Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China's New Rich

Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China's New Rich

John Osburg

Language: English

Pages: 248

ISBN: 0804783543

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Who exactly are China's new rich? This pioneering investigation introduces readers to the private lives—and the nightlives—of the powerful entrepreneurs and managers redefining success and status in the city of Chengdu. Over the course of more than three years, anthropologist John Osburg accompanied, and in some instances assisted, wealthy Chinese businessmen as they courted clients, partners, and government officials.

Drawing on his immersive experiences, Osburg invites readers to join him as he journeys through the new, highly gendered entertainment sites for Chinese businessmen, including karaoke clubs, saunas, and massage parlors—places specifically designed to cater to the desires and enjoyment of elite men. Within these spaces, a masculinization of business is taking place. Osburg details the complex code of behavior that governs businessmen as they go about banqueting, drinking, gambling, bribing, exchanging gifts, and obtaining sexual services.

These intricate social networks play a key role in generating business, performing social status, and reconfiguring gender roles. But many entrepreneurs feel trapped by their obligations and moral compromises in this evolving environment. Ultimately, Osburg examines their deep ambivalence about China's future and their own complicity in the major issues of post-Mao Chinese society—corruption, inequality, materialism, and loss of trust.

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tragic consequences for the public good—shoddy construction (referred to as “tofu dregs construction”), contaminated food, and stark material inequalities, revealing the limits of the relational ethics of guanxi. While some scholars have interpreted the term suzhi (personal quality) as evidence of a totalizing discourse of neoliberalism used to measure the economic value of human subjects, I contend that suzhi has been appropriated by many Chinese to point out the moral failings of the new rich

instrumental motives such as gaining the patronage of a powerful official or winning a contract often serve as the basis for the initial invitation for a night of banqueting, drinking, and carousing, the goal of a successful evening of entertaining is precisely to transcend agendas and interest and create a lasting bond out of shared experiences of pleasure. In the context of banquet saturation, where countless businessmen are offering bribes and dinner invitations, only entrepreneurs skilled in

Zhen served as personal secretary (mishu) to the 92    ELITE NETWORKS AND CORRUPTION Hebei Party secretary (shuji). Despite deriving no de jure formal power from his position, Li Zhen describes how his proximity to the leadership allowed him to wield a great deal of de facto power. Part of his power came from his control over the Party secretary’s schedule. Heads of companies and government work units were constantly seeking ways to get Li Zhen to bring important leaders to visit them and

singing karaoke, drinking, and illicit drug use, for which the club had a reputation. I sat next to him while his xiongdi (junior members of his organization) ritually toasted both him and me. Midway through the evening one of his bodyguards came into the room and handed him a mobile phone.16 Cai explained that he had a meeting with a boss at another nearby club, but he invited me to accompany him. When we arrived at the club, a manager greeted us at the door and led us down a hallway and into a

see the job as a way to quickly amass capital for other endeavors. The compensation they receive from hostessing and sex work is often orders of magnitude greater than that offered by any salaried work in manufacturing or service industries open to women of their educational levels. Some use hostessing to support their kin, including parents back in their rural villages, and a large percentage of them are in fact married (Pan 2000). Some view it as a path to a comfortable city life in the future

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