Behind the “High $ociety” Groupon
Shanghai is a magical city, a jungle, and a commercial center.
Popping cash has become some people’s daily life in this city, and from head to toe, labeling themselves as “high-so.” Being a socialite means receiving a fast-track ticket towards success, and an individual’s net worth would become more valuable than ever.
The “socialite” label crumbled when Chinese blogger Li Zhong Er (李中二）revealed the truth behind smokes and mirrors of the “Shanghai socialites,” generating over 1.4 million likes on its Weibo post. As the blog went viral online, people started to question Li’s motive, whether his blog was used to reveal the truth or gain popularity.
What was exposed?
Pretending to be a girl, Li Zhong Er paid 500 Yuan (2,600 Baht) and had to provide proof of having at least 10,000 Yuan (52,400 Baht) to join the “Shanghai Female Socialite” WeChat group. The label of the group was young, fashion, and money. The group’s primary purpose is to share information about luxury products, afternoon tea events, connections with popular social media influencers, and updates on wealthy bachelors.
While Li was still a member, he published the blog on his WeChat official account and was kicked out of the WeChat group the same night the blog went viral. Li’s blog included multiple screenshots of their conversation, insider stories, and member selection processes.
Coaching service is provided among the members to gain credibility. The first step was to make changes to the physical appearance to look like a web celebrity and fit the traits that men favor, which explains why several girls in the group may look similar to one another. Next, the girls would post photos of them at high-profile places to build an image of wealthiness on social media. In the meantime, their coach would help them gain access to clubs and VIP areas to meet wealthy or well-known individuals. The last step would be the game of “hunter and prey,” by targeting an individual and developing a deep relationship.
The chain industry of agencies teaching women ways to manipulate men has also stepped into the spotlight. Ling TongTong’s agency would teach women how to approach wealthy men and manipulate them into buying expensive gifts and marriage as one of the ultimate goals.
Although the public has expressed strong opposition towards the industry, the demand for it remains high, keeping this industry alive. Not only do “female socialite” groups exist but “men socialite” groups also exist, operating in a similar model as female groups.
Everything can be shared, from hotel rooms to private wear, such as Gucci stockings. Several users have discovered the same photo used by different accounts with similar captions. Because the bill of the occasion, object, or room would be divided among the members while taking turns to take photos.
The most well-known shared event would be afternoon tea and staying at Ritz-Carlton and Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai. A night at the Ritz would be around 3,000 Yuan (15,000 Baht) and up, but when 15 girls are sharing the bill, each person would only have to pay for about 200 Yuan (1,050 Baht), which is only about 14% of the original price. As for Bvlgari Hotel, a suite would cost 6,000 Yuan or above (31,444 Baht). If no more than 40 people share the room, they would only need to pay an average of 125 Yuan (655 Baht), which is 48 times cheaper than the original price.
Besides suites and afternoon tea events, these members will also share the cost to rent designer products and luxury cars. For everyone’s picture to turn out as expected, the food, room, and car cannot be messed up, meaning they cannot eat or use the props.
They criticize BMW and Benz owners because, in the “rich” club, owners of BBA (BMW, Benz, and Audi) are considered ‘not good enough. At the same time, “socialite” members are said to rent a Ferrari by sharing the bill between about 60 people, each paying 100 Yuan (520 Baht) for a day for taking pictures.
Criticism towards Li Zhong Er.
Netizens began to attack Li after the blog led to a boom on social media attacking influencers. Some found out more than one blog on Li’s account was made up; he would write false stories to attract followers. Out of all his made-up stories, the most famous is the “Sneaking into Shanghai’s Socialite Group,” generating 15.9 million reads and 13.6 million posts discussing the incident on Weibo.
Using screenshots of the members’ daily discussion became Li’s proof of the “fake” rich club. Still, no other evidence was provided, such as a receipt, details of the activity, or other photos of the events. Stories on Li’s page mainly come from his followers’ contribution of personal stories hoping that he would write a blog about the chaos they’re going through. But soon, sensitive users sensed that Li and his followers’ discussion all share a similar tone, and the screen capture his followers provided him is all from the same phone.
According to Top Club, where “socialites” rent their Ferrari, they do not have records of members of the “socialite” renting in either Shanghai or Beijing. From Li’s chat history, the “socialites” rented an F12 for 6,000 Yuan (31, 400 Baht) a day, but in fact, Top Club has stated their price for an F12 is 7,999 Yuan (41,900 Baht), even with discount the price can only go as low as 6,799 Yuan (35,600 Baht).
Other than netizens that have responded, Shanghai Bvlargi Hotel and the Ritz have responded by telling Beijing News they do not allow groupons and limit the number of people entering the room. Although a former staff at the hotel shared, people can sneak several others into the room by avoiding the lobby and hotel manager. According to China’s Article 56 of the Public Security Administration Punishment Law, the hotel staff will be fined for not less than 200 Yuan (1,050 Baht) but not exceeding 500 Yuan (2,620 Baht) if they fail to register the name of the guests checking-in as required. In other words, if the person staying at the hotel does not match the person who checked in, it will be against the law if detected.
In addition, people were not pleased with how women are addressed or portrayed as gold diggers in most of Li’s blogs. Matching Li’s style of portraying women to the “Sneaking into Shanghai socialite group” blog and his made-up stories, people started to report his account. Li’s official account Li Zhong Er （李中二) is now shut down due to numerous complaints and violating the Internet User Public Account Information Service Management Regulation.
It is not surprising.
Several cases other than the “fake rich” in Shanghai exist worldwide. One of the crime series on Netflix, “Inventing Anna,” is based on a true story about Anna Sorokin. She posed herself as a wealthy German heiress named Anna Delvey living in New York, but in fact, she was born on the outskirts of Moscow, Russia, and grew up in Germany. Anna was born in a middle-class family along with her brother, her father was an initial truck driver, and her mother owned a small convenience store. During her time in New York, she scammed some of the most prominent socialites to fund her Anna Delvey Foundation and bounced from hotel to hotel using fake bank statements or invalid credit cards to build on her “wealthy” image. In the end, her friend Rachel Williams exposed her “wealthiness” online; therefore, Anna was found guilty on eight charges and sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison in 2019. In 2021, she was released early from prison and returned to Instagram.
Netflix based its documentary on another famous hustler Simon Leviev from Israel. His initial name was Shimon Hayut, but he started to use his false identity as Simon Leviev, a “diamond prince” working in the dangerous diamond industry with people trying to assassinate him. Simon’s identity charmed numerous women on Tinder, and that was when he started to persuade them to loan him money while they were in a long-distance relationship. Simon was swindling an estimate of $10 million globally. In December 2019, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison but was released early five months later due to good behavior. Although he went back on Tinder, the app has banned him. Like Anna Sorokin, he is now active on Instagram and setting his sights on Hollywood by signing on with talent manager Gina Rodriguez of Gitoni Inc.
Common characteristics about the listed characters are the shared background of being born with a “golden spoon,” which is another way to express that one is from a privileged upper-class family. Being active on social media and capturing the audience’s interest in upper-class life, they began their game of faking till you make it. Although achieving great success on social media and creating a reliable portfolio, people close to them, such as their followers and friends, are the ones that are most likely to expose their fake wealth.
Why is it happening?
As many as 9.9 million university students graduated in 2020 in China. Competition is even more fierce as the pandemic increases the employment pressure on newbies while lowering the chances of finding a stable job.
The top three industries that graduates entered in 2020 were education, architecture, information dissemination and software and information service. The average wage would be around 5,000 to 6,000 Yuan (26,200 to 31,400 Baht), while for the self-media industry, the average income per month would be about 7,400 to 9,400 Yuan (38,770 to 49,250 Baht).
Running a personal account and gaining fans would be what another majority would prefer since it does not require one to sit in the office or be under workload pressure. Nowadays, top influencers have set a successful example of earning millions by selling through live streams. While the value of live streaming e-commerce reached 1237.9 billion Yuan (6483.9 billion Baht) in 2020, it is expected to reach 4.9 trillion Yuan (22.5 trillion Baht) in 2023. It is a booming industry and is said to continue to be one of the most trending industries.
As more people enter the media industry, more made-up characters will be used to serve and use the audience’s curiosity. As the audience wiping our eyes and remaining skeptical would be a way to prevent ourselves from falling into another trap of the spectacles.