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    Jun 10, 2015

    China tycoons' kids a different breed?

    WANG Sicong - the son of Asia's richest man, Wang Jianlin - was so angered by the responses he received for pictures he recently posted online showing his dog wearing two Apple Watches that he swore and cursed at his critics.

    His reaction was understandable as most of the attackers were highly derisive, such as one from America who called him "a rich kid with less intelligence than his dog".

    Mr Wang's private fuming was revealed to the Chinese media by his father, who added that he was worried his 27-year-old son was making too many enemies.

    His concern might be valid as Wang junior has got into online brawls with practically all the hottest non-political names in China ever since he returned home in 2010, following an education stretching from primary level in Singapore to University College London, where he majored in philosophy.

    One of the latest to joust with him online was actress Fan Bingbing, whom Mr Wang called in one post a "lousy" actress who needed to sustain her fame by constantly appearing at movie festivals.

    Some netizens suggested that Mr Wang's act of strapping his Alaskan malamute with two Apple Watches was meant as a spoof, the target being Chinese Internet entrepreneur Xiao Senzhou, who is often seen with two watches.

    Some of the people scorned by Mr Wang have threatened to take him to court, but none actually did as all the tiffs simply fizzled out after some heated exchanges.

    In any case, it might not seem a good idea to tangle with someone who has all the time in the world and the money to engage in protracted squabbles.

    Be they for humour, satire or provocation, Mr Wang's online posts have earned him the label of "eccentric spoilt brat".

    His father attributed his quarrelsome bent to his years of "Western" education abroad, which he said has made him blunt, outspoken and individualistic.

    "Whatever I say, he won't listen. He doesn't think much of me as I couldn't speak English and is not into the 'cool' stuff that he knows," the billionaire once said in a television interview.

    Wang senior also lamented that he should have kept his son at his side during his formative years, instead of letting him live abroad and cutting him off from a moral-focused Chinese education.


    Mr Wang's odd behaviour raises the question of whether the children of the richest in China have what it takes to maintain or even expand their fathers' business empires when they take over.

    Many have entered their 20s or even 30s, and they have grown up at a time when affluence spread in China and electronic gadgets became a staple of life.

    They had not been forged in the cauldron of a more unruly China like their fathers, who had to surmount great odds and win many hearts to make it to the peak.

    If Mr Wang, with his "individualism", typifies the so-called "fuerdai" or "rich second generation", it seems most people, such as Chinese lawyer Pan Yuexin, are seeing only one prospect: that these heirs would fall short of expectations.

    "The fuerdai is the exact opposite of their fathers - having received a foreign education, they are rebellious, disdainful of rules and want to do their own things," Mr Pan said at a forum recently.

    "They have finer and modern tastes and yet do not know how to synthesise these into their corporations. That is a paradox," he pointed out.

    Mr Wang senior might agree.

    "Sicong has said he's not interested in property development," he also disclosed in the TV interview, hinting that his son would blaze his own path.

    "That's all right for me, as long as I have a board which can run the division," he said with a resigned shrug.

    The younger Wang has indeed started his own companies, dabbling chiefly in computer gaming and other online entertainment.

    But, given that his father's property conglomerate has diversified into cinema, owning a chain extending from China to Australia, Wang junior might simply inherit this in the end and become the world's top cinema magnate.

    However, without creating something original like Facebook or Alibaba, Mr Wang would not be able to justify the scorn he has heaped at many self-made achievers in China.

    For example, Lei Jun - the man behind China's home-grown smartphone Xiaomi, who was once mocked by Mr Wang for speaking poor English - would be justified if he concludes that the golden spooner is no more than a bull-thrower.

    While Mr Wang has riled many, he is not without fans.

    The fact that he is not known to flaunt big, showy objects such as sports cars or speedboats puts him in a class separate from the through-and-through "spoilt brats".

    Indeed, the term "fuerdai", if applied only to the richest kids of China, invokes a group that have quite elevated tastes and do not indulge in lowly pleasures like most of the Chinese nouveau riche do.


    Take Liu Chang, the only child of Liu Yonghao - the man who topped China's first rich list published in the 1990s with his animal feed business.

    Ms Liu, who is 35 years old and single, has received billions of yuan from her father. She has mentioned that her main interest is watching movies and her favourite attire is the traditional qipao.

    Ms Liu may seem the mild-mannered sort of child. But, like Mr Wang, her Western and professional training are also unmistakable: She received her secondary-level education in Seattle and obtained her degree from China's Foreign Affairs University.

    She once revealed that she had been torn between taking over her father's New Hope Group and pursuing what interested her more.

    But after 10 years of being embedded in her father's company, starting off in a mid-level position before being made a director, she said she has come to accept that her destiny is to keep the Lius' business going.

    "But I also accept that I alone could not shoulder it all. It would have to be a collective responsibility," she said, conceding that she lacked her father's resourcefulness and charisma.

    So it is likely that China's Rockefellers and Carnegies would go the way of their counterparts in the United States, where only the empire builders still live on in public memory.

    The most famous "fuerdai" now aside from Mr Wang is Ma Yuankun, 23, son of Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

    The younger Ma constantly posts comments on his account with Weibo, China's most popular microblogging site.

    Little is known about the young man as he is still studying in Berkeley University in California and has not spawned much gossip at home.

    But his account reveals that he is much taken by American pop culture, especially the dance style of popping, as well as Mandopop songs, his idol apparently being Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

    He, too, is outspoken and blunt, as evident in one post in which he scoffed at a number of Chinese celebrities for marrying partners different from the ones they had publicly sworn to.

    "I ought to take my hat off to their acting," he quipped.

    Another Wang Sicong in the making?


    And if Ma senior sees Mr Wang as a lesson, he should try to knock some sense into his son.

    After all, running Alibaba - an online shopping giant that serves hundreds of millions of customers - is a more crowd-pleasing job than running a cinema chain.

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