Bling bling: It's the yokel barons

By Pauline D. Loh ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-11-26 07:32:28

A Chinese word, tuhao, has found special mention on the BBC recently for its widespread use in online conversations. The British broadcaster explains it to mean "nouveau riche", but everyone in China knows it means so much more than that.

It describes newly rich yokel tycoons who have worked their way up from the ground, yes, but it is also used to describe things considered particularly kitschy, including the gold iPhone 5S pushed out recently in a not-so-subtle rainbow of colors.

It describes unrestrained consumerism, especially those outside designer stores in Hong Kong, Paris or Milan and in flagship stores in Switzerland where timepieces are carted off by the dozens.

Tuhao. There is a slightly derogatory tone to the term, a hidden sneer manifested in usage.

But I believe that the Chinese tuhao himself is a transitional character, a temporary apparition of social changes, and that in previous reincarnations he was variously American, Singaporean, South Korean and even Japanese.

In the '60s and '70s, the strength of the US dollar allowed rich and not-so-rich Americans to flood tourist destinations everywhere clad in cameras, florid Hawaii shirts, rhinestone-fringed sunglasses and drawing attention with loud laughs and louder conversations.

The brash reputation persisted, and up till today, tourist surveys still mention the "Ugly American" abroad, although Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac may have conspired to keep him more at home in recent years.

In the 1980s, Asia's little dragons hoarded the financial headlines and tourists from Singapore, Taipei and Seoul headed out to see the world, pockets lined with ready cash from the regional economic booms.

Singaporeans, fresh from a greenhouse culture, complained loudly about any service that was not as sanitized as those back home, ranging from food to toilets to how tourist attractions are run, and to why other ethnic Chinese do not speak their brand of English or Chinese.

Already, they were preparing to teach the world how to do it better.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

Editor's Picks
Hot words

Most Popular