Second Generation Nouveau Riche Women and The Rise of a Young Global Elite
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This thesis focuses on detailing the social, personal, political, and economic world of the young nouveau riche women in China. It offers a glimpse into the often clandestine behaviors, taste preferences, and imaginations of China’s emerging elite. The young nouveau riche men and women in this thesis are the children of some of the most successful entrepreneurs of China, who are the embodied proof of China’s shift to a more capitalistic market economy. This thesis puts the young Chinese nouveau riche women in the greater context of a global phenomenon: the rise of a young global elite. Though elite culture and elites are nothing new to the pages of history, the emergence of the second generation of a young elite in China is a very recent phenomenon. History has never seen such a young, diverse, global, egalitarian, and aesthetically-obsessed group of non-Western elites as in the contemporary era. Because of the recent rise of the second generation young elites, academic literature and studies on this group are sparse and difficult to find, therefore much of the research in this thesis is new and original. In addition, due to the closed-off and cautious nature of this elite group, intimate access into these groups by non-members is very difficult. My theoretical framework emphasizes the unique characteristics of China’s young nouveau riche, with special attention to gendered differences in terms of young women. Though every country and culture has at one time or another had a ruling elite, the emerging young elites of China are culturally very different than other elite groups who have preceded them, in that they are far more egalitarian; more performative and artistic in their appearance; distinctly Chinese, yet indisputably more global than past generations; and surprisingly ambitious. This generation of young Chinese elites as well as global elites embody much of the creative ethos that has arisen during the technologically innovative era. They see their work lives in political and creative terms. They are cultural omnivores and they seek to disrupt boundaries by cross-breeding the best of their worlds: business to art, virtual to visual, and artistic to political. The thesis begins with a theoretical approach to framing the research. In this section, I also discuss methodologies and findings. I employed primary as well as secondary research methods. For about two years, I interviewed, spent time with, and visited the homes of several young nouveau riche women. I spent time with them while they were at school in the United States, at home in China, and in various social settings across continents. I interviewed eight nouveau riche women, and three nouveau riche men in China. All of them were born in China; most of the women I interviewed attended boarding school either for middle school and/or high school somewhere in Europe or America. All of the women, with the exception of one, attended college either in the United States or Europe. In college, they studied subjects from fashion to art history to economics to philosophy to international relations. All of my participants were between the ages of 21-28. There are two reasons why the age of this cohort is fairly young. Firstly, the bulk of the second generation nouveau riche in China were born several years after Deng Xiao Ping’s Open Door Policy which began in 1978; this can be explained by the fact most of my participants said that their parents had them either during or after their “striking gold” moment. Secondly, because it is so difficult to find and interview children of the elite, I depended heavily on my participants to introduce me to other research subjects, thus creating a snowball effect wherein most of my participants have some sort of familiar connection with one another. Another demographic highlight of my subjects was that they were all exceptionally talented with their language skills, both in Chinese and English. An obvious demographic fact about them is that their parents were all first generation nouveau riche, which means they had made their fortune within their own lifetime via entrepreneurship and business. There is an entire other segment of elite Chinese whom are government workers, and who made their wealth by exploiting government policies and all the perks that come with being a party member in China. Many of these elites also made their fortune within their lifetime and have children have benefited directly from that wealth, however, this group of elites is even more difficult to access for research and interviews due to the morally gray and clandestine nature of their parents and their parents’ path to fortune, thus that is one of the main reasons why I did not study them. For this thesis, I analyzed qualitative data from in-depth interviews regarding consumption traits, life goals, family matters, upbringing, the family business, and more. The primary motive behind the interviews was to gain a better understanding of how and what the second generation nouveau riche Chinese were thinking; how they processed and saw the world and the things that happened in and around their lives; and what their hopes were for their own futures. In sum, this thesis is a portrait of what this visible yet mysterious world of the new elite look like, and the thesis also offers a glimpse into the future. With global inequality growing at an astonishing rate , it is imperative that we look to the new generation of wealth-holders and cultural leaders to see what is next for modern societies. The study of this generation informs the next and newest definition of what it means to be elite, the contours of modern day wealth, and what it means to be a citizen of the world in aesthetic, intellectual, and cultural terms.