• Chinese spending on fashion reached £8bn in 2010. Photo: AFP
THE People's Republic of China, a centrally governed communist state with 1.3 billion citizens is, as noted economist Jessie J would have it, all about the money. Since 1978, when leader Deng Xiaoping declared: "China has been poor for too long. To get rich is glorious," it has become the world's fastest-growing major economy, going from the bicycle to the BMW in one generation.
By hoovering up the top positions in state-run enterprises and taking advantage of the vast government contracts that come with rapid industrialisation, party officials and their children have thrived in the brave new communism-with-benefits world. Those who started their own companies, especially in construction, have done even better. The new Hurun Rich List, of Chinese individuals with a net worth of over 10 billion yuan (£1 billion), numbers 127.
For those who did not have the foresight, or resources, to get into earth movers at the start of the boom, things are not so cheery. The national average income is 50,000 yuan (£5,000), less than Angola and Albania. Only 24 million of the population's earnings are above the tax threshold. This vast gap between the ostentatiously spendthrift rich and the struggling poor has prompted a government rethink. Consumption, say the authorities, must become less conspicuous. Earlier this year, Beijing outlawed billboard advertisements that promoted "hedonism, lavishness and the worship of foreign things".
Will this work? Avery Booker of the analytical website Jing Daily suggests that stealth wealth will become the new cha-ching: "While there will always be a market for garish, tank-like Russian SUVs, chunky diamond-studded watches and logo-festooned bags, the country's ultra-wealthy, becoming ever more cautious about consumption, will likely gravitate towards boutique labels, private clubs and discreet concierge services." None of which are exactly cheap.
In the meantime, what are the commie consumers spending their cash on?
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