China’s Legislative Assembly: Beijing Fashion Week?

Fashion junkies on the lookout for the latest in luxury styles can check off a new venue: China’s annual legislative assembly.  This year, all of the major designers made an appearance. One delegate was wearing a $1,000 Hermes belt, another was toting a $4,500 snakeskin Celine bag, one was clothed in a $2,000 fur coat, and the list goes on and on. Chinese netizens have expressed public outrage at the ostentatious style choice of the party members—upon surfacing online, photographs from the assembly went viral. Although the delegates’ high-flying garb certainly added spice to the dry legislative meetings, their flagrant display of material wealth served as a sign of China’s endemic problems of economic disparity and corruption.
The Louis, Pradas, and Guccis at the meeting demonstrate China’s ever-widening wealth gap. Despite an unprecedented pace of economic growth, the wealth gap is steadily rising. Shockingly, the wealthiest 70 delegates are worth $89 billion11 times the combined net worth of the United States president, his cabinet, Supreme Court justices, and all of Congress. Considering the U.S.’ massive advantage in development, the edge that China’s legislative elite has in terms of private wealth is nothing short of ridiculous.
The chief executive of the China Power International Development, Li Xiaolin, was snapped in a $2,000 Emilio Pucci suit. One Internet commentator pointed out that for the price of her suit, hundreds of children could buy warm winter clothes. In fact, each item of clothing was valued at well over the average annual income of the average Chinese citizen—thus legitimizing the harsh criticism of the Chinese public. In theory, the legislative assembly is meant to address the issues of the people, but how can designer-clad delegates in a developing country claim to be representative at all? As a Shenzhen based political activist said, “They [members of parliament] don’t represent the interests of the people, but the interests of high officialdom and big business. He explains that the delegates use the meetings “to network and build contacts, exchange ideas, and make deals. The delegates who supposedly represent peasants or workers have never once tabled a motion on behalf of such groups.”
By parading their wealth with items worth tens of thousands of yuan, the delegates are making a clear statement to the Chinese people and to the rest of the world: ultimately, they are more interested in showing off their wealth than working for the masses of a country in which tens of millions live on less than $1 a day.  Furthermore, the ostentatious style of the legislative body hints at a more insidious economic danger. The same attitude that motivates flagrant spending on designer clothes translates into exuberant spending on trophy infrastructure projects with low returns. Instead of practical investments, China heavily invests in high-speed rail lines that only benefit those who are already rich enough to afford them. These trophy projects, like the designer clothes, are appealing to politicians who wish to proclaim their wealth. For all its glamour, Beijing’s legislative fashion week is indicative of flagrant spending, flawed representation, and not least, a massive disconnect between government and the governed.

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