Two recent news reports from very different parts of the world shared this theme: Affluence can have its drawbacks.
The first story was Michael Wines, “Execution in a Killing that Fanned Class Rancor,” which reports the execution of the son of an affluent Chinese businessman and military official. The son, Yoa Jiaxin, stabbed to death a “peasant” woman last fall. Jiaxin had struck the woman, who was cycling, with his vehicle, but she suffered only minor injuries. When Jiaxin realized that she was memorizing his license plate number, however, he attacked her with a knife.
Wines provides some class context for what happened next:
The crime had fanned deep public resentment against the “fu er dai,” the “rich second generation” of privileged families who are widely believed to commit misdeeds with impunity because of their wealth or connections.
Jiaxin later said that he “feared the woman, a poor peasant, would ‘be hard to deal with’ should she seek compensation for her injuries.”
But the victim’s husband fought back, refusing to accept the $6,900 a court ordered in compensation, “calling it ‘money stained with blood.’ He pledged to delay [his wife’s] burial until her killer was executed. A Shanghai lawyer later donated 540,000 renminbi, about $83,300, to her survivors after pledging to pay one renminbi for each message sent to the husband over Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.”
Of course, these events, which some are calling “Internet-style mob rule,” raise serious concerns about the rule of law in China. One well-known blogger went as far as to invoke the Cultural Revolution, asserting that it was started in response to “this kind of leftist behavior.”
The second story illustrating the negative consequences of being a silver-spoon kid is more uplifting. That’s because the privileged kid in question, Chris Romer, son of former three-term Colorado governor Roy Romer, lost only a political race and not his life. Kirk Johnson reported this week on Michael B. Hancock’s victory over Romer in the Denver mayoral race. The story’s headline, “Message of Survival Won Denver Race for Mayor,” suggests the role of class in the election’s outcome. Here’s an excerpt detailing Hancock’s background:
In running for mayor of Denver, a position he won overwhelmingly on Tuesday, Mr. Hancock told a family story so powerful, almost Dickensian in its poverty and hope — he and his twin sister were the youngest of 10 children raised by a single mother in Denver, part of that time in public housing — that the theme of adversity overcome became the heart of the campaign.
“We’ve come from difficult situations, we’ve faced serious challenges, but yet we’re still here,” said Mr. Hancock, 41, in an interview on Wednesday, talking about his seven surviving siblings, all of whom, he said, got involved as volunteers on his behalf, along with their mother, Scharlyne Hancock, 72, who made calls to voters for weeks.
Mr. Hancock will become Denver’s second African-American mayor (the first was Wellington Webb, elected in 1991), but supporters of both Hancock and Romer suggest that class played a greater role than race in the election’s outcome. Johnson writes:
[B]ecause Mr. Romer and Mr. Hancock had few policy disagreements, supporters in both camps said the race inevitably turned on style, likeability and the power of a compelling story.
* * *
So, the Chinese story smacks of class warfare, while the Denver story may simply affirm our attachment to the American Dream, rags-to-riches storyline. Aspects of both stories are heartening in that working class and poor folks found access to power of different sorts. I daresay, however, that “affluence as liability” is hardly a trend. Nor do stories like Hancock’s election or “justice” for the Chinese peasant’s family suggest any real mitigation of the day-to-day hardship of deprivation and insecurity endured by the world’s working class and poor.