Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China's New Rich

Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China's New Rich

John Osburg

Language: English

Pages: 248

ISBN: 0804783543

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Who exactly are China's new rich? This pioneering investigation introduces readers to the private lives—and the nightlives—of the powerful entrepreneurs and managers redefining success and status in the city of Chengdu. Over the course of more than three years, anthropologist John Osburg accompanied, and in some instances assisted, wealthy Chinese businessmen as they courted clients, partners, and government officials.

Drawing on his immersive experiences, Osburg invites readers to join him as he journeys through the new, highly gendered entertainment sites for Chinese businessmen, including karaoke clubs, saunas, and massage parlors—places specifically designed to cater to the desires and enjoyment of elite men. Within these spaces, a masculinization of business is taking place. Osburg details the complex code of behavior that governs businessmen as they go about banqueting, drinking, gambling, bribing, exchanging gifts, and obtaining sexual services.

These intricate social networks play a key role in generating business, performing social status, and reconfiguring gender roles. But many entrepreneurs feel trapped by their obligations and moral compromises in this evolving environment. Ultimately, Osburg examines their deep ambivalence about China's future and their own complicity in the major issues of post-Mao Chinese society—corruption, inequality, materialism, and loss of trust.

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self-interest. The Evolution of Guanxi in China’s Business World A key component of my informants’ social worlds and a constant topic of discussion among themselves and with me were their social networks or guanxiwang. Despite what countless business guides to China might lead one to believe, INTRODUCTION    23 guanxi is not an unchanging essence of Chinese culture, nor a preprogrammed way that Chinese people do business. In everyday usage, the term guanxi refers to webs of social relations

way of being elite. Mr. Zhu, the editor of First Class (Toudengcang), a Chengdu-based publication with a national circulation, started his magazine as a way of introducing proper ways of being wealthy and living the good life to China’s new rich. In its introductory issues, First Class distinguishes between class in the sense that it’s been used for most of modern Chinese history, as a scientific category of social analysis (jieji), and the notion of class as something that can only be achieved,

all but required: “They [aspiring stars] see that everyone is sleeping around, and they think I might as well sleep my way to the top as well. . . . Except that now it’s even more frightening. With today’s directors you don’t just need to sleep with them you also have to give them money.” In fact, movie stars in China are commonly divided into two categories that reflect whether their fame is based primarily on their looks (and presumably their sexual strategies) or on their artistic abilities.

self-sufficient woman outside [in the world of career and society] and a little, humble woman at home. At home I can’t boss men around [like I do my employees] . . . I hope I can be a feminine woman.” A self-proclaimed meinü, Ms. Lai felt that her attractiveness gave her an advantage in business. She boasted that she could arrange meetings with hard-tomeet bosses and officials, and that they were often reluctant to turn her down. She thought that women were more vulnerable in business to being

was most commonly expressed by phrases such as, “Too many girlfriends will WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS AND THE “BEAUTY ECONOMY”    179 wear you out (henlei)” or “Having too many one-night stands is troublesome (mafan).” Wealthy men often stressed the importance of not letting their affairs with women get out of control. The importance of moderation was often summed up by a rhyming ditty: Don’t divorce your original wife (married in poverty). Like the new, but don’t despise the old, Be debonair, not

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