23 March 2019
One of the slides in The Erratic Trump Is Actually a Winner in Life shows Donald Trump in a montage with ex-wives Marla (left) and Ivana. Photo: internet
One of the slides in The Erratic Trump Is Actually a Winner in Life shows Donald Trump in a montage with ex-wives Marla (left) and Ivana. Photo: internet

What China thinks of Donald Trump

Around the time polls were closing on Super Tuesday in the United States a week ago, Communist Party news outlets in China began syndicating a 15-image slideshow titled The Erratic Trump Is Actually a Winner in Life.

It opens with an image of Donald Trump’s extended family and a list of reasons why the front-runner for the Republicans in the US presidential race “couldn’t be more inspirational”, including his bestselling books, property empire and beautiful wives and daughters.

But it’s the first item on the list — “fuerdai” – that packs the most punch among the Chinese masses, writes Bloomberg columnist Adam Minter.

Roughly translated, the term means “rich second generation” and refers to the luxury-loving children of the entrepreneurs and politicians who grew wealthy as China’s economy opened up.

Spoiled, entitled and ostentatious, the fuerdai “are to China what Paris Hilton was to the US a decade ago, only less tasteful”, as Bloomberg BusinessWeek put it last year.

Their list of offenses is endless: burning money (and posting the pictures to social media), buying opulent watches for their dogs (and posting the pictures to social media), holding orgies.

But above all, fuerdai seem to exemplify the social and economic canyon that’s opened between China’s privileged classes and everyone else.

Unlike most Chinese, fuerdai can misbehave and then — thanks to family wealth and connections — quickly transition to positions of authority when they decide to grow up.

Trump, with his inherited wealth and gaudy tastes, seems to offer a perfect American analog.

Although his reality television series The Apprentice has long been popular in China, Trump is rarely viewed in positive terms, either as a leader or even a businessman.

In a country where property fortunes are often built on corruption, nobody is likely to view Trump as an entrepreneurial type like Jack Ma Yun, founding chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Unflattering references to Trump and his family have been circulating online for years.

But the reaction got more serious as Trump’s presidential campaign geared up last year.

In August, Caijing, one of China’s most respected business magazines, published a story titled Republican “Dark Horse” Donald Trump: A Celebrity Fuerdai Will Not Make a Good President.

In case anyone was wondering why that description was apt, the author spelled it out: “He was born into a real estate family, went to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and took his father’s company into high-end real estate — truly, he is a fuerdai.”

The association only became stronger after Trump’s infamous Today show appearance in which he revealed that he got his start in business via a “small” US$1 million loan from his father.

Some commentators compared him to Wang Sicong, the son of China’s richest man. The younger Wang is best known for buying gold-plated Apple Watches for his dog, offering crudely Trump-like appreciations of women and starting an online entertainment business (with dad’s money).

But fuerdai isn’t even the worst characterization of Trump in the Chinese media.

By turns, he’s been called a clown, a reminder of Hitler and anti-Chinese, because of his threats to start a trade war.

In some ways, he often seems like a more outgoing and humorous version of the kinds of connected individuals who typically succeed in the Chinese autocracy.

It doesn’t help that US President Barack Obama has long been a popular and even inspirational figure in China (his policies, much less so) precisely because he rose to the pinnacle of American power despite a lack of money and connections.

That kind of rise is impossible in China, where ethnic minorities are largely shut out of government and the top job is held by the son of one of the country’s modern founders.

If there’s any consolation for Trump, it’s in knowing that China’s leaders appeared uncomfortable with Obama’s populist appeal during his earliest visits to the country.

Trump, by virtue of his background, won’t carry that kind of baggage.

Rather, he’s just the kind of guy that China’s leaders are accustomed to doing business with.

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