Keeping up with the Wang's

Yesterday my wife announced she wanted a million dollar house.  There was no quantitative analysis behind the statement, ie nothing like “the greater the value, the more we make”, or anything like that.   No homework done on her behalf, nor any attempt to “wow” me with numbers. 
No….she just felt “in my life I’d like to live in a million dollar house”.  

I’d just fought the brave fight, mind you.  A nearly 2 year long rearguard action on our next car purchase.  A strong believer in Japanese vehicles, my wife had wanted a Lexus from Day One while I simply wanted to upgrade to a bigger Honda.   Alas, after 2 years she simply wore me down.  Simple as that.   We bought a Lexus.   So now I’m living with debt, for the first time in many years. 

Mind you my wife, as most of you should know by now, is a city girl of old school privilege.  Her dad was a former bigwig within the government.  He was a generation ahead of his time, ie relatively honest.   He has a comfortable lifestyle now of course, but I’m sure his successors a generation later are immensely better off.  But if his gorgeous daughter had simply stayed single a few years longer she’d without question be a part of China’s elite.  My wife, with many years of pondering and thought, now realizes this. 

Does she live with a tinge of regret for potentially giving up a much more comfortable way of life by marrying me?  Yes, she does.  Does she mention it?  Upon occasion.   So methinks her continuously striving for a higher material standard and way of life is her way of compensating. 

Or so I thought. 

Turns out we are surrounded by multitudes of Chinese friends that all seem to be “doing well”.    Buying multiple houses, renting out, etc.  (funny none of them own a Lexus though)  We came across an acquaintance of hers the other day at the market.  She had bought an $800,000 house in a subpar school district.  In our lofty area, it would easily be over a million.   (Yes, I’m aware those on both the left and right coasts sneeze at this as a paltry sum, but come on….you own a bungalow, not a house)
She has friends that live on the lake, as well as friends that live behind manned gated communities.  

My wife is truly locked in that age old game of “keeping up with the Joneses”.     However, the notion of FACE is so deeply embedded within Chinese society, that I’m afraid it may be a generation or two before the Chinese begin to appreciate such a concept.   Unlike the West, they have no moral institutions to help counter such wanton materialism.   Concepts of modesty within China, when I come across them, are nothing but false notions used to bolster a first impression. 

For a country that tends to revere Confucious….well, read for yourself.

All societies fail to live up to the teachings of moral institutions that reside within them.   The West is no exception.  Yet, the CCP within China has deliberately de-emphasized the moral force of Confuciansim within Chinese society.   There can be no other voice within China, that competes with the Voice of the Party.  None.   And that can justifiably be called perhaps the true failing of CCP Rule within China today.   Confucianism was a mooring of Chinese society. It reigned as a bedrock philosophy for 1500 years.  While some believe it was Confucianism that “kept China down”,  it’s absence and demagoguery over the course of a few generations helped create the moral vacuum we see in China today.

Imagine the West having Christianity yanked from it? No Churches, no publications.  Is it possible within a generation or two the West would fall into the same decadent despair that China is in today?  Great for Louis Vuitton, bad for society. 

My wife continues to chide me for “not going to Church”, with her.    While at the same time keeping her focus on material gain and FACE, within the subculture she lives in today.  (Maybe I should show up in Chinese church someday.    I’d be curious as to what in the hell they do talk about?)
The Chinese subculture I live in today would not be called crassly materialistic by any sense of the notion.   They are all IT and Math types.  Professors.    None of them own a Maserati.  Not even a BMW!  That’s not the way they flaunt their wealth.  Rather, they buy surprisingly expensive houses on minimalist incomes that leave others guessing.  It’s like an arms race.   Nearly every other week I will get feedback on the “newest purchase”.  

I must admit when I married a Chinese I suspected I’d be spending a lot of time with her family at our house.  But I never expected I’d find myself caught up in the financial drama of “keeping up with the Wangs”. 


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