Every year at about this time a story pops up in the press cataloging the excesses which newly rich Chinese (usually focusing on Shanghai) indulge in on Valentine’s Day, the holiday fiendishly dreamed up by a secret ruling clique of restaurateurs, florists, greeting card companies and candy magnates (no points for guessing whether I have plans on Wednesday). Here is this year’s edition, which includes the following tidbits:
- One Shanghai banker is buying his sweetheart a RMB40,000 (US$5,100) Cartier watch. "I think it’s a better gift than some 10,000 or 20,000 yuan meal," he says. (The watch’s price tag is 12 times the average Chinese farmer’s annual earnings, the article adds helpfully.)
- The Shanghai JW Marriott is offering a Valentine’s Day package, which includes a night in one of its poshest suites, for a measly RMB28,888 (US$3,722).
- A US$1,000 wine-and-dine package, including limousine, a romantic dinner, a personal butler and a private concert.
All of which sounds pretty tame, really, considering the sorts of findings that were published last year, which included, you may recall, young couples buying each other the precious and lasting gift of plastic surgery. The article even admits that the numbers aren’t really that huge: The Marriott offered a package last year for RMB188,000 (US$24,224), and the US$1,000 package seems rather quaint next to the aforementioned banker’s estimates of what a normal dinner would cost. Are we seeing a downturn in the Shanghai conspicuous consumption market?