Models pose with a gold-plated Infiniti
luxury sports car on display at a jewelry store in Nanjing, in east
China's Jiangsu province, in 2011.
Every new generation of nouveaux riches has its vices.
American industrialists were fond of marrying European royalty. In the
1980s, Japanese millionaires got their kicks from buying Rockefeller
Center. In recent decades, Emirati princes have shown a predilection for
building vast indoor snow machines.
Now it's China's turn.
country's newly minted millionaires are second to none in their unusual
tastes. Here's a guide to some of the strangest vices preferred by
China's new super-rich.
Breast milk: Earlier this summer, Chinese social media erupted after a report in Southern Metropolitan newspaper claimed that rich adults had taken to hiring wet nurses not simply to feed their babies — but also themselves.
[clients] can drink it directly through breast-feeding, or they can
always drink it from a breast pump if they feel embarrassed," the owner
of the wet-nurse agency in Shenzhen reportedly said.
Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images
Rhino horns seized by Hong Kong customs
officials are displayed during a press conference Aug. 7. The demand for
rhino horn — used for "medicinal purposes" — by Asia's elites has
fueled poaching and smuggling.
At $2,600 a month, the suckling service does not come cheap, but
to wealthy clients who believe that breast milk grants enormous health
benefits, it's apparently worth it.
While the company has
subsequently denied the report (and GlobalPost tried and failed to
confirm it), the queasy feeling remains: Some people just never got
Tiger thingy: Think of it as a
substitute for Viagra — but more expensive, less effective, wildly
unethical, downright illegal, and dangerous to the future of a
In China and across Southeast Asia, dried
tiger member is still believed to be a potent sexual medicine for men,
despite a notable lack of empirical evidence. Poaching bans and modern
medicine have dented demand only modestly.
Though eating the
phallus of an endangered cat may not sound appetizing, tiger penis soup
can command up to $300 a bowl. You want the whole shebang, so to speak?
That'll cost you $5,000.
Qigong masters: Hollywood celebrities have their psychics and gurus. Wealthy Chinese have their qigong masters — at least until the Communist Party cracks down.
In a country that remains officially atheist, qigong masters at their best offer spiritual guidance to an elite looking for deeper beliefs.
At their worst, they're something close to charlatans.
Just last week, ,
fled China for Hong Kong when state-run media began denouncing him as a
"vulgar magician," spurring rumors of an imminent arrest.
had amassed a fortune thanks to followers that included a who's-who of
China's rich and famous: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Internet tycoon Jack Ma
and several high-ranking Communist Party officials. Wang claimed that he
could cure cancer, conjure snakes and steer his car handlessly, among
The fees for a qigong master can be
steep. One Chinese businessman claims he paid Wang millions of yuan to
learn his secrets, but got only a mattress, a book and a whole lot of
Rhino horn: They'd be just as
well off swallowing their toenail trimmings, but that hasn't stopped
China's well-heeled from paying loads to eat rhino horn.
centuries, Chinese traditional medicine has seen rhino horn as a rare
and powerful remedy for inflammation and fever. In reality, the horn is
simply compressed hair and keratin — which is what fingernail is made
It has zero medical effect.
Nevertheless, China's newly rich pay up to $30,000 a pound for the stuff, leading to a . (In Vietnam, the elite use rhino horn as a and hangover cure.)
the Chinese government has started to crack down on smuggling, the toll
on rhino populations is already harsh. More than 668 rhinos were
poached in South Africa in 2012, up roughly since 2007.
Moutai baijiu: To the uninitiated, the first sip of baijiu — a highly alcoholic liquor distilled from sorghum — tastes a bit like rubbing alcohol mixed with motor oil.
Frequently referred to as "China's national drink," . It is the preferred drink of the elite, accompanying official banquets and business deals.
a result, the price has inflated radically over the last decade. Ten
years ago, a bottle could be bought for $30. Now it runs from about $300
to more than $1 million. Last year, a 1980 vintage sold for $1.3
million at auction.
Gold-plated cars: It's not exactly performance-enhancing, but it gets the message across. That message being: I'm very, very rich.
the latest and greatest way for China's most flamboyant rich to outdo
one another is to encase their luxury cars in solid gold.
Recent favorites include a gold-plated , , , , , , and .