Gatsby-Like Extravagance And Wealth ... In Communist China : Parallels The recent movie remake of The Great Gatsby hasn't opened in China yet. But the Chinese are no strangers to its themes of wealth, ambition and corruption. In fact, many Chinese argue that the excesses of America in the Roaring '20s mirror those in China today.

Gatsby-Like Extravagance And Wealth ... In Communist China

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The recent movie remake of "The Great Gatsby" has yet to open in China. But the story's themes - wealth, ambition, corruption - ought to be very familiar to audiences there. Recently, a Shanghai publisher screened the 1974 version of "The Great Gatsby" with Robert Redford to promote a new translation of the novel. And NPR's Frank Langfitt was there.


FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: We think of "Gatsby" as a quintessentially American story. But when Chinese people read the novel or watch the movie, they recognize a lot about their own society today. Take this scene. Tom Buchannan, a wealthy businessman played by Bruce Dern, gets into a fight at a party with his mistress who wants him to leave his wife, Daisy.


LILY ZHU: The husband, Tom, I mean, he is rich and he can do whatever he want and buy whatever he wants.

LANGFITT: Lily Zhu recently graduated from an American university with a degree in economics. She's now hunting for a job here in Shanghai. Zhu says she sees Tom's reckless indulgence in many wealthy Chinese men.

ZHU: People here in China, when they got very, very rich, they may have several wives or something and didn't care about families. They didn't care about how their children grow up to be. I just can see the similarities between these two.

LANGFITT: Another scene in "The Great Gatsby" captures American excess in the roaring '20s. Men in white tie and tails and women in flapper dresses leap into Gatsby's giant fountain. They continue dancing as though there's no tomorrow.


ROSEMARY GONG: My name is Rosemary Gong.

LANGFITT: Gong works as a management consultant in Beijing. When she read that scene, it reminded her of the well-publicized social life of her country's super rich.

ROSEMARIE GONG: There's a new upper class in China who kind of live a life like Gatsby's, you know, the parties, the fancy cars, the girls.

LANGFITT: Gong has read "The Great Gatsby" twice. She compared Gatsby's parties at his Long Island mansion to a recent extravagant one on Hainan Island, China's Hawaii. People posted photos of Ferraris, Maseratis and scantily clad women on yachts.

GONG: A lot of girls wearing bikinis on the boats and with those cosmopolitan cocktails. The scandal told that there were a lot of under-the-table, I don't know, prostitution.

LANGFITT: Flaunting money isn't uncommon in many advanced economies. But ordinary people here still don't very earn much. And it's harder to square in a nation where the ruling party insists - against all evidence - it's still communist. Online criticism of the Hainan party was scathing.

GONG: I think that is the most similar thing ever in China related to the Gatsby parties. Most people respond - they kind of hate it, I think. This is just China's reality: Rich people get way much richer than normal people.

LANGFITT: So just how well does F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel nail 21st century China? So much so that everyone I talked to asked to use their English names so they'd be harder to identify. That includes Jim Zhang, who works in the aviation business.

JIM ZHANG: Well, it's kind of sensitive. Also, please hide my company's name.

LANGFITT: I'm not going to use your company's name.


LANGFITT: Just the wealthy in the film are consumed by their own materialism and don't see much else.

ZHANG: They are kind of indifferent.

LANGFITT: Indifferent to whom?

ZHANG: The life of other - of the people, you know, other classes. I think that's kind of a similar story in China at this point.

LANGFITT: After the screening, the audience of about a hundred discussed the movie. One of the moderators, Tang Weijie, who teaches literature at Tongji University here, ducked questions about the obvious parallels. It's hard to say, Tang said. Because in socialist China, he continued, we've eradicated classes, correct? Tang was being ironic. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai.

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