Most people have never heard of the term ‘fuerdai’ unless they happen to know quite a bit about Chinese culture—or perhaps gone to a Beijing nightclub and passed by a group of elite rich millennia’s popping bottles.
So what does the word fuerdai mean?
The children of wealthy Chinese families are known as fuerdai, which translates to “rich second generation.” They are the offspring of Chinese entrepreneurs who became wealthy under Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 1980s. Fuerdai are to China what Gigi Hadid and Kylie Jenner are to the west. Super rich kids who flaunt their unlimited wealth, material possessions, and social power.
So what’s it like to come from money in a culture where living frugal is the definition of normalcy? It means access to any and everything you could ever want—materialistic, and otherwise. It’s a world of indulgence and extravagant living. They buy fancy cars, rock the latest designer clothes, and flash their privileged lives on social media every chance they get.
Fuerdai came upon their wealth from inherited fortunes—new money that their parents have earned by creating empires in the technology, investment, and other such lucrative fields. These second-generation rich kids have gained prominence in society purely by way of their families; and this is a big deal in a country that is mostly poverty stricken and simplistic in their way of life. The fuerdai represent an entirely opposite way of living for most Chinese, and many people in society find it appalling how they flaunt what they have in such an outlandish way. This is a problem because of the offense it brings to certain political values that emphasize modesty, especially in matters of wealth.
According to an article written by The New Yorker, about a third of China’s wealth belongs to just one percent of the population, which means that soon this small group of second-generation kids stand to inherit countless business empires. But will they? It’s a question that has been receiving a lot of attention lately, as many of the parents have opted not to pass businesses along to their offspring. Many times they will fund small ventures for their children to test the waters, but many are worried that their businesses will crumble to the ground if inherited. So where does that leave the fuerdai? Families with generations of wealth tend to be a bit more reserved and less visible, which is a learned way of life. So it seems that they may have a few mannerisms to acquire if they intend to keep these businesses in the family—and that leads us to ask, how are these parents raising their kids?
Although no specific research has been conducted, we know a few facts to be true. The first generation rich were called ‘fuyidai’, who are the parents of the fuerdai. They are the ones who came into great wealth as newcomers, meaning that they did not come from a lineage of money. Therefore, it is said by many in the Chinese media that because their parents have seen struggle and even experienced some form of poverty themselves, it makes them more prone to being less strict on their children. It’s
almost as if they are afraid to be hard on them because they don’t want their kids to experience any of the hardships that they did growing up.
In other areas of the world, family-owned businesses deal with these kinds of problems by seeking outside help from other professionals. But that’s an unlikely option in China, where skepticism of outsiders is firmly rooted in the culture’s business traditions. The fuerdai often end up not appreciating or understanding what hard work, respect, and ethics are. Quite naturally, money brings with it a sense of power, which means that as these kids are growing up with different values than other children their age. It also doesn’t help that the fuerdai are covered extensively in the Chinese media, causing the general population to look down at them in disapproval. As it stands, they have a pretty bad reputation in the eyes of China’s general public. Social consciousness isn’t a value that the fuerdai are learning, which leaves room for outsiders to feel the way they do about them.
For some fuerdai, particularly those that have moved abroad to live in Canada or the Unites States, the idea of social consciousness is a little easier to understand. It’s the cultural shift into other parts of the world that makes it easier to see that their status holds power. Many of these rich Chinese millennials find that as they move away from home, it gives them a deeper appreciation for the hard work their parents put forth in creating their wealth. But not all of them think that way. Just a select few. Still, there’s hope among some in the Chinese media that these wealthy kids will see the power that they have, and use it to make better choices—because after all, they are the future leaders of their country—which brings into question whether or not this deeply despised group of young rich elite can win over China’s working class. Hard to do when you’re posting pictures on social media of your dog wearing not one, but two gold Apple watches.
That said, there will always be the poor, and there will always be the rich—the haves and the have-nots. But is there a way for these second-generation wealthy elite to balance their materialism with an equally robust socially consciousness? Or is it too late for a group that is seen by society as deprived of values and principles? Only time will tell.