Research suggests the nations actually have similar feelings toward wealth
In China, rich people are widely despised by just about everyone else — at least according to years of reports, largely from social media. In the early 2000s, the Chinese phrase chou fu xin li (“hatred against the rich”) landed among the most popular search terms. The children of nouveau riche attract their own pejorative term, fuerdai, and are singled out for particular loathing. Over the years, China’s pervasive resentment toward its wealthy has been blamed for luxury car vandalism, harassment of the rich and even public glee over deaths of certain wealthy individuals.
But are Chinese attitudes toward rich people any harsher than those of Americans? Or is chou fu xin li merely a social media construct, perhaps exaggerated for effect?
Three social scientists empirically tested Chinese and American subjects for strong feelings of envy and contempt toward the rich generally. They found little evidence of hatred in either population. Conversely, their findings suggest that average income workers in mainland China and in the U.S. hold more positive stereotypes of the wealthy than of their own middle classes.
“Hatred of the rich” appears directed only at small subsets of wealthy populations in each country, according to research by UCLA Anderson’s Sherry Jueyu Wu and Princeton’s Xuechunzi Bai and Susan T. Fiske published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.
In China, second-generation wealthy attract the strongest negative emotions, according to the findings. American study subjects responded with almost as much contempt for “young money.”
But Chinese working class and American middle class study participants couched the rich as significantly more competent, and no less personable, than those of average wealth. (Chinese working class and American “middle” classes are synonymous in the study.)
The researchers drew their conclusions from computer tasks and questionnaires administered to subjects recruited through crowdsourcing platforms in both countries. The testing was designed to elicit attitudes through attributes that subjects assigned to the wealthy, as well as answers to more direct questions about their beliefs. A strong combination of envy and contempt toward the wealthy, implicit and inferred from responses, was deemed equivalent to hatred, and likeliest to involve a desire to see the rich harmed.