The photos posted online feature a girl, slim and pretty, with long, shiny hair dyed a burgundy red. But what is remarkable about them is the paper dress she wears. According to media reports, it comprises 200,000 RMB (about US$32,000) worth of bills. It’s worth noting that the bills do not appear to be Chinese currency, and it is difficult to confirm their actual collective value. But the images have been enough to get China’s blogosphere buzzing.
According to Zhengzhou Evening News, the girl in the photo is a user with the name “Good Little Child” (@小白儿乖) on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. When she uploaded the images, she captioned them this way:
“In order to celebrate this princess’ 21st birthday, my loving daddy gave me a beautiful cream cake; isn’t he the cutest! But what I’m most happy about is this stitched-together money dress worth 200,000 RMB, which my sugar daddy really had to work his connections to buy. Isn’t it awesome? Girls, don’t be jealous. My whole wardrobe of Channel and LV really can’t compare!”
In Chinese, the term for “sugar daddy” and “godfather” are one and the same: gan die. The first word, gan, contains a range of meanings–some of them crude–which Weibo commenters were quick to pun on. And while the man’s identity is currently unknown, commenters evinced both awe and repulsion that he was both rich and profligate enough to give such an ostentatious gift. User “Popular Small Horse Zi” proclaimed, “I gotta find a godmother!” While “Time To Get Up Jeffrey” commented, “In this dynasty we can translate GDP as ‘Gan Die Product.’”
“Good Little Child” joins a long line of pretty, young Chinese women who have courted the Chinese Web’s simultaneous fascination and ire with ostentatious displays of wealth. The most notorious of these must be Guo Meimei, a then 20-year-old Chinese girl who entered the annals of Internet lore last year when she posted photos of herself toting designer handbags and posing next to her Maserati. The images caused a firestorm among Web users who noted she had listed herself as Business General Manager for the Red Cross Society, one of the country’s biggest charity organizations.
And while Guo Meimei was eventually discovered not to be working at the Red Cross, she has become synonymous with brazen money-flashing, her name invoked every time a similar story emerges. This has included Lu Xingyu, who was suspected of getting rich off the back of her extensive fundraising, and Chen Shoufu whose wealth flaunting and confessions of drunk driving raised eyebrows because her user name listed herself as a member of the military.
This phenomenon is invariably applied to women, rather then men. It is only the photos of beautiful, young women posing with big round eyes and flirtatious smiles, appearing to flaunt themselves as much as the luxury goods they pose next to, that appear to interest users. Users gobble the images up, covetous, titillated and furious, then fling out words like “slutty,” “vulgar,” “fame-hungry,” “dishonest,” and “shameless.” In China, vice and women are still concepts that seem indivisible.
And while few of these viral women have been mistresses, they are inevitably suspected of being so, as was the case with Guo Meimei (she wasn’t). There is a feeling in Chinese society that among a certain subset–say, the thousands of self-made millionaires over the last three decades–that keeping a mistress is a status symbol equivalent to driving a sports car. And yet these modern-day concubines are reviled as much as they are desired for having traded in a purity of heart all “good” Chinese women are expected to have.
Something must be said for the timing of these photos, such as it is, just days after the tragic tale of five, impoverished boys in Guizhou suffocating to death in a garbage bin shocked the Chinese Web. With overtones of Hans Christian Andersen’s hauntingly sad story “The Little Match Girl”, the boys had sought shelter from cold weather, but died of carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire to stay warm. In a touching post, author Zheng Yuanjie wrote, “Though you left the world in a dumpster, you are not trash.”
The country’s growing income disparity is a traditionally hot-button topic among Chinese Internet users, and the contrast here could not be clearer. Such a cruel disjunction of images prompted one user to say, “Five children had to die, while all the power and money was busy being ‘godfather.’”
Tea Leaf Nation contacted the now-famous girl in the paper dress via Weibo, but has received no reply as of this writing. The only public response she has made to her new found fame has been an oblique post quoting two lines from a Ming Dynasty poem by Tang Bohu, with the implied meaning: Whether you’re wealthy or poor, everyone eventually dies. So what’s important are wine and flowers, and the leisure to enjoy them.