Maybe about a year ago I was talking to my friend Matt about “old nobility” versus “nouveau riche”. To be honest, being from a country with a limited amount of direct history, these two terms were, well, foreign to me.
I mean, I’m sure Canada has some nobility attached to it, but most of the nobles would have stayed in England, and not ventured to the “New World” themselves. As such, the rich in North America I would summize are all what nobility would call “nouveau riche”.
Matt sided that the “nouveau riche” lacked a class and manners that is instilled on nobility and basically nouveau riche are just a bunch of brutes with money. At first I disagreed with him, thinking that nobility is just a fancy way of saying you didn’t have to work for your money and the “nouveau riche” are hard workers that have done well (English Royalty vs. American Dream and all that).
After reading a translation of The Most Popular Forum Post Ever In China, my opinions have swayed a little. It is basically an online battle between the rich (“nouveau riche”) and the inconceivably rich (“old nobility”) in China.
It starts with a rich woman (Yi Yeqing), who claims to be “upper-class”, harping on how shitty and worthless the poor are – she hates even looking at them. This is when a man (NL), who claims to be a member of one of China’s six “noble” families, entered the dialog. He, with the edge of a razor, put her in her place and explained that she had no right “waving the upper-class banner”.
Yi Yeqing said that her family can spend “several thousand US dollars” in a blink and they fly every two to three days, such as from Moscow in Europe to San Francisco in the United States for tens of thousands of US dollars. NL commented: “We don’t pay for airline tickets when we travel. We fly in our own private plane.”
Yi Yeqing said that the red wine that she drank on New Year’s Eve cost 1-2 thousand RMB (US$125-250). NL said that the a bottle French wine that he drank on New Year’s Eve cost US$13,000.
He systematically destroys her claims to being “rich” (though I’m sure she’s quite rich by most of our standards). He explains that the true “upper-class” would never act in such a way. They are taught to respect all people, be broad-minded and generous – as they have “class” in every sense of the term.
This is when I began to possibly understand where Matt was coming from. Money means ability, mobility and accessibility – but it doesn’t at all come with a stipulation or guidebook that explains you should also have presentation, ideology, ethics, manners, and etiquette. This, at least as NL alleges, comes from being “nobel”.
Maybe there are a million examples for and against the above – but the real thing that happened for me after reading the dialog was that I began to understand that all wealth is not created equal.
Sadly, it also made me realize that most everywhere, but definitely here in China, people are questing Yi Yeqing’s style of life and views, not the “noble” path. With the use of Guanxi (relationships), it is quite common for the cruelest, most manipulative and deceitful people to be the ones that are populating China’s bustling (now renamed in my mind) upper-middle class. This creates some rather powerful and rich people in China that have no regard for the people around them – or “below” them, if you will.