PAUL J. MOONEY

Freelance Journalist

Newsweek, March 3, 2003

Bobos in Shangri-La

BY PAUL MOONEY IN BEIJING

 

Just when China 's new affluents have begun to enjoy their xiaozi, or bourgeois, lifestyle (a downtown apartment, flashy automobiles and Starbucks mochaccinos), along comes a book from America to stir up their latte lifestyles. In recent months young Chinese have been snapping up copies of the newly translated version of 2000's "Bobos in Paradise," by American author David Brooks.

The book's thesis--that the bohemian spirit of the 1960s has come together with the acquisitive impulses of the 1980s to create the hybrid bourgeois-bohemian, a.k.a. the Bobo--has sparked debate all around China .

"All my friends are talking about the Bobos," one Beijing book shopper told the official Xinhua News Agency. Clubs have been formed offering lectures and discussions on the Bobo lifestyle, and Bobo magazines are appearing on newsstands. Chinese Bobos are being targeted by everyone from real-estate agents to mobile-phone companies.

A local businessman opened the DIY@Bobo Bar in Beijing, which is fitted with computers so customers can check their e-mail while sitting on rustic Chinese furniture hand-picked by the owner from peasant villages. Web sites keep springing up to help people determine if they are "Bobo qualified," and if so, how to act appropriately.

As the "pleased and surprised" Brooks waits to see whether he'll get his fair share of author royalties out of the phenomenon, ("I mean, that's a billion copies," he told Newsweek), Beijing is breeding its fair share of Bobo-bashers. Miao Wei of Lifeweek magazine says the average Chinese person has a strong disdain for the nouveau riche. Miao wonders how many Chinese today earn enough to be considered a Bobo. And, he argues, those who do are more bourgeois than bohemian. "We have people with a lot of money, but there's no social consciousness," he says. "Rich people don't care about the environment, unemployment, rural problems or mine disasters." True, but market research shows that people will care about anything--including their demographic rubric--as long as it's trendy.