Uncouth and wealthy: The coming back of tuhao in China

Alia | October 16th, 2013 - 2:37 am

When Apple introduced the gold-color iPhone 5s last month, Chinese consumers call it “tuhao gold,” meaning the kind of gold that is representative of the tuhao class. So who exactly are the tuhao?

The term consists of the character tu, which means dirt or uncouth; and the character hao, which means grand. The use of tuhao can be tracked back to China’s Song Dynasty. It was originally a neutral term often used to describe local persons or families of power and money.

Through the course of history, however, the term gradually picked up negative connotation. Until the end of Qing Dynasty when China was ripped apart by wars, tuhao equaled to local tyrants. The term’s negative connotation reached its peak when in the 30s, China’s Communist Party introduced their famous policy of “overthrowing local tyrants and dividing the land (大土豪,分田地)” – tuhao were once the class enemy of the have-nots in China.

A tuhao bride

A tuhao bride

Tuhao has disappeared from public vocabulary for the past few decades…until very recently, a careless online joke gave it a new life. It all started when Chinese netizens jokingly commented that they’d love to be friends with tuhao. #Tuhao, let’s be friends# remained a top trending topic on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, for a good few weeks. The term soon went viral and started to be picked up by mainstream media.

There is still a bit of mockery intended when people call someone a tuhao, but it has become an identity that many Chinese aspire to. Tuhao now means the nouveau riche – tu means that they are not from class and that they lack good taste; hao means that they are rich.

However the term has been used throughout history, wealth has always been part of being a tuhao. Tuhao is the opposite of diaosi, which pronounces and means similarly to a “loser.” Unlike diaosi who are the nobodies, tuhao stand at the other end of China’s current social hierarchy.

In the eyes of many Chinese netizens, Gatsby is a typical tuhao with instant money who spends to impress. Love for the bling and flashy is tuaho’s signature. Wealth and the action of showing off wealth are their ID. “To buy only the most expensive, not the best.” This line from famous Chinese director Feng Xiaogang’s Big Shot’s Funeral perfectly captures the mentality of tuhao.

In early October, an elderly lady from Anhui province gave a Bentley worth some RMB 4 million to her new son-in-law as a wedding gift. The lucky guy was reported to drop on his knees immediately to express gratitude and promised to never betray her daughter. While many mocked this “tuhao” mother-in-law, more expressed hope to become the guy, or the daughter. 

There is little doubt that the world’s luxury brands would love China’s tuhao. But at home, the very reappearance of tuhao indicates the country’s enlarged wealth gap and growing money worship. While people mock tuhao for their bad taste and extravagant spending, they also rush to make friends with tuhao. One netizen 何俊希_Hiqini commented: “Our core value is that money matters more than everything else.”

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