-by Ernie Diaz
There are five broad classes now in China, tallied on the three variables
of wealth, status, and looks. If you’re one of the lucky, you are gaofushuai, ‘tall, rich and good-looking’. The status of the gaofushuai derives from standing in marked contrast to the diaosi, whose derivation is closest to the Spanish term pendejo. Its true meaning is that you are short of the minimum standard 170cm mark, short of cash, and enhance your looks with cut-rate dye jobs, and an iPhone that everyone but your fellow diaosi knows is fake a mile off.
There’s always someone more gaofushuai than thou, though, especially the fuerdai, children of the wealthy, whose parents view pampered descendants as an indispensable mark of their class. The fuerdai must step to the curb for the guanerdai, children of officials, whose wealth is accompanied by the power to take away yours, should you prove to be a nuisance.
At the apex stand a tiny cluster of hongerdai, children and grandchildren of red heroes who helped China break the chains of class discrimination, and banish the concept of profit at the expense of the people. Only the slowest of them aren’t educated abroad, aloof as German princelings back from their academie in France.
Many hongerdai take the road set before them and steward their parents’ baksheesh hoard into respectably oppressive corporations. Many also wear the soured face of those who belong to their families, rather than themselves. We’ll leave most of this type to your imagination, and focus on the ones with tales to shed light on those long shadows cast by hypocrisy.
Take Frances Yung, upon whom the shadow casts but soft shade. After all, her grandfather was the “Red Capitalist”, a pre-liberation tycoon who safely transitioned to CCP by wondrous means. Her dad Larry took the duty of making the family 100% legit in Hong Kong, and giving a healthy taste to Friends of His.
Although a manager in her father’s company, Frances chaffed to honor her tradition and take an executive position. She made her bones in 2005, increasing tolls on the family’s East Harbor Tunnel despite a long-standing beef with the government. A woman, take over the family business? Oh yeah, especially in China.
But not poor Ye Jingzi, for she is adrift in two worlds. Grandpa Ye, a PLA general, chaired the National People’s congress from ’78-83’. Her father retained enough revolutionary fervor to insist that his daughter not grow up a Chinese princess. So he sent her off to New York City to be a material girl, this being the mid 80s.
Manhattaneville College will leave its bohemian stamp on anyone, even a Chinese princess in exile. Did we mention she didn’t take over the family business? Right, because she has her own company, Brilliant Culture. “It’s important that I use my position to help my country and my people,” says Ye. She helps with big lavish events: street races, beauty pageants, and the odd Tibetan treasure exhibition. Hey, help comes in all forms. Easy to forget that for a while there Beijing and Shanghai needed serious shots of pizzazz.
Notice anything familiar about that chin mole? Picture it fez-sized, gracing the mug of Kong Dongmei’s grandfather, which hangs over the entrance to the Forbidden City. The maelstrom that threatens Windsor and Kennedy heirs is but an eddie to what Mao’s children faced. Only one of them lived, for goodness’ sake – Li Min, who begat Kong Dongmei.
The best laid plans, comrades, the best laid plans! The granddaughter of China’s socialist liberator majored in English lit. But see, that’s what y’all don’t get about Yellow Jesus. Mao was a poet warrior before he became a philosopher king, and ultimately a syphilitic demagogue, butthat’sbesidethepoint. Kong serves the people with her boojy Bauhaus studio in Beijing’s 798 art district.
But she has one of her grandfather’s best traits, the courage of the sage. Kong has let the family tree spear her on its branches, using her roots to curate Red classics and the least tacky Mao memorabilia. More ballsy yet, she boldly fosters a “diversified view” of China’s revolutionary history. Hopefully Kong doesn’t just mean foreigners opining on the Opium Wars and the Japanese.
Hong Huang, 50, is the child of a diplomatic power couple. Today, as China’s Oprah Winfrey, she is the most evolved of the red descendants, having eschewed projection of her family’s power in favor or her personal voice. Only an unauthorized biography will reveal the true price of that reprieve.
And certainly she’s ridden the dragon of family favor. Hong used her Vassar diploma to bat aside the political lane chosen for her, taking a side step to the corporate fast track, where she was ridiculously well-compensated as an investment consultant and foreign company rep.
But as everywhere else, China’s new deities are worshipped on the screen. A blogger, actress, and TV host, Hong launched to multi-media orbit from a blast pad of fashion magazines, making her a style queen whom China’s Martha Stewarts can point to with pride. This red descendant keeps her shadow pinned to a sliver in the glare of the spotlight.
Funny how that worked out, all the hongerdai mentioned being women, and the mouse begging for a click. The red descendants come bejeweled as well, and will be hauled out for inspection in due course.