The Most Popular Forum Post Ever In China

Whereas blogging is popular in the United States, the Chinese have traditionally preferred the bulletin board systems and forums instead.  Blogging is an individual activity with some comments from visitors.  Forums are special subject community areas in which various people posts on a defined subject (such as media, society, family, etc.) and people can comment.  A blog is made or unmade by one individual, whereas forums depend on the collective participation of many people.

The following story appeared in Nanfang Weekend.  It follows the story of one particular forum post at the Tianya Club.  The post first appeared in February 22, 2005.  Since then, it was been viewed more than 223,000 times, and almost 4,000 people have commented on it.  It is estimated that it will take a person 7 hours to read through the whole thread.  With the national exposure from Nanfang Weekend, there will probably be another huge traffic surge.

What is the subject?  It is about rich versus poor (well, actually, it is about the super-rich versus the rich) in China.  The extraordinary thing is that the crucial discourse contained little or no political, economic or sociological jargon.  There was no invocation of Marx-Engels-Stalin-Mao and no Chinese census data on income distribution.  It was just two principal characters describing their daily lives and commenting about each other.

The precipitating cause for the forum post was a frequent forum participant named  Yi Yeqing.  She described herself as a Shanghai elitist and repeatedly asserted that society is divided into classes of noble people versus the riffraff.  From 2004, she wrote several essays to express her contempt of peasants, migrant laborers, outsiders, beggars and others.  For example, in the essay "Today, I saw a migrant laborer without shoes", she wrote: "This migrant laborer is worse than even people in the poorest country in the world ... his attitude was so backwards!  I despise him!"  In another essay, "My views on the housing situation of Chinese university students (it shocked me)", she spoke about "observing some horrible things" during a tour of a Shanghai university: "Heavens!  Four people live in one single room!  I have never heard of such a thing.  Even more unthinkable is that these four people should use the same bathroom.  It is really unhygienic ... this is pitiful, this is pitiful!"

On February 22, a netizen posted an attack on Yi Yeqing and her elitist attitudes.  This was promptly supported by many others.  This is not the first time that Yi Yeqing had been attacked this way.  In fact, every one of her previous articles probably drew similar attacks.

In the face of these attacks, Yi Yeqing did not back down.  She held her ground and patiently explained to the netizens that she has a high income and she is upper-class, and she would not back down on her contempt of the likes of migrant laborers.  One famous Tianya Club writer said, "It is impossible to refute Yi Yeqing with the conventional method of argument."

Indeed.  What then is so special about this forum post?  That was because a second character named "Northern Latitude 67 degrees 3 minutes" (hereafter abbreviated as NL) appeared on the scene and totally turned the situation upside down.

NL's objective was clear: he wanted to establish that Yi Yeqing is just a nouveau riche person who is pretending that she has made it into the 'upper-class' and as such is unqualified to speak for the true 'upper-class.'  "You can be prejudiced and that is your problem, but you must not wave the banner of our 'upper-class.'  We in the upper-class society do not believe that we are more noble than others.  We respect everyone, even a beggar."

Yi Yeqing spoke of her family wealth and connections to famous wealthy families.  "My sister has more than 60 million US dollars."  As for herself, "I know the wife of shipping magnate XXX and we know their family well."

NL said, "The family and friends of XXX do not appear to have heard of anyone with the first name Yi.  Of course, maybe I don't know everything since I don't know XXX's family that well.  They are just nouveau rich trying to climb up into upper society, and we don't care much for people like that."  And then, "Your sister only has 60 million US dollars?  She is pathetically poor!"

As for his own credentials, NL disclosed that among China's "top society," there are six families.  "You may be rich, but you will never be in top society.  Your last name is not Shen, not Zhou, not Li, not Zhang, not Gu and not Chen.  You are not one of the six families.  You will never know what is 'top society'!  ... my last name is Zhou ... the Zhou family of Yunan.  If you know anything about top society, you will know what I mean."

So Yi Yeqing's high-and-mighty prejudices against the lowly migrant laborers were shaken at the foundation.  Those people who are even more "upper-class" than her respect the grassroots.  So what is the basis for her prejudices?  This was the most devastating attack that she has ever experienced on the Internet.

The fight than quickly turned from the Internet masses opposing Yi Yeqing's prejudicial attitudes into a fight between "old nobility" versus "nouveau riche."  With the common value of "respecting others," the "old nobility" and the "masses" formed a temporary alliance against the arrogant "nouveau riche."  And NL wins because he used Yi Yeqing's own "wealth comparison" approach against her.

Yi Yeqing said that her family can spend "several thousand US dollars" in a blink and they fly every 2 to 3 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 costs 1-2 thousand RMB.  NL said that the a bottle French wine that he drank on New Year's Eve costs US$13,000.

Within NL's arsenal, he also had taste in addition to wealth.

He said that the "nobility" would never call San Francisco by its shortened colloquial name of 三藩市; instead, they always say 圣弗朗西斯科, and they never go there anyway.  They "also never go to Moscow, because there are no nobles left after the Tsar died."  NL goes to places that people don't think usually think of -- salmon fishing in Alaska or safari hunting in the central African grasslands.

He also "taught" Yi Yeqing: "Upper society only drinks champagne and a small number of French red wines.  Other than that, we only drink soda water or mineral water."  Yi Yeqing mentioned that she likes to make coffee at home or go to the Garden Restaurant in the five-star Shanghai hotel to drink coffee.  NL said, "Ms. Yi even said that she drinks coffee!  Heavens!  We in the upper society do not drink coffee.  We only drink tea!"  Then NL piled on, "We don't hold any prejudice against anyone.  We don't abuse poor people.  We only despise a certain type of people, and that is the kind like Ms. Yi who pretends that she is upper-class."

To further prove that Yi Yeqing is just vulgar nouveau riche, NL posed nine lifestyle questions and insisted that she answer them.  For those that she answered, NL critiqued them with scathing effectiveness.

Question 1:  What color clothes do you usually wear?  What brands?  What brand of watch do you wear?  Do you wear jewelry?  When do you wear them?  Where do you get your jewelry?

For clothes, Yi Yeqing liked PORTS.  She has seven watches, of which the most expensive is a Patek Philippe that her father gave her to wear at work.

NL used his younger sister as the example to "educate" Yi Yeqing about how upper society dresses.  "Their clothes have no labels because they are custom-made in several specialized shops in Paris.  These shops are not open for business because they only cater to their regular clientele."

"Upper society girls dress conservatively.  They usually wear black, gray or something light.  Bright clothes are worn only on rare occasions.  They never wear purple.  They don't usually wear any jewelry.  The jewelry is worn only on special occasions, and they wear only family heirlooms."

NL said that each Patek Philippe has a serial number, and the company will register carefully when, where and to whom it was sold and that information is sent back to Switzerland.  As far as he knows, Patek Philippe has never sold a watch to any Chinese person named Yi.  Therefore, NL relentlessly pushed Yi Yeqing to publish her Patek Philippe serial number.

Question 2: Do you drive yourself or do you have a chauffeur?  What is the brand of your car?  What color is it?

Yi Yeqing has a Lexus at home, but she prefers a particular Honda brand.

NL's standard answer is that BMW and Benz are only for the nouveau riche.  "We have Chevrolets.  In white."

Question 3:  How much taxes do your financial advisor and lawyer file on your behalf each year?

Yi Yeqing saw no need to have her own private lawyer and financial advisor.  If NL earned his own money, he would know why she wanted to save that money.  But NL concluded: "It looks like you cannot afford to hire a private lawyer and financial advisor!"

Question 4:  How much do you donate to charity organizations each year?  To which organizations?

Yi Yeqing said: "I am not obliged to donate money.  The details of anything related to charitable donations are decided by my father."

Once again, NL concluded: "Of course, when it comes to donations, you won't do it!"  Later, he added: "You can work ten lifetimes and you will never earn the amount of money that our family donates to the Chinese Charitable Foundation each year."

Questions 5, 7 and 8:  How much do you spend on maintaining your cruise boat?  How many race horses does your family have?  Which races have they participated in?  What prizes have they won?  What are their bloodlines?  What kind of dogs do you own?  What are their bloodlines?

Yi Yeqing replied: "I don't have any dogs.  It is too expensive in time and money to look after them."  She also said, "It is not that I can't afford a boat or a thoroughbred horse, but I don't want to waste the time and energy, so there is no need to waste the money."

NL rebutted sarcastically: "Ms. Yi!  There is no one in upper society who does not have dogs.  How are you going to hunt without dogs?  But after you read this, you should not go out too hastily to get a dog.  You cannot just have any dog.  And it does not look as if your family could afford a cruise boat, or a race horse.  It costs at least 10 million US dollars to maintain a race horse.  Why don't you try keeping one for me to see?"

Question 6:  Where did you go school as a child?  How many family tutors did you have?

Yi Yeqing did not respond, so NL concluded anyway: "You definitely did not have a family tutor.  Such a family tutor is not someone who teaches physics, chemistry or other such useless stuff.  This is someone who is supposed to teach fencing, etiquette and horse riding."

Question 9: What kind of music do you listen to?  Where do you listen to it?

Yi Yeqing said that she likes to listen to music conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

NL replied: "We watch live opera."

After these exchanges, Yi Yeqing was completely routed.  Her only counter-attack was to accuse NL of not working, because all the successful upper-class people that she has seen worked.  NL said calmly: "Upper class people do not work.  Our forebears have accumulated vast amounts of wealth over the generations to the point where we don't need to work anymore.  We let people who work for us invest our money."  "We all have our own trust funds."

Then NL gave his summation: "Ms. Yi is a petty white-collar person who yearned to be in the upper class.  Unfortunately, she has no clue about how the upper class society lives.  She fantasizes about her own upper class society and she arrogantly despises those around her.  True upper-class ladies are low-keyed, cultured and broad-minded."

Then NL used the same tone that Yi Yeqing used for the peasants back on her: "A wild chicken is a wild chicken, and it can never ever become a phoenix.  I don't want to treat you so cruelly, but your horrendous performance might cause people who are not aware of the truth to misunderstand the upper class society.  Within our circle, there is no one like the type of uncultured, shameless, vain and boastful person that you are."

Yi Yeqing was reduced to pleading that she was just "an ordinary person" who depended on her own labor to earn money.

After four days of debate with Yi Yeqing, NL's final statement was: "I must have been pretty bored recently to argue about something like this."  In this manner, NL said goodbye and went into Internet legend, leaving people still pining for his return.

Why did this post generate so much resonance?  In truth, after more than 20 years of economic development, a wealthy class has emerged in China.  In the eyes of the people, the wealthy are labeled as "successful people" on one hand; yet, on the other hand, some of them are also characterized as "so poor as to have nothing left except money" with respect to basic human values.  The mainstream Internet voice is for democratic rule of law, fairness, justice, trust, amity, orderliness, harmony between man and nature and that is for the best.  Society and the Internet should actively promote the beneficial, reform the backwards and condemn the corrupt.  Yi Yeqing was doomed to lose, because her point of view represents a regressive culture that is rejected by the mass of netizens.  Legally obtained wealth is an indicator of the results of one's labor, but it is not the basis to despise and disrespect others.  This is the necessary requirement for a harmonious society.

Among the thousands of comments, there were doubts about whether NL or Yi Yeqing are real people, but the majority did not care: "Most netizens did not care whether they were true rich people or true nobility.  The key was that they claimed to be upper class people and they discussed the related issues, and the battle ended in a resounding victory that pleased the masses."