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David Wertime

Chinese Netizens Applaud Ex-Goldman Employee's Resignation

Trust us, they hate each other

You’ll find no schadenfreude here. It might have been tempting for China’s netizens to wag their fingers at the U.S. after Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith resigned from the investment bank in the form of a searingly critical New York Times Op-Ed. Instead, shortly after a translation began making the rounds on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter (see below), netizens condemned Goldman’s culture while lamenting that the same hijinks can, and do, happen in their country. In doing so, they sounded remarkably like Americans disillusioned with Wall Street’s practices.  

Many netizens employed language of disgust that might sound familiar to members of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To @god_shawn, Goldman is “famous for eating people, and not even spitting out the bones.” @PhilGuo郭经纶 wrote, “This is why blood-sucking animals in the natural world are ugly, while dandelions spreading their seed are beautiful.” @珣珣_Elissa added, “High-level scoundrels are still scoundrels.”

Those “scoundrels” don’t just carry American passports. Instead, many agreed with @hi-李力华 that “Chinese companies are even more rotten.” @熌銧 saw Goldman as “a very good fit for China’s conditions,” perhaps because, as @圈圈CD wrote, “This is the atmosphere in the entire ‘celestial dynasty’…as long as you can make money, everything else is secondary. Look how we are killing ourselves!” 

A squid named Wall Street straddles the world, with Goldman a tentacle

But it’s not quite as easy to burn one’s bridges in China. @你要麽样就麽样 explained that “these phenomena in China are absolutely not astonishing; to the contrary, [managers'] resignation letters are always the same form: ‘Thanks to the leaders for their care over many years …[something] made me suddenly discover [that] because of family reasons [I must retire].’”

So why aren’t more Chinese pulling a Greg Smith? Many commenters reflected in anger at the shallowness and greed they saw permeating society at large. One word to describe modern society arose repeatedly: “fuzao” (浮躁), meaning “unstable,” “rash” or “impulsive.” @最近的地方路途最远 commented, “This isn’t news, or anything explosive. This is the dirty history of Wall Street, which has already evolved into the instability [fuzao] of globalization.”

Many found Smith’s letter inspiring. One author of Chinese business books (@广东陈进) wrote he was “Deeply sympathetic. I left my own company job of 20 years because the company’s culture and values had already changed, and I could no longer accept them. Although my position and my pay were very high, it wasn’t what I wanted, so I quit to become an entrepreneur once again!”

Others applauded Greg Smith’s courage. @熟悉的陌生人ha wrote, “Every type of change needs courage; let us cheer for [it].” @Melodie麦麦子流浪地球 tweeted, “There are few people who know when they’ve been poisoned…even fewer who have the courage to leave the drugs behind once they know.”

Many framed Goldman’s sins not in ethical terms, but business terms. A job at Goldman is coveted by many Chinese, but may lose its sheen as negative publicity mounts. One often-echoed sentiment was tweeted by Mr. He Gang (@何刚), editor-in-chief of Investor magazine: ”Goldman’s leaders in upper management have ignored the most basic point: If the client doesn’t trust you, they will ultimately choose not to do business with you, however clever you may be.” @蕉下客_上海 wrote that he’d learned this basic lesson while in business school: “After the clients have ‘taken the bait,’ when the word gets out the company is finally finished.” 

In response to such critiques, one netizen (@银色猎手爪子) offered a familiar defense. “This is very normal, the first order of business for Western companies is to protect the shareholders’ interests, which in truth means the big shareholders … when a capitalist founds a company, it is to make money.”

How fuzao of him. 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.