A new social group has emerged in China. They are referred to as the “tuhao”. The word “tuhao” is not a new word. It original meaning was a rich landowner. The word was first coined in the Song and Qing Dynasties. It referred to the villainous rich landowner and class enemy of communist China’s proletariat.
The term’s modern revival began with a joke that made its rounds on Chinese social media in early September. A young rich man asks a Zen master, “I’m wealthy but unhappy. What should I do?” The Zen master responds, “Define ‘wealthy.'” The young man answers, “I have millions in the bank and three apartments in central part of Beijing. Is that wealthy?” The Zen master silently holds out a hand, inspiring the young man to a realization: “Master, are you telling me that I should be thankful and give back?” The Zen master says, “No … “Tuhao”, can I become your friend?”
His response implies that even a Zen master, who is supposed to live a simple, non-materialistic life, is eager to be associated with the rich.
The joke explains a social phenomenon in China, where people yearn to befriend the rich in the hope of benefiting from the relationship, even though they might secretly despise them out of jealousy.
The modern definition of “ tuhao” is — tu means dirt or uncouth; hao means splendor. They seem to be everywhere, throwing around their newly minted renminbi and well-used debit cards; yet they are elusive and shun the media. Their love for bling has become the backbone of the global luxury goods industry, yet they are also the subject of disdain, the butt of jokes, and the punching bag for that which is offensive to good taste.
Although people used the word “tuhao” in a light-hearted context, it shows the desire of materialism in China. They might be hoping to become a ‘tuhao” themselves through the contacts with the “tuhao”.
A commentary in Global Times said having the right connections with “tuhao” is seen as a shortcut to success in China, where “people lose confidence in changing their fate through knowledge or personal capabilities”.
“Although not glorious and solid, it is better than struggling at the lowest end of society,” it said.
A report by the Foreign Policy echoed the same sentiment.
“Small wonder that while Chinese may resent “tuhao” and poke fun at their taste, making their acquaintance (or better yet, marrying into their families) remains a convenient and enviable way to move up China’s increasingly treacherous social ladder,” it said.