Take one black Ferrari, a snowy night in Beijing, a crash so bad the driver is dead and that Ferrari is in two pieces. In China, it’s the makings of a mystery that says a lot about government censorship and the treatment of the “Rich2G” — the wealthy second generation of China’s moneyed class.
According to the Beijing Evening News and the state-run newspaper The Global Times, the crash took place on the North Fourth Ring Road, close to Baofu Temple at 4:24 a.m. on Sunday. The car was ripped in half and the engine was in flames. The driver was dead and a 31-year-old female passenger sustained head injuries. A second woman said to be “in her 20s” sustained severe facial burns.
The fact that the crash involved a Ferrari immediately sparked online speculation on the identification of the driver. In the U.S. the paparazzi would have beaten the authorities to the scene. Instead, there were no photos. Within 24-hours any mention of the word Ferrari had been blocked on China’s microblogs. China Daily posted a list of additional banned terms which illustrate both how savvy micro-bloggers are in creating an online vernacular to enable information sharing within the cyber community and how quickly the government catches on. The banned words include: “Shangshu” (a government official title in Imperial China), North 4th Ring Road + car accident, Baofusi + car accident, and “falali” which is the phonetic Chinese pronunciation of the word Ferrari.
Blocking search terms is the equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of information seekers here. Doing so is the government’s “no comment,” but it actually means “thou shall not comment either.” Most people wondered whether the driver was the son of a wealthy individual, possibly the latest in a string of incidents of bad behavior by the Rich2G?
The identifications of the deceased driver and injured passengers are still under wraps, but the conversation about rich kids in this country has been given an adrenaline shot amid the increasingly glaring divide between China’s wealthiest 1 percent and the rest of this massively populated country.
The government has taken pains to admonish the misbehavior of the Rich2G. In September 2011, the 15-year-old son of a very famous singer made the front pages for a road rage incident. Li Tianyi was driving a black Audi A6, another car that is a symbol for the rich, with an 18-year-old buddy trailing him in a black BMW without plates. Reports are that a couple ahead of them in a Buick were driving too slow for their tastes. The two young men got out of their cars, got the couple out of the Buick and proceeded to beat them while their young child watched, wailing, from the back seat.
In response to the public outcry that ensued Li Tianyo’s father, the singer Li Shuangjiang visited the injured couple in the hospital. State-run media carried their photos as well as Li Shuangjiang’s mea culpa. “I did not raise my son properly and I’ve wronged both of you. I’d rather you give me a beating with a stick,” she told the battered couple.
There are other signs China is trying to address the Rich2G delinquency issue. Consider how difficult it is to obtain literature here in book form. Of all the books not approved for release here, in 2011 the government gave the green light to Life Is What You Make It by Patrick Buffet. He is the son of Warren Buffet, the famously frugal businessman. In his early 20s, Patrick Buffet inherited only $90,000. He used the money to start a career as a musician, telling China Daily before its release, “I knew I had to make it on my own.”
By some estimates in the next five to 10 years, as many as 3 million enterprises will come under new leadership as China ages. According to the group Red-Luxury, “as many as 90 percent of bosses of private companies hope to pass their enterprises on to their children.” Those children, and they are often the couples’ only child, need to be ready.
In China, one needs only to look at things from a business perspective to learn more. And in China there is a booming business in finishing schools for the rich. Again from Red-Luxury: “The goal of schooling is to produce the next generation of young rich who have the right qualities to take over their parents’ companies.” According to Professor Qu Jun at Peking University, which runs such a program, 95 percent of the trainees enrolled were there at their parent’s request.
And so a story that looks on the surface to be about “spoiled brats” and the deadly crash of a fancy car, becomes a conversation about what to do with a generation of extremely rich young men and women who stand to inherit not only wealth but responsibility that could greatly define a country built on business in the years to come.