24-carat gold. I asked JJ Lee(ph), who's in charge of sales, just how flush you need to be to buy a gold Jacuzzi.
Mr. JJ LEE (Director of Sales, Millionaire's Fair): ...$33,000.
LIM: $33,000? Now I have to ask, I can see over there, you're selling a gold-plated toilet...
Mr. LEE: Yes.
LIM: How much is that going to cost me?
Mr. LEE: That's $5,500.
LIM: And why would anybody buy a gold-plated toilet? What does it say to the world?
Mr. LEE: Because people around here, they thought it's not that expensive, so why not?
LIM: Some might find it slightly obscene, selling gold toilets in a country that's home to 1/5th of the world's poor. But that's not how the fair's organizers see it. They say selling even one gold toilet generates jobs and in the long run spreads the wealth. But as they mingle and drink champagne, alleviating poverty doesn't seem to be a priority for Shanghai's super wealthy tonight. They seem more than happy to just grin and flaunt it. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.
HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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