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Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous: The Creation and Implications of China’s New Aristocracy

In: Comparative Sociology
Author:
Karl GerthMerton College Oxford University Oxford OX1 4JD UK, Email: Karl.Gerth@history.ox.ac.uk

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Abstract

This essay examines how the consumption of luxury goods and services in contemporary China has become a key way of defining membership in what Chinese popularly refer to as the “new rich” (xin fu) or “new aristocracy” (xin gui). During the Maoist era (1949-1976) and extending into the first decade of the Reform Era in China (1978-1988), political power bestowed modest material advantages. But now state officials can directly - or indirectly via their friends, family, and even mistresses - convert political power into wealth and pursue more luxurious lifestyles, fueling both popular desire for the lifestyles of the rich and a deep resentment based on the belief that many of the new rich secured access to those lifestyles through graft.

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