Rolls-Royces, Porsches and tantrums: How China’s super-rich get noticed — the wrong way


The spanking white Rolls-Royce convertible with a red fold-down roof was eye-catching. So was the spot where it was parked: right in the middle of the emergency lane at a maternity and gynecology hospital in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.

The driver was running late for a routine appointment. A traffic policeman arrived and asked her to move the car.

A crowd swiftly gathered.

Indignation boiled.

Videos were taken.

The wasps’ nest that is Chinese social media began to buzz.

The driver, identified only by her surname Shan in Chinese media, got out of the car and threw a tantrum.

Road rage in China
A man squeezes his bicycle between a Porsche SUV and a Rolls-Royce at a busy intersection in Beijing.
(Greg Baker / AFP/Getty Images)

“You must support the work of police, unconditionally,” the policeman warned the 31-year-old woman.

People who own Rolls-Royces are from a different world with a totally different mind-set to us. They do whatever they want from the day they are born.

— Chinese netizen with the handle Eleven-K Xiu

“I don’t have an obligation to cooperate,” Shan, wearing a black T-shirt and a black face mask against China’s pollution, retorted angrily. “I’m telling you, I’m not moving the car now,” she said, according to a translation on the website of the Communist Party-owned China Daily on Wednesday.

The incident was one of a number recently involving drivers of fancy cars who display a certain aura of entitlement.

“People who own Rolls-Royces are from a different world with a totally different mind-set to us. They do whatever they want from the day they are born,” commented one netizen with the handle “Eleven-K Xiu” on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.


Americans can relate to the phenomenon — but not, perhaps, to the way China handles it.

Consider a recent incident in Chongqing, a city of more than 30 million in southern China, where the wife of a local police chief clocked millions of online views with her road rage at the driver of a cheap Chinese-made Chery SUV who dared to get in her way when she tried to make an illegal U-turn.

Li Yue was driving a red Porsche. She wore a wide-brimmed white hat at a jaunty angle, killer heels, a black and white top, a black scarf and tight-fitting, black bell-bottom pants.

Stepping out of her car, she mocked the Chery driver for his shoddy clothes and “beggar’s” car. She threw in some raucous expletives. She let fly with a slap. He hit her back hard, sending her hat flying over her car.

Video of the confrontation, of course, went viral. And Li got her comeuppance.

Police fined her $37 for turning illegally and wearing shoes and a hat not safe for driving. Li apologized for “my arrogant and conceited ways,” adding: “I said irresponsible things and hurt and placed a serious psychological burden on my family, including my husband and daughter.”

But it didn’t end there. Police announced that Li’s husband, Tong Xiaohua, the Sichuan police chief, had been fired after police inquiries. Further investigation into the couple’s assets and accounts was underway.

The hammer also fell on the Rolls-Royce driver at the hospital. After an hourlong standoff last week, Shan finally moved the car and was fined for illegal parking.

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But it would not be a modern fable on Chinese social media if that was the culmination.

On Monday, Beijing police announced they had arrested Shan and detained her for five days for blocking the emergency road, refusing to cooperate with police and disrupting the social order.

She also recorded an apologetic video, released via the Beijing News.

“I beg of you to forgive me. I’m really wrong. I’m so sorry. I should not have created trouble for brother security guard and uncle policeman,” Shan said as the camera zoomed in on her tearful eyes. She added that she had been running late for an appointment for a pregnancy test and feared she would miss it.

But it wasn’t enough. Beijing police announced Tuesday that Shan would remain in detention while they launched a new investigation into allegations of further unspecified crimes. Police compounded the humiliation by disclosing the results of her pregnancy test.

They were negative.