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In China, showing off one’s wealth can lead to censorship

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He began by exploring the sauna built into the palatial bathroom of the hotel’s presidential suite. Then the video blogger moved into the dining room, where a cook was waiting with a glittering steak. The next morning he woke up to a lobster breakfast, which he ate cross-legged in bed.

“Today’s bill is 108,876 kuai,” or more than $ 17,000, he said after checking out of the hotel in Chengdu, China, and waving his receipt at the camera. “I slept through the equivalent of several iPhones,” he chuckled.

The video was sticky, of course. Noticeable, definitely. It’s also a violation of Chinese internet regulations.

The Chinese authorities have declared war on what is considered a “presentation of wealth” amid sweeping calls from Chinese President Xi Jinping to tackle inequality. When Xi positioned himself for a third term, he presented himself as a man of the people and led a campaign against entrenched interests.

Also read | “Oh my god, buy it!”: This is how livestream shopping works in China

The financial regulators have taken action against the country’s technology giants and made pledges of loyalty and large donations. Tycoons were arrested on corruption charges. And online, authorities have directed social media platforms to remove the hugely popular videos that highlight the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The hotel blogger has more than 28 million followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, by posting videos of visiting expensive hotels and tasting delicacies. But after being singled out by state media, he deleted those videos. His recent posts show how he tastes convenience store snacks.

“We will strengthen our management and increase the effectiveness of our raid so that Internet platforms feel like a sword is over their heads,” said Zhang Yongjun, a senior official with the Chinese cyberspace administration, this year.

There is no clear definition of what constitutes bragging rights or wealth. Although officials have cited a few examples, such as issuing receipts or over-ordering food, they have largely outlined some sort of “I know when I see it” rule.

“The standard is the effect that the content has,” said Zhang. “Can spreading this content inspire people to be healthy, ambitious, and work harder for a good life? Or does it correspond to the vulgar wishes of the people? “

Inequality in China is huge. According to the Credit Suisse Research Institute, one percent of the Chinese own 31 percent of the country’s assets.

If left unaddressed, the imbalance could pose a threat to near-complete government scrutiny based on the promise of economic convenience.

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