I am a Rich Person?

It is a very tough topic, and it is surely controversial. But it puzzled me a lot and I take the courage to share it.

In the last few years, I wrote an article The World of Different Rules talking about my conflict with a mason, and another article talking about my conflict with security guards. The root cause for the conflict is, I think, my hope of a better country – a country with more respects, and with more rules – A country that people respect private property, and a country where people are eventually equal – not because being rich or poor, or the positions they hold. Everyone should follow the rules, and be equal. I saw so many injustices the rich people did for the poor people.

However, recently, I bitterly reflect what I am doing, and I started to ask the question: Am I seen as a rich people from the poorer people?

Obviously I won’t be naive enough to say I am still the poor. Rich is a relative term. My Ayi in Shanghai earns more than a middle school teacher in Luoyang, and an intern in my company earns more than most people I know in Luoyang, not to mention the rural areas. The gap between Shanghai and other part of the country is as obvious as developed country and developing country. Should I feel evil about it?

In Shanghai, after working for 10 years with pretty nice track record, I am relatively richer than people who just graduated, or people who are not fortunate enough to receive university education and are still doing labor intensive work in this city. Should I feel guilty about it?

When I use the newly developed standard of services and the sense of “justice” to judge people I often felt angry, and there are more and more conflicts between myself and other people.

I started to yell at drivers who don’t yield to people on pedestrian when they do right turn. I started to educate service people behind the window of banks to show respects to their clients. I even started to educate people in the government that they should pay respect to citizens, and should not yell to them, because they are not their slaves; I was even naive enough to mention to them that it is the tax payers money that supported their job (I was surely laughed at loudly). Anyway, there are so many situations that I feel I am right, and people are doing something wrong.

Until one day, Wendy said this to me: “Jian Shuo, how can you be so mean to them?”

It happened this way. There are three unlicensed moving workers who successfully cheated us to believe they are Qiangsheng Moving (a good moving company), and scratched the most expensive table we had in our home. Then they pour some oil onto the table trying to fix it, but only turned the surface to a complete mass. They believed as long as they didn’t do it intentionally, there is nothing wrong with what they did. I insist that they should pay for the damage. They laughed at me, and they insulted me for being stupid, and they even joked: “What a million dollar table you have! Why not tell me that the table worth 1 billion dollar!” It is the attitude they show that drove me crazy, exactly as the mason and security guard example. Obviously, they don’t buy in my ideology of a world of justice.

When I insisted to fight with them, Wendy said this to me: “How can you justify your table to worth one week of their hard work! Do you really feel good when they give you the money that they earn with hard work?” Unfortunately, I felt Wendy is right. We paid the full amount of the money they blackmailed (jumped from initial 168 to 700 RMB finally) in a mixed mood. It is the environment that forced them to do bad things. They are living harder lives than we do. Wendy helped me to stay humble and grateful to this world, and don’t be the King of the Universe.

I painfully realized the facts that I am stuck here. I never really thought about it, but I have to admit that I am treated as the “Rich People”, and according to what I did – so arrogant, and so self-centered, I am fully qualified to the “bad” rich people in novels I read when I was younger.

I had the conversation with Robert Mao many years ago. He was shocked when he returned to his hometown. He naturally stick to the habit to say “rich people are always bad”, as the propaganda in China educated people for half centaury, but only to find out that he himself became the rich people that his villages hated. Again, unfortunately, he IS the rich guy in his village.

When I think about it, I cannot justify the big gap between the rich and the poor. If you ask me, I won’t treat myself as rich people. I am just an IT professional turned entry-level entrepreneur in the last 10 years, but what I see myself does not matter. I found myself cannot justify why a cup of my favorite Starbucks worth about 3 hours of hard work of an Ayi, or several day of work for a servant in the city of Luoyang, or even worth, monthly income of people in my hometown. Again, should I feel guilty about it?

When I was poorer than today, I behaved differently from the person I am today. People who have less money don’t care about service quality as people who have more money, and they are the people delivering the service. How you justify your high standard for them to provide good service without giving them the money they should earn. (It is the market price issue. Overpay than the fair market value does not solve the problem, just like donating does not solve poverty issues)

The gap between the rich and the poor get bigger and bigger in China. The tension between the rich and the poor gets bigger. I feel so bad when I am classified to the rich camp. But is there anything I can argue about it when people really think so?

After painful reflection, I started to adopt another philosophy. I should work harder to build a society with more justice by thinking writing, and then actions, instead of being mean to the people who provide bad service. It is their fault not to provide the service they should (according to my biased standard), but the root cause is not their fault. Why this society does not provide good education, good compensation, and good fare ware for everyone? It is not impossible.

P.S. Please don’t be harsh to me when I brought to this private and sensitive topic. Let’s address the rich and poor conflicts in China, instead of discussing I am rich or poor – it is relative term. I am perfectly conscious that to be able to consume a cup of Starbucks does not qualify me to be on the cover of Fortune magazine.

33 thoughts on “I am a Rich Person?

  1. Laurence E. Blow

    Your comments are thoughtful and sensitive, Jian Shuo Wang, and, in my opinion, reflect the basic good-hearted nature you strive to maintain. Answers to your questions will be difficult to understand. Only the struggle to be a good person — not to judge whether you are rich or poor, educated or not, with respect to other people — is worthwhile.

  2. MX

    poor = poor in heart although rich with a deep pocket;

    rich = with a humble heart and grateful to everything and everbody.

    we see many rich-but-poor person in China, but, much less rich-however-humble person.

    yes, we need time to change it? but, will such changes be a sure thing in the future?

  3. Wil

    It’s days like this that make me read this blog. Thank you for thinking about your own situation and then sharing.

    Tough situation, even harder to realize the change and what kind of person it has made you.

  4. ari

    In the west (or at the very least, in Canada) we have a sentence/saying that basically means: when you level from the bottom, everyone loses (if you adjust the world to the lowest common denominator, there are no winners). If you feel guilty it is almost an admission that you do not value your contribution to society/work as much as others do – in my opinion those who earn more than the norm (myself included) should feel blessed, and to a certain extent, lucky. Blessed that your services are valued and lucky that you are the person who is in a position to provide those services, whether it is through skill, opportunity, or as mentioned, pure luck. Eating at yourself and your self esteem will not bring up standards of living in China, rather, as you said, gently, respectfully, trying to make society better by example and gentle prodding just, just, might.

    I enjoy reading your blog and before moving to China 2 years ago it provided valuable insight into both the world and the psyche of the people I was joining and in that spirit I add that “Rich” is only a bad word when everyone else has nothing and those who are rich abuse their power. Last note – I would have taken your side about the movers… “you broke it, you pay it” – intent has nothing to do with it – intent would make it vandalism instead of negligence, either way they should have ultimately been responsible, especially if they had abused your confidence and represented themselves as a respectable firm.

  5. David B

    Jian Shuo,

    You ask the question that has been in the world for centuries. Of what profit is it to gain the whole world? It is not a question of being rich, it is a question of a person’s heart and what one does with his/her riches. Caring for others involves being aware of their circumstances and making ways for them to utilize their talents not necessarily providing them with money; although this too is an option but it can be a dangerous option for some recipients. If someone is self serving he will never understand what it means to love others. I am pleased to read that you are concerned about these things. Your words tell me that your heart is in the right place.

  6. jqian

    Very good post! but it’s probably not a problem you can solve by yourself. And it may not even be a problem considering the current development stage that China is going through. Basically, you desire a rule of laws and general civility commonly observed or experienced in the developed nations like US, Canada or many European countries. But China is still a developing nation as a whole. People’s quality in manners, perseption and education have a long way to go before they can catch the developed nations.

  7. one

    Well, keep asking why and you will eventually try to overturn the entire system. Of course this is not encouraged for your own safety.

    I do think the majority of the problems and frustration that you’ve been writing about are just unavoidable given the kind of system that China operates in. It’s the very system that has brought Chinese culture to its lowest – that even an act of kindness is something to be laughed at.

  8. STLPlace

    Jianshuo, I think you hit the nail on the head (on one of the most important problems in China economy development). The widening income gap.

    Let me share a moving story if I may. About 9 years ago, 2 guys from the moving company helped me move from school to work. Those 2 guys worked hard and in a fast pace, and one of the guy even broke his hand a bit (on the skin) when moving a heavy working table (metal). He said their company slogan is “hand grows back, furnitures don’t”. At one moment when he looked tired he joked maybe it’s time to find another easier job. I think here in the States working as “moving guys” brings decent income because that’s hard labor not many people want to do.

    From pure economy point of view, obvious the thing China has the most is labor. I remember in 2005 a trip to Southwest China (Congqing), there are many guys with Bian Dan 扁担 on the streets who are waiting for hire.

  9. Supernova

    It all boils down to supply and demand. The large labor force in China invariably lowers the pay for your Ayi and the movers. You should not feel guilty, because in a sense, true equality is hard to achieve so long there is limited resources. By the way, I miss reading Wendy’s insights on her Blog.

  10. Supernova

    I know some “rich” people think that poorer people automatically by nature have degraded character because they are poor, and have no pride (because they are so poor and therefore cannot afford pride). So kudos to you to not think that way.

  11. James Jiang

    Jian Shuo, have been reading your blog now and then for a long time. and I agree the first comment of this blog “it reflect the basic good-hearted nature you strive to maintain. “, and I say “Keep it this way”.

    I share the same situation as you, and I believe I am good-hearted too (self-claimed), so I have the similar dilemma. And I would say the “norm” of sociatety make me less “good-hearted” than I intended to be. I think sometimes courage is needed to be true “good-hearted”, and I am glad to see you have some of it…

  12. Zima

    >When I insisted to fight with them, Wendy said this to me: “How can you justify your table to >worth one week of their hard work! Do you really feel good when they give you the money that >they earn with hard work?” Unfortunately, I felt Wendy is right.

    Now THIS is typically one of the thing that’s not right AT ALL : in my country, and it’s also probably the case in many Western countries, people you hire to get your stuff moved from one place to another have INSURANCE. Meaning their company cover 100% of the things they might break during the process of moving your stuff. It’s simply not normal that those workers have to pay themselves for a risk that’s implied by the job itself. Insurances are made for that.

  13. Anna

    I often think about the same thing. But I do not agree with Wendy on the table incident. These people cheated you on the cost and they damaged your table. They are dishonest people, maybe criminals even and you should not reward them for bad behaviour even if the table is more than they make in 5 months they should take honour in their work and want to do it right.

    But that is exactly where the problem lies in China, many people don’t take honour in their work, they take no responsibility. I understand their salary is very low but if you you use that as an excuse not to do your job properly you will never move up in the world.

    Recently one of our suppliers quoted me an FOB price, in the end he admitted he had made a miscalculation and his boss was going to charge the extra cost to him. He said I should pay it because my salary is higher than his! But I refused to pay for his mistake. I felt bad about him losing his personal money but that is an issue with his boss, not with me; the client.

  14. Run Liu

    No matter what people say in comments, I am moved by the empathy and the spirit of caring.

    People are too rational when talking about rules (including me), but less and less thinking like a human in today’s world, especially people who already own relatively more than others. They (we?) want to use rules to defend what already have. I need to keep reviewing my behavior as well to see which is my machine part and which is a human part.

    Ruling is right, but it should not erase humanity.

  15. gx

    Your story of “4 blind men guessing an elephant” told me people have different opinions from different aspects/positions. Strong nations insist that war should take place only in battle fields, but their weak enemy believes terrorist attack (guerrilla, “people’s war” whatever you name it) is the only choice left to them. So what’s the rule of war? Or there is no common rule at all?

    Wendy’s tolerance, sympathy and your consideration for people in another position cast some hope on this world which is being torn apartÂ…

  16. Bei

    Excellent posting as always. Here is my mom will do in your moving situation. Even though she knows we pay for the service, she will still treat the mover like our house guests, offer them helping hand and offer them drinks and snacks. I used to think that is unnecessary, however, after the good reaction I got most of the time from the workers, I think all people deserve some good respect and in return, we will get some better service.

  17. M

    What you described is exactly the difference between communism and capitalism. I’m going to start by responding to your thoughts about salaries, but I will come back to the movers at the end.

    Imagine a neighbor tells you that he’s replaced the round tires on your car with square ones. He claims he’s helped you because now your car won’t roll away when it’s on a hill. Naturally, you’d be very angry at him, because you also can’t drive your car anymore. He would claim “that’s not fair, I worked very hard to find square tires and put them on your car. You should reward my work with an appropriate amount of gratitude.” Except it would make no sense to be grateful, because you still can’t drive your car.

    Now, imagine you’re trying to reach an item on a high shelf, and a tall man comes along and reaches up and hands it to you. You’re extremely grateful, naturally, because you couldn’t reach it yourself. But why should you be so grateful? The tall man did very little; he just reached up. Except it would make no sense not to be grateful, because you are much better off than you were, thanks to him.

    Salaries use the same logic. In a communist system, the man who put square tires on your car would make a lot of money because he worked hard, even though what he did was useless. The man who reached for the item on the shelf would make very little, because he did very little, even though you are better off for it. In a capitalist system, the man who reached the high shelf would make more than the neighbor because the person he’s helping appreciates him more. Similarly, in a communist system, a healthy IT professional would make the same amount as a healthy factory worker because they both need the same amount, but in a capitalist system, the IT professional makes much more because even though he may not work harder or need more, he is much more useful to the people around him.

    That’s why it’s fair that you make more money as an IT professional than movers do. Intellectually, you are like a tall man, helping people get things from high shelves. You may not feel that you are working very hard, but you have the ability to do things other people cannot, and you are rewarded based on *their* gratitude, not your work.

    The movers are a similar situation, but reversed. Even though it might not seem fair to take a whole week’s salary from two movers for a mistake, you are not penalizing them based on what *they* deserve, you are penalizing them based on what they did to *you*. If they couldn’t afford to pay for the damage they might cause, they should not have volunteered to move your furniture, or they should have gotten insurance.

    Finally, I agree with the post from above that said the movers are criminals for lying about which moving company they worked for.

  18. 哈哈

    是不是穷人也会不满别人服务

    我想他们也会的

    很正常

    如果你觉得你的埋怨是因为你的优越感,那你真的错了

    并且还没有改

  19. minjingshu

    有过类似的经历,试图收拾管理层,最后发现管理层只会收拾最底层,我收手了。

    虽然我强烈要求管理层不要经济处罚工人,要加强教育,但后来想来,这是徒劳的。

    要改变一个社会,只能先改变构成这个社会的每个人的心态,别无二法。

  20. AF

    JS, I really do appreciate your post here.

    It reminds me of what Suze Orman says after every show she does. “People First. Then Money. Then Things.” Sometimes it is easy to forget… myself included. But it seems like a wonderful reminder. People first, all the time.

    I also find myself sometimes putting idealogy/principle before people. I was reminded ones when a friend visited from China (I live in NYC). She dropped a couple of bills for two animals used to solicit money on the street. I commented that someone is exploting the animals for money. Her response is that it doesn’t really matter – it might help the animals, and that’s worth the two bucks.

  21. Soon

    Dear Jian Shuo,

    I like this topic. I think you are right. Once one’s financial status and social standing change, one’s value view changes too.

    I just came back from China. I feel rich because the RMB is low. I told a tour guide who took me for tour in the Hutong in Beijing. He commented that I stayed in 5 star hotel and I was rich. I told him, I was not rich, Chinese could be as rich had it allowed RMB to appreciate to market value. Chinese people are paying the price for proping up US dollars.

    However, I have to say that, customer service is lacking in China. Staff in hotel are extremely curteous because they knew people who stayed in 5 stars hotel were ‘rich’ people.

    When we were there we tried not to eat at hotel or restaurant. We tried out the small shops at the small alley in Shanghai. Of course these shopkeepers treated us very well because I was accompanied by European couples.

    But when I was on the street by myself, they thought I was another local Chinese and their attitudes were poor. Shop assistants were hopeless in customer service. When I asked more question or couldn’t understand them well in Putonghua, they nearly wanted to yell at me. I had to literally tell them I am not Zhongguo ren in order for them to treat me nicely.

    But that can’t be my first line everytime I met someone and wanted help.

    I think it is not just about education. It is more about societal value on humanity. When the trishaw peddler took me to the Hutong. He could tell me so much about history and he was so eloquent and to me he was a very educated person. People I met were very educated but their exposure to customer serivce was poor.

    I think chinese need to complain more.

    Let me tell you an experience I had with Japanese customers. They wanted us to pack 100 in a bag and every bag must have 100. We thought to be safe, we asked our operators to pack 101. The japanese scolded us and said 100 means 100, we are not pork seller where one could do with a little more or less. This exemplifies what high quality customer service standard is.

    Anyway I had a good trip to China.

    Cheers

  22. GN

    WJS, I think what you touched are the core of a society… how people treat each other… rich to poor, poor to rich, officials to citizens etc.; and right or wrong.

    People to people… in the sense of customer services. During the first 20 years after 1949, some core values of Chinese life had been destroyed. This is not to say that there was a concept of all people been equal in the traditional thinking in the past, not really. But honor and pride that was associated with quality of services was not hard to find in the old time… it is however hardly existing today. The “new society” promoted slogans such as: “people are the master of the country”… which was interpreted on the streets as nobody should be “served”. Since all service providers were workers… how dare anybody expect services. The equality that was promised turned out to be a new class system… one that was more in the line of “some pigs are more equal than other pigs”. Numerous movements/”class struggles” also brought out the worst of human nature… turned people against people, friends against friends, family against family. Among all that was lost, the way of being… manners and trust is the most difficult to regain.

    When the nightmare was over, the society didn’t go through a recollecting, reflecting, recovering process. Instead, the “system” “cut off” the history, and urged people to move on… to the “rush-for-gold-movement”. The result is a giant body of people with severely damaged moral values, an ill developed law system, and some fast money… however exciting it maybe, it is not a pretty mix. And, there won’t be a fast easy solution… as the government has been trying to find… through (what else do we know how to do) another “people’s movement”, building a harmonious society.

    We often say that Chinese people are most kind… the real undertone however is that people are very acceptive and submissive. In conversations with friends, whenever it touched problems, most terms I heard used were “too many people, too hard” or “没办法”… “this is the Chinese way of doing things” etc. etc. The fact is that people are more than willing to go with the flow… because not to is hard.

    It seems naive to say religions can “save” China. History showed any religion can be used to do harm by people… Communism was very much like a religion and was very much used to do harm. Buddhism is wonderful, but Chinese Buddhism by in large is what is called present-life-Buddisim… it encourages doing good for oneself… not much for the good of others. China need law, an independent law system… above the party, above the religions. And China need people who do good for others so others will do good for others.

    I admire you for your thoughts and courage… the social changes you are looking for doesn’t come from top down, it’ll need everybody’s hard work… from bottom up. What I do pray for is somehow from top down China will have a good law system that is independent… above all party and above all religions.

  23. Bahar

    Well, I know some poor people who can deliver excellent service. In my opinion, to cheat someone and then telling them to pay for what you didn’t want them to do is just rude. It’s not so much about richness or poorness. It’s more about personality, I believe. Cheating is in my ‘not forgivable’ list, also delivering bad service. If you do business that way, you probably won’t get successful. But, education may be helpful in this issue. Still, being harsh on people is also not so great :)

  24. wonton

    Hello JS,

    There is no excuse for poor service and the lack of courtesy.

    Simply being poor does not give anyone the right to bad behaviour.

    And least of all, I don’t think you needs to apologise or feel guilty for enjoying your success from hard work.

    Unlike Wendy, I have no sympathy for the idiots who tried to cheat you and ruined your table. People with no pride and dignity in their work deserves to be poor and looked down upon. Until we change this, China will never move forward if we keep looking for excuses.

    I don’t believe that we are incapable of improving. I have seen foreigners get better service in China than chinese. This is embarassing to say the least.

    I respect your efforts to change people even though you felt like a loosing battle.

  25. zatlakiful

    不知道你有没有看过茅于轼老先生的《中国人的道德前景》,如果看过,也推荐重温一下吧。

  26. gid

    i’m not so sure being rich or poor changes behavior that much. i know plenty of rich people that are uncivilized, rude, and cheat on people (re: madoff) and i know plenty of poor people that are respectful, humble, nice. at the end of the day i don’t think it’s about weath/social status.

    on the other hand, for those of us blessed with more than others, i’d like to borrow a line from the spiderman movie: “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

  27. wrenashe

    Just got a net sentence while could not fit this topic, but interesting as paradox.

    ◎ 你跟他讲道理,他就和你耍流氓;你跟耍流氓,他就和你讲道理。请问,他是谁?

  28. cw

    Was surprised to see this one popping out from your blog, Jiangshuo, in a pleasant way though. I’ve been reading your blog in last couple of years and I’m sort of in same age/education/work background as you, with only difference being me quitting China for another country at career early-stage. What I have constantly been amazed was people’s mindset about societies they live in and their attitudes towards others, inline with your post being rich and poor or social equality. And more shockingly, it’s absolutely the reverse that in a well-established, long-running capitalism economy I currently live in, people have a seemingly hostile attitude towards the riches (well the banking crisis made it worse I suppose), whilst in China it’s completely the opposite and even media outlets which are considered to be largely state-controlled start to acknowledge it. I understand getting rich is definitely not dirty especially considering what our parents or grandparents generation have been gone through, being rich shouldn’t be discouraged but things like making a marriage decision based on counterpart’s assets, or the desire of making money by any means really worry me. And one thing I’m really wanting to see is the so-called middle class people, espeically those with good education, nice job who benefited from the last 30 years under Mr Deng’s policy can start thinking if current state of the society needs a bit readjustment, in terms of people’s perception about social equality and the pursue of money. What we’ve been told, luckily or not, is to study and work hard and get a better life, which is absolutely true and some of us followed it and achieved something which is also plausible. What we shouldn’t forget is that there are many many more less fortunately people in this vast country, due to various reasons are still struggling everyday. The awareness is the first step towards actions and I’m hopeful. Would be really great if you could have more posts like this, to share your thoughts or even provoke others opinions. Well done!

  29. SINGAPOREAN FRIEND

    Dear Wang,

    I enjoyed reading your blog, but I would like to point out that your title is grammatically incorrect.

    I regret to tell you that there are more than seven grammatical errors in your blog.

    I will not list the corrections as I am not your English teacher or tutor.

    If you wish to help the poor improve their lives, you can start by giving free English lessons to poor students in your village or city.

    If possible, you should take an advanced English course in Singapore to improve your standard of English before teaching the poor students who cannot afford tuition.

    I heard that many private schools in China employ many white westerners as English teachers, without checking their educational qualifications or teaching experience.

    If it is true, then I am not surprised that the teenage and adult students’ standard of English would be adversely affected.

    I hope you react positively to my humble suggestion.

    I am not an expert in the English language but I enjoy reading English books.

    If you do not like my suggestion, please accept my humble apology.

    Yours sincerely,

    Singaporean Friend.

  30. M

    The rich man became rich because he worked hard. If you are poor you need to work harder or change your government. More people are poor because they are lazy.

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