A new generation of rich kids is changing the social norms in China. The country’s economic boom has made it increasingly possible for young people to voice their opinions. But it has also ignited an array of social problems, including the rise of a materialistic culture in which young people are pressured to assimilate into elite circles. The words of one female contestant on a popular reality TV dating show, If You Are the One, sum up the problem. She generated a huge public outcry when she rejected a humble man who offered her a ride on his bicycle, coldly saying, "I would rather cry in a BMW."
The lifestyle of the "explosive rich" is both reviled and envied across China. The once-bleak landscape of Chinese cities has been replaced by three-story-high Gucci stores. The Mao suit has been traded in for Rolex watches, designer handbags, and stilettos. It's not unusual for young people to flaunt their wealth on the popular Chinese social media site Weibo, as in this post showing two teens boarding their private jet. The behaviors and attitudes of China’s "rich second generation" (called "2G") — the sons and daughters of successful businessmen who built their companies from the ground up in the 1980s — have created and perpetuated a culture that celebrates wealth and materialism.
A growing number of young people aspire to roll in elite social circles. Millionaire matchmaking shows are a symptom of this culture of worshipping money. On these programs, it is common for female contestants to openly admit that they would rather have a boyfriend who owns a luxury home than one who makes them happy. The shows' popularity has raised enough concern about materialism and the corruption of Chinese culture and values that the government is now attempting to censor them.
Of course, young men and women have other means of finding wealthy spouses and entering into the world of the rich and (in)famous. Self-advertisement has become popular. Women clad in skimpy outfits hold up signs such as "fair, rich, beautiful" in malls, while men pay to have their pictures and credentials ("house, car, a good job") printed on skyscrapers' billboards. Parents of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes advertise their children’s attributes on papers hung from trees in public parks, and even hand out leaflets to people passing by. Beijing’s Zhongshan Park, for instance, has become known as a "marriage market."
Matchmaking has evolved into a serious industry. Rich men frequently outsource the recruitment of trophy wives to paid "love hunters." Armed with a list of requirements from their clients, "love hunters" scout shopping malls and coffee shops, looking for potential candidates. According to an article in the New York Times, their list typically includes the following criteria: "age (22 to 26), skin color (‘white as porcelain’) and sexual history (yes, a virgin)." Single women who are above the age of 27, or who are considered average looking, too educated, or too career-oriented are out of luck. Sadly, these "leftover women" occupy the bottom rung of the marriage market, along with men who don't own property.
The rise of a new upper class in China has generated a tangled web of social problems. While the very existence of reality TV shows and self-advertisement indicates a move toward greater freedom of expression that was unthinkable a generation ago, matchmaking businesses are promoting a harmful message, as they suggest that wealth and beauty are the only things for which young people should strive. China may be "opening up" by allowing more room for discussion, but it's also becoming restrictive in a different way, as young Chinese people are increasingly pressured to conform to materialistic ideals.