Understanding Chinese Affluent Consumers' Wealth Flaunting Behavior on Weibo from a Cultural Perspective

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0043841/00001

Material Information

Title: Understanding Chinese Affluent Consumers' Wealth Flaunting Behavior on Weibo from a Cultural Perspective
Physical Description: 1 online resource (102 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Xiaomo, Chen
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: china -- conspicuous -- consumption -- flaunting -- wealth
Journalism and Communications -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Mass Communication thesis, M.A.M.C.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Due to rapid economic growth that has fueled people's desire for luxury branded goods, luxury consumption in China has seen double digit increase in recent years. Some consumers of luxury goods and services have employed new media to show off such consumption. The purpose of this study is to analyze the growing phenomenon of wealth flaunting on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and the role of traditional cultural values in shaping this type of consumer behavior. This study uses the methodology of qualitative content analysis and quantitative technique is also employed to contextualize the flaunting individuals' homepages and their posts. The sampling procedure collected a total of 280 cases of flaunting wealth posts, as well as 76 related homepages on Weibo. Each post and homepage was coded and statistical analysis was conducted. The statistical findings suggest that: 1) The individuals who flaunt wealth on Weibo are geographically scattered, both in and outside China. 2) The most flaunted brand categories are handbags and shoes whereas; 3) watches and automobiles are the least flaunted categories. Three themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of the posts: materialism, equation of luxury with taste and luxury routinizing. This study also suggests that the wealth flaunting behavior of Chinese affluent customers are greatly influenced by "face" and collectivism, the two most fundamental tenets of traditional values in China.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Chen Xiaomo.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.M.C.)--University of Florida, 2011.
Local: Adviser: Duke, Lisa L.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2011
System ID: UFE0043841:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0043841/00001

Material Information

Title: Understanding Chinese Affluent Consumers' Wealth Flaunting Behavior on Weibo from a Cultural Perspective
Physical Description: 1 online resource (102 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Xiaomo, Chen
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: china -- conspicuous -- consumption -- flaunting -- wealth
Journalism and Communications -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Mass Communication thesis, M.A.M.C.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Due to rapid economic growth that has fueled people's desire for luxury branded goods, luxury consumption in China has seen double digit increase in recent years. Some consumers of luxury goods and services have employed new media to show off such consumption. The purpose of this study is to analyze the growing phenomenon of wealth flaunting on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, and the role of traditional cultural values in shaping this type of consumer behavior. This study uses the methodology of qualitative content analysis and quantitative technique is also employed to contextualize the flaunting individuals' homepages and their posts. The sampling procedure collected a total of 280 cases of flaunting wealth posts, as well as 76 related homepages on Weibo. Each post and homepage was coded and statistical analysis was conducted. The statistical findings suggest that: 1) The individuals who flaunt wealth on Weibo are geographically scattered, both in and outside China. 2) The most flaunted brand categories are handbags and shoes whereas; 3) watches and automobiles are the least flaunted categories. Three themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of the posts: materialism, equation of luxury with taste and luxury routinizing. This study also suggests that the wealth flaunting behavior of Chinese affluent customers are greatly influenced by "face" and collectivism, the two most fundamental tenets of traditional values in China.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Chen Xiaomo.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.M.C.)--University of Florida, 2011.
Local: Adviser: Duke, Lisa L.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2011
System ID: UFE0043841:00001

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2 2011 Xiaomo Chen


3 To my beloved parents


4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my parents for their consistent support and encouragement thr oughout these years. Although I failed their expectations some time, they insisted on believing me and encouraging me to conquer all difficulties. I would also like to thank all my friends who have given me support both physically and psychologically. I h ave to mention Mr. Xiao, who has helped me with my writing and my boyfriend, who has supported me all along. insightful advice from Dr. Duke, my committee chair. Despite her busy schedule, she would offer sincerely assistance upon my request every time. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the qualitative methodology made this research a great learning experience for me. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Leslie and D r. Morton for their selfless input and guidance. Special thanks to Dr. Goodman, she offered her precious time and made all this possible. Lastly, I would like to expend my gratitude to all the faculty and staff members at the College of Journalism and Com munications. I have learned so much from them and every course I took at this college was a great experience for me.


5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 LIST OF TABLES ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 7 LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 8 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ................... 10 CHAPTER 1 INTRO DUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 12 Purpose of the Study ................................ ................................ .............................. 13 Significance of the Study ................................ ................................ ........................ 13 Research Overview ................................ ................................ ................................ 14 2 LITERATURE REVIEW ................................ ................................ .......................... 16 Conspicuous Consumption ................................ ................................ ..................... 16 Luxury Consumption in China ................................ ................................ ................. 20 Chinese Luxury goods Consumers ................................ ................................ ......... 24 Young Demographics ................................ ................................ ....................... 26 Big Brand names, Recognizable Logos and High Prices ................................ 26 Luxury Products and Taste ................................ ................................ ............... 27 Luxury Shoppin g to Improve Family's Face ................................ ...................... 28 Overseas S hopping ................................ ................................ .......................... 28 ................................ ................................ ....................... 29 The Flaunting Wealth Behavior on the Internet ................................ ....................... 32 The Influence of Weibo ................................ ................................ ........................... 37 Theoretical Backgrounds and Research Q uestions ................................ ................ 43 Traditional Cultural Values ................................ ................................ ............... 43 Collectivism ................................ ................................ ................................ 44 Face ................................ ................................ ................................ ........... 45 Taste Performance Theory ................................ ................................ ............... 45 3 RESEARCH METHOD ................................ ................................ ........................... 48 Defining the Flaunting Wealth Posts ................................ ................................ ....... 48 Content Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 50 Frameworks for Image text relationship ................................ ................................ .. 51 Data Collection and Analysis ................................ ................................ .................. 51 4 FINDINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 57


6 Weibo Homepages ................................ ................................ ................................ 57 Flaunting Post s ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 61 Thematic Analysis of the Flaunting Posts ................................ ............................... 64 Materialism ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 65 Consumption ................................ ................................ .............................. 66 Gift ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 67 Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 68 Equation of L uxury with T aste ................................ ................................ .......... 70 Fashion ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 70 Lifestyle ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 72 Luxury R outinizing ................................ ................................ ............................ 74 Information sharing and seeking ................................ ................................ 75 snapshots with luxury products in sight ................................ ..... 77 5 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ................................ ....................... 80 General Discussion ................................ ................................ ................................ 80 Discussion f rom a C ultural P erspective ................................ ................................ .. 82 The Weibo Platform ................................ ................................ ................................ 86 Richer M edia ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 87 Ve rified A ccount ................................ ................................ ............................... 88 Posts with Threaded Comments ................................ ................................ ...... 88 Forward with Comments ................................ ................................ ................... 8 8 Limitations and Implications for Future Research ................................ ................... 89 APPENDIX A COMMON TEXT IMAGE RELATIONSHIPS AND THEIR DESCRIPTION ............. 91 B CODING SHEET SAMPLE: WEIBO HOMEPAGES ................................ ............... 92 C CODING SHEET SAMPLE: FLAUNTING WEALTH POSTS ................................ .. 93 D BRANDNAMES MENTIONED IN EACH CA TEGOTY ................................ ............ 95 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 96 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ .......................... 102


7 LIST OF TABLES Table page 4 1 Top 3 most mentioned b rand s by w ealth f launting i ndividuals on Weibo ............ 62 4 2 Classification of c omment s and examples ................................ .......................... 64


8 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 2 1 The s pread of l uxury m odel (Chadha & Husband, 2006) ................................ .... 22 3 1 Sn f launting w ealth p ost ................................ ................ 49 4 1 Locations of w ealth f launter s ................................ ................................ .............. 58 4 2 Locations of w ealth f launter s, breakdow n by c ity t ier in Mainland China ............ 59 4 3 w ealth f launting i ndividual ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 60 4 4 ............................. 60 4 5 Products mentioned in the flaunting posts by category ................................ ...... 61 4 6 Example A of consumption theme .. 66 4 7 Example B of consumption theme .. 67 4 8 Example A of gift theme .................. 68 4 9 Example B of gift theme .................. 68 4 10 Example A of collection theme ........ 69 4 11 Example B of collection theme ........ 69 4 12 Example A of fashion sub theme ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 71 4 13 Exa mple B of fashion sub theme ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 72 4 14 Example A of lifestyle sub theme ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 74 4 15 Example B of lifestyle sub theme ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 74 4 16 theme under the ................................ ................................ ............. 75 4 17 theme under the ................................ ................................ ............. 76


9 4 18 ................................ ................................ .......................... 77 4 19 ................................ ................................ .......................... 78


10 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication UNDERSTANDING WEALTH FLAUNTING BEHAVIOR ON WEIBO FROM A CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE By Xiao mo Chen December 2011 Chair: Lisa Duke Cornell Major: Mass Co mmunication Due to rapid economic growth that has f goods, luxury consumption in China has seen double digit increase in recent years. Some consumers of luxury goods and services have employed new media to show off such consumption. The purpose of this study is to an alyze the growing phenomenon of values in shaping this type of consumer behavior. This study uses qualitative content analysis methodology. Q uantitative technique homepages and their posts. The sampling procedure collected a total of 280 cases of flaunting wealth posts, as well as 76 related homepages on Weibo. Each post and homepage was coded and some res ults were yielded learned that : 1) the individuals who flaunt wealth on Weibo are geographically scattered, both in and outside China. 2) t he most flaunted brand categor ies are ha ndbags and shoes whereas; 3) watches and automobiles are the least flaunted categories. Three


11 themes emerged from the qualitative analysis of the posts: materialism, equation of luxury with taste and luxury routinizing. This study also suggests that the we alth flaunting behavior of Chinese affluent customers are greatly influenced by collectivism, the two most fundamental tenets of traditional values in China


12 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In m id October of 2005, the Top Marques Shanghai show, originat ed from Top Marques Monaco, was staged at the Shanghai International Convention Center. The show attracted some of the world's most exotic luxury goods producers. During the four day exhibition, affluent consumers in China splurged $63 million on luxury it ems, gobbling up watch and jewelry as well as private jet and pricy real estate propert y (Schwarz & Wong, 2006). The show's success signifies the explosive growth of luxury consumption in China in recent years. Consequently, China has now become the second largest market for luxury goods in the world. Furthermore, w ith an estimated annual growth rate of 23%, China will become the largest domestic market for luxury goods over the next decade predicts by independent stockbroker CLSA Asia Pacific Markets (201 1) Compared to their counterparts in developed countries, Chinese affluent consumers have displayed some unique characteristics, one of which is their greater desire to demonstrate their wealth and success through the consumption of luxury goods. Chinese affluent consumers' view of luxury goods as status symbol is consistent with what Thorstein Veblen (1899/1994), a famous American economist and sociologist, observed about the new affluent consumers in the post industrialization European countries in the nineteenth century: In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence. And not only does the evidence of wealth serve t o impress one's importance on others and to keep their sense of his importance alive and alert, but it is of scarcely less use in building up and preserving one's self complacency (p.24)


13 W ith the advancement of information technology, some wealthy consume rs in China today have more effective ways to project and sustain their images of prestige based on wealth Rather than showing their luxury possessions in the real world they display such possessions on the Internet to the greater public. This kind of fl aunting behavior can often be found on web forums, blogs and other new media platforms. A recent incident of this nature has attracted much public discussion in China A girl named Guo Meimei flaunted her designer bags and luxury sports car s on her microb log. Netizens questioned the source of her financial support and were offended by her bragging posts. The incident highlights the importance of Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on the growing phenomenon of wealth flaunting among many luxury goods co nsumers in China. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this research is to explore the impact of traditional Chinese cultural values on Chinese consumers' wealth flaunting behaviors on the Internet, as well as examining how Sina Weibo, the media platform a ssists these consumers to elevate their social status. Through content analysis of the homepages of the wealth flaunting individuals and their posts, this research seeks to provide empirical information for luxury marketers and communication researchers. Significance of the Study This study fills three gaps in the literature of conspicuous consumption. First, although conspicuous consumption has been studied by scholars from a variety of academic dis behavior in Cyberspace i s rarely examined. Second, studies on luxury consumption are mostly conducted in the context of developed countries with mature market economies. The current research contributes


14 to the field by focusing on the developing world. Third, previous studies on conspicuous consumers in China mainly focused on demographic, psychographic and socio economic variables ( e.g., Atsmon & Dixit, 2009; Chadha & Husband, 2007; Heinemann, 2008; Henriksen, 2009; Xiao l u & Pras, 2011). Very few published work examines Chinese l uxury wealth behaviors. This study is the first attempt to investigate the flaunting wealth phenomenon in China f rom a cultural perspective. It is important that we address the issue from a cu ltural perspective because, to the author's knowledge, such large scale wealth flaunting on the Internet is a unique phenomenon that can only be understood in the particular cultural context of China. Research Overview This thesis is organized as follows : Chapter 1 discusses the research in general and points out the significance of studying the wealth flaunting behavior of Chinese affluent consumers. Chapter 2 provides a literature review that surveys the most significant publication on conspicuous consu mption in general and its manifestation in China in particular. This chapter pays special attention to the specific economic and historical background of China, offers detailed cases of wealth flaunting behaviors on the Internet, discusses the role of Weib o in China, and proposes the theoretical backgrounds and research questions regarding this research. Chapter 3 discusses the methodology used in this research. Starting with a clarification of what constitutes flaunting wealth posts, this chapter moves on to content analysis followed by a discussion of the image text relationship and ends with an explanation of data collection and analysis procedures.


15 Chapter 4 reports the findings of this research, namely, the contextualizing quantitative results and the themes emerging from the qualitative content analysis. Chapter 5 further elaborates on the research findings, its limitations and implications for future researches.


16 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Conspicuous Consumption Why are people willing to pay premiu m prices for luxury brand products, instead of functionally equivalent goods at a much lower price? The phenomenon of spending extravagantly on publicly visible goods by Thorstein Veblen in his The T heory of the Leisure Class, an economic study that discusses the emergence of a new social class in the late nineteenth century. Veblen observed that people from this new wealthy class were inclined to spend money on conspicuous goods and services to achie ve higher social status. Since personal wealth is not observable, some of the newly rich are eager to demonstrate their wealth to others as a way of elevating their social status. By spending extravagantly, the new tycoons hope to gain immediate social re cognition and compete of conspicuous consumption. People purchase conspicuous goods for very different reasons. They can be roughly divided into three categories, each of which satisfies different social needs (Gierl & Huettl, 2010). The first category includes products that a re used primarily as status symbols. This type of product is usually known for its extremely high price and easily recognizable symbols. The second category includes products that are used to distinguish oneself within a peer group. The products in this ca tegory are usually hard to come by due to scarce supply. As such, they tend to project both the extraordinary


17 ability and unusual taste of the owner. The third category refers to products displaying conformity to certain social norms. The group members sha re strong emotional links and they display a high level of conformity by their similar consumption pattern (Gierl & Huettl, 2010). These classifications provide us with some insights on the underlying reasons for purchasing conspicuous consumption goods. C onspicuous consumption goods are often referred to as luxury products in the literature because luxury products not only fulfill the basic needs of regular customers, but also meet the needs of conspicuous consumers. The concept of luxur y is entirely subje ctive. What is considered a luxury item for one individual may be taken for granted researchers define luxury as prestige brands that incorporate both the social values su ch as conspicuousness and personal hedonistic values (Wiedmann, Hennigs & handha & Husband, 2006, p. 106). With respect to th is research, Chinese affluent consumers generally perceive luxury goods in the same way as their counterparts in other countries. They prefer top tier brands that have the best quality. However, due to government policies, certain types of luxury goods su ch as automobiles and cosmetics are selling at much higher prices in China than other countries Therefore, what is considered luxury under these product categories by the Chinese affluent customers may not be perceived in the same way by the Western custo mers. The slight difference in luxury perception also has some influence on the flaunting behavior of the affluent individuals.


18 S un (2010) identifies six dimensi ons of luxury goo are directly related to conspicuous consumption. However, it should be noted here that conspicuous consumption is not limited to buying luxury merchandise only. Affluent customers today are also spending money on extensive leisure activities that signi fy a luxury lifestyle. Since the publication of The Theory of the Leisure Class, researchers have produced a rich body of scholarly literatures on different aspects of conspicuous consumption. For example, Gierl and Huettl (2010) have explored different s carcity signals. According to them, the scarcity of certain luxury goods is either due to supply ). People who seek social distinction through conspicuous consumption favor products that are scarce due to limited supply whereas people who prioritize group solidarity may prefer products that are scarce due to demand. Nunes, Drze, and Han (2011) examine luxury brands' sale during financial crisis. They have found that the two luxury handbag superpowers, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, changed their product lines during the global recession in 2009 to become significantly more conspicuous. Their strategy evidently succeeded in attracting wealthy Chinese consumers because the sale of luxury go ods increased by 16% in China while declining everywhere else ( Atsmon, Dixit, Leibowitz, & Wu, 2011). Some researchers have examined the motivations of luxury goods consumers from a psychological standpoint. Costly Signaling Theory argues that since certa in desirable personal assets, such as wealth or access to resources in general, are not directly observable, individuals may engage in apparently wasteful behaviors to send


19 status signals which they hope to make them attractive (Nelissen & Meijers, 2010). Rather than discussing conspicuous consumption in the context of human society t his theory argues from an evolutionary perspective and illustrates that human preference for luxury consumption stems from the desire to signal traits that might increase stat us, a desire that is shared by all social primates. To test this assumption, Nelissen and Meijers (2010) examin ed observers' reactions towards people who wore brand name clothing. Their study confirms that people who wear expensive designer clothing are t reated more favorably than those who do not. Do people who show off luxury products on the Internet receive positive feedbacks from the audiences? It is one of the questions to be explored by this study. The consensus of be ing able to be seen or iden tified is the major objective of conspicuous consumption (Chaudhuri & Mahumdar, interpersonal communication because the purchased products are viewed as expressions of consumer self concept and connection to the society (Nelissen & Meijers, 2010; Chaudhuri & Mahumdar, 2006). The most important message communicated through conspicuous consumption is the high social status of the consumer (Jin, Li & Wu, 2011). Cross cultural research among American, Chinese and Mexican has found that the levels of status consumption among the three groups were similar. However, the study also demonstrates that the level of attachment to material goods differed among the three groups China had the highest materialism score followed by Mexico (Eastman, Fredenberger, Campbell & Calvert, 1997). This study confirms that materialism and conspicuous consumption share some common


20 characteristics but are different in nature. For instance, a conspicuous consumption consumer and a materialistic consumer may choose the same luxury product, but they could be buying for very different reasons. A status conscious consumer is concerned with the status quality of a product and a mate rialistic consumer values the possession of the product itself (Eastman et al. 1997). In the past, most studies on luxury consumption were done in developed appetite fo r luxury goods in places like China, more researchers have turned their attention to luxury goods consumers in emerging economies. Since China differs from the Western societies in social structure, economic resource and cultural values, Chinese consumers provide an ideal testing ground for recent theories on luxury consumption (Atsmon & Dixit, 2009). In the next section I will discuss luxury consumption in China. Luxury Consumption in China Asia is considered the most important market for luxury brands as it accounts for more sales than any other region in the world (Schwarz & Wong, 2006). Japan alone, accounts for over 40 % of worldwide sales of most major luxury brands (Chadha & attention. In their book The Cult of the Luxury Brand, Chadha and Husband (2006) systematically analyzed the causes of this phenomenon. According to them, Asia was once a hierarchical society in which social status was defined by birth, family position or profession. Now that the social and economic changes have erased the traditional social distinctions, wealth becomes one of the most important criteria in defining one's social status in today's Asia.


21 The author finds their explanation especially valid in China, where the growth in sales of luxury goods has surpassed other major markets in the world in recent years. In 2009, China replaced the United States to become the second largest market for luxury goods in the world (Xiaolu & Pras, 2011). One repo rt predicts that China will overtake Japan as the world's largest luxury market, accounting for over 20 percent of global market share by 2015 ( Atsmon et al. 2011). These studies and statistics make it clear that the luxury industry can no longer ignore C hina. Many luxury brands have established their foothold in China in the past several years. Hermes, one of the world's largest luxury goods companies first made its appearance in China in 2002. Since then, the group continued to strengthen its position by opening additional offices in various locations. As of 2011, Hermes has opened 20 stores in China, a threefold increase since 2005 when it had only five stores. Likewise, Louis Vuitton has opened 26 new stores since 2005 ( Atsmon et al. 2011). Another exa mple is Swarovski, the famous manufacturer of fine crystal goods, which has opened more than 110 retail outlets in 35 cities in China (Debnam & Svinos, 2008 ) These brands are responding to the increasing demand of Chinese customers. A report in 2006 indic ated that about 13% of China's population (170 million people) w as buying top tier brands (Schwarz & Wong, 2006) The number today is likely to be even higher. The fact that the Chinese consumers are showing off their status with brand name products unknow n to them merely 10 years ago (Sun, 2010) suggests that China's affluent class is mostly nouveau riche whose purchasing power is likely to last for a while. Based on the interpretation of Xiaolu and Pras, the affluent class in this research refers to indiv iduals with an annual household disposable income of at least fifteen


22 times the urban average household income per capita ( 17 175 or $ 2702). This is consistent with the cl assification in other research For instance, in McKinsey s 2009 report, affluent C hinese households earn more than $36 500 a year which gives them similar spending power of a US household making roughly $100,000 a year. China's wealthy class has been growing exponentially in recent years. Nearly half of tho se who are wealthy today were not so four years ago and those who are not wealthy today may become rich in five to six years (Atsmon & Dixit, 2009). The Chinese used to describe those who become rich in a very short period of time and are eager to showing off their wealth. The Chinese affluent consumers today exhibit the spending pattern discussed by Veblen in his classic study of the leisure class. Although his study was published in the nineteenth c entury, it still offers insights into tod ay's materialistic culture. It is especially interesting to note the many parallels, as far as consumer culture is concerned, between China today and nineteenth century western society. Some scholars (Chadha & Husba nd, 2006) have developed a five stage model to map out the expansion pattern of luxury consumption (Shown in Figure 2 1). Figure 2 1. The s pread of l uxury m odel (Chadha & Husband, 2006)


23 According to this model, China is currently at the third stage, cha racterized by a preoccupation with showing off. On this stage, affluent customers are trying to acquire symbols of wealth and displaying them in the most conspicuous manner. According to Chadha and Husband (2006), due to unbalanced economic developments, c ountries in Asia are at different stages of the luxury culture. For instance, India is currently at the second stage (start of money), while Japan has already marched into the last stage (way of life). During the Mao years when puritanical ethics held swa y in China, the ostentatious display of wealth was neither possible nor allowed (Durvasula & Lysonski, 2010). However, since Western popular culture was introduced into China in the early 1980s, Chinese customers have become familiar with various Western b rand names and transformation picking up momentum, new values and new beliefs are increasingly replacing the traditional virtues of modesty and frugality. Previous literature re view shows that when choosing a product, some consumers focus on the utility value whereas others pay attention to the status value. Rucker and Galinsky (2009) examined how psychological states of power affect consumption habits and came to the conclusion that feeling powerless, relative to feeling powerful would make sense of conspicuous consumption in China. As Chinese affluent customers are mostly new tycoons who become r ich only r ecently, they do not have time to gain social recognition through regular channels. Therefore, some of them rely on conspicuous consumption to achieve social status more quickly. They firmly believe that social status


24 can be achieved through cons picuous consumption (Chadha & Husband, 2006 ; Henriksen, 2009 ). These consumers are consuming for the symbolic values of luxury products rather than their utility value. Since consumption is often used as a medium to communicate individual traits (Nelissen & Meijers, 2010), the trait that Chinese luxury consumers wish to exhibit the most is their superior status. Moreover, Durvasula and Lysonski's (2010) examination of Chinese attitudes toward money indicates that although attitudes towards money in China a re not monolithic, most Chinese believe that money allows one to attain status, assets, power and even control over others. This inevitably leads to the rise of materialism and vanity, especially among young Chinese. As the literature review thus far sho ws, China is indeed a market full of potential for luxury products. Chinese nouveau riche are shopping for the symbolic values of luxury goods in ways quite consistent with Veblen (1899/1994)'s study of the leisure pe and America. However, China's unique societal and economic environment has also produced some distinctive characteristics sed in the next section. Chinese Luxury goods Consumers Surveys conducted on Chinese luxury goods consumers show that the two most important factors in their purchasing decisions a of the goods. In other words, they are the typical conspicuous consumers who are willing to pay high price for goods that c an best represent their superior status. However, according to a recent report (Debnam & Svinos, 2008), thi s trend is evolving. bling factor remains a key to the growth of luxury consumption, some


25 Chinese consumers are paying more attention to the brand values and heritage of the luxury brand they are purchasing. The report indicates the differentiation among Chinese luxury goods consumers. While most o f them are still at (Chadha & stage. The Chinese luxury goods consumers are not only millionaires for whom money is not an issue, but also average white col lar employees who have to save for months in order to buy one luxury item (Schwarz & Wong, 2006). McKinsey's report (2011) identifies four types of luxury consumers in China based on the percentage of household income they spent on luxury goods: core luxur y buyers, luxury role models, fashion fanatics and middle class aspirants (p.13). While middle class aspirants make up only a small segment of the luxury consumer population, their number is growing at a fast pace ( Atsmon e t al 2011). Sugalsk (2007) foun d that middle class in China were no longer thrifty, and saving every penny of their earnings. Instead, they are big spenders on luxury items and prone to flaunt their wealth. Differentiating Chinese affluent consumers may help us to better detect the dif ferent motivations in luxury goods consumption. Previous research has demonstrated that Chinese consumers seek satisfaction in different ways. For instance, some may buy the luxury product for exclusivity whereas others for status and recognition from thei r peer group. Only a small portion of the respondents surveyed by researchers indicated that they would no longer use luxury brands as a badge (Debnam & Svinos, 2008). Instead of choosing products that are imprinted with loud logos, these customers


26 prefer less conspicuous ones. They want to differentiate themselves from the tasteless nouveau riche and use the luxury products to demonstrate their excellent tastes. Despite these differences among Chinese consumers, some of their common traits can be charact erized from previous researchers' observations and experiences as listed below. Young Demographics Compared to their counterparts in other countries, Chinese luxury goods consumers are a lot younger, mostly aged between 20 and 40 years old (Xiaolu & Pras, 2011). The older generations that experienced the Cultural Revoluti on in the 1960s and 1970s did not have much chance to accumulate wealth and acquiring Western luxury brands. Besides, they were deeply influenced by Confucian values that call for frugality and keeping a low profile. As a result, they are less likely to engage in luxury consumption. In contrast, the younger generations grew up in the post Mao era, with constant e implemented by the government since 1978 has allowed some people to become rich. The economic development coincided with the reentry of luxury brands in China (Sun, 2010). Subsequently, the nouveau riche and their younger heirs have become the core customers of all kinds of luxury prod ucts. Big Brand names, Recognizable Logos and High Prices As discussed earlier, Chinese consumers are very brand conscious and prefer products easily identifiable by others. A report by Bain (2010) demonstrates that the five biggest brands in China under each luxury category accounted for 50% sales in that category. The underlying reason for this is that Chinese consumers generally lack knowledge of luxury products. They are only familiar with a few top brands.


27 Among the few brands of their choice, Chines e customers have preferences for the product lines as well. Chadha and Husband (2006) observed that affluent Asian customers were obsessed with handbags imprinted with recognizable symbols in a continuous pattern all over the bag such as the LV monogram an d Gucci Gs. Another example would be the rising popularity of Coach among Asian customers after Coach shifted its product lines to the logo pattern look (Chadha & Husband, 2006). Apparently, Chinese consumers positively responded to the increased brand n ame visibility of the products. The high price of luxury products does not seem to discourage rich Chinese consumers at all. On the contrary, higher price tag seems to have an added appeal as ety of Hermes handbags as one of the most expensive luxury goods makes the brand name the best Luxury Products and Taste and g ood taste (Debnam & Svinos, 2008; Schwarz and Wong, 2006). This contradicts with the traditional view superficial How does a handbag with loud logos become a trendy fashion in China? Why do people associa te good taste with luxury products? The answer can be traced back to the blank slate of Chinese fashion industry under Communist Party rule. Fashion and style encourages individualism, which is against the Communist doctrine. For several decades people wor e clothes that had no personality. Grey, black, white and army green were the most popular colors in people's wardrobe (Zhao, 1997). When the gate to the Western world sudde nly opened, consumers who did not have a chance to


28 develop their taste on style wer e overwhelmed by the We stern fashion. Since they did not have standards for what is tasteful and what is not (Chadha & Husband, 2006), they relied heavily on luxury products to demonstrate their good taste. Luxury Shopping to Improve Family's Face There i s no point of getting rich without showing it; no point in wearing beautiful clothes when walking in the night and invisible to others but it provides clues to the social psychology in conspicuous consumption. Chinese cons umers generally associate luxury goods with success and good taste. Given the important role of family in China, an individual's own success has implications to the whole family's standing in the local community as well (Heinemann, 2008). That is to say, l uxury goods co nsumers in China do not just shop for their own glory, but also to elevate the social respectability of his or her family (Chadha & Husband, 2006). In fact, many designer handbags are purchased by parents for their children because they want their kids to stand out from and look good in front of a crowd. Overseas S hopping Another important characteristic of the Chinese affluent consumers is their oversea s hopping behavior. Between 2008 and 2009, China luxury spending saw a 10% growth, of whic h, 8% was overseas spending (Bain & Company, 2010). It was estimated that while Chinese tourists spend over $ 1 billion when shopping abroad, that number would grow much bigger in the years to come given the explosion of outbound tourism (Chadha & Husband, 2006). Chinese luxury consumers find the relatively lower prices and better selection of merchandise in the markets outside China appealing.


29 Why are Chinese consumers displaying such distinctive characteristics compared to their counterparts? The answer m ay lie in the specific historical and economic background of China. M odern China has always been a controversial country. With GDP growth rate at 8% to 10%, China is now the second largest economy in the world. However, statistics show that over half of China's population is still living in rural areas where they only share less than 12% of the country's wealth ( Moore 2010). While the Communist ideal is predicated on egalitarian principles, China today is experiencing an ever growi ng wealth gap between the rich and the poor (Sugalsk, 2007). With the rich getting richer and the poor poorer, some i nexperienced young Chinese cannot wait to flaunt their wealth online regardless of the consequences. The phenomenon is embedded in China's unique societal and economic backgrounds as the former communist country became capitalistic in nature and the previous third world economy turned into the s second largest economy. To understand the behavior of wealthy Chinese nowadays, one has to l ook into history for clues. When Mao Zedong seized power in 1949, the social status of the working class was artificially elevated by the Communist government. As the Communist doctrine was bent on wiping out all social inequalities, the traditional social markers such as education, birth, and wealth were no longer valid. In 1966, Mao started the Cultural Revolution which pushed egalitarianism to its extremes. Countless number of priceless cultural relics was destroyed as they were deemed remnants of old tr adition. People of status such as professors, doctors, landlords or anyone with prestige were


30 denounced in public because they embodied inequalities in the society. This radical chapter in Chinese history seriously undermined traditional values and practic es. entrepren (Griffiths, Michael, Chapman, & Christiansen, 2010). Since1978, the Chinese government implemented a series of e Private entrepreneurs emerged and were encouraged to engage in market oriented activities (Wei & Pan, 1999). As a result, a new social class of rich people appeared (Chow, Fung, & Ngo, 2001 ; Xiaolu & Pras, 2011 ). The economic reforms ushered in many changes in China. Ironically, after the 1989 Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square (Sugalsk, 2007), the pace of privatization and market oriented economic reform quickened. The Democra cy Movement gave the government a sense of urgency to channel public energy away from politics, but into economic activities. Shortly after the Tiananmen crackdown, entrepreneurial activities and consumption were encouraged by the government. Against this backdrop, consumer market and consumer culture were born in China (Wei & Pan, 1999; Xiaolu & Pras, 2011). It is he Cultural Revolution paradoxically produced a craving for status symbols in the post Mao years. M eanwhile, the economic reforms since 1978 have made it possible for peo ple to accumulate wealth. What is more, the Tiananmen protest in 1989 facilitated the formation of consumer culture. When status conscious customers look for ways to display their newly acquired wealth to others, they simultaneously reap the benefits of


31 social recognition and respect which partially explains the boom in luxury market in Chi na. In some ways, today's China resembles the early nineteenth century European society that Veblen (1899/1994) studied significantly. Both societies are characterized by the high economic growth rate, emerging middle class and a big appetite for luxury p roducts (Heinemann, 2008). However, luxury consumption in today's Western society has become more discrete and wealthy Western consumers tend to shift their attention from symbolic values to utility value of the products (Degen, 2009). In China, however, a ffluent customers were denied access to luxury goods for many years (Wong & Zaichkowsky, 1999). Hence, now they are finally free to choose among branded luxury products, they inevitably gravitate towards the status function of the luxury goods. They are co nvinced that by purchasing luxury products, they gain social recog nition and respect from others (Xiaolu & Pras 2011). Another important force that influences Chinese customers' behavior is the globalization process which is directly responsible for the rise of middle class in China. For example, many Western companies outsourced their service in developing countries such as China and India. In doing so, they created many job opportunities and provided more disposable incomes to people in the developing world who then become consumers in the market (Sugalsk, 2007). As illustrated in previous section, although luxury goods consumers make up only a small population in the rising middle class, their number is increasing. As I have stated earlier, most Chine se consumers purchase luxury products as a badge of social status (Debnam & Svinos, 2008). Much like the medals worn by a proud


32 general, luxury goods to Chinese consumers are trophies of their victories won on the battlefields of modern economic life. As C hina's obsession with luxury goods evolved, wealthy Chinese consumers are not only purchasing more goods, but also seeking new ways to experience luxury lifestyles, as evidenced by their visits to spas, massage parlor and other wellness centers ( Atsmon et al., 2011). Since these activities take place mostly in private setting and not as publicly visible to others as the possession of goods, some conspicuous consumers have started looking for alternative ways to broadcast their lifestyle to others. There are also a number of consumers who are not content with conferring status merely through conspicuous goods, as these goods are only visible to those who have access to their environments. The Internet is thus becoming a convenient tool for these conspicuous c onsumers who want to share their newly acquired status to the mass audience. In the next section, I will focus on media's role in the shaping of flaunting wealth behavior on the Internet. The Flaunting Wealth Behavior on the Internet In late June of 2011, a girl named Guo Meimei attracted the attention of millions of Chinese netizens. The incident started on Weibo (mini blog) when Guo showed off her luxury lifestyles to her followers. Rarely retweeting others, Guo tweeted hundreds of original Weibos, most of which are pictures of herself with all kinds of luxury items. Designer handbags, sports cars and jewelry were the three most tweeted categories on her Weibo. What triggered the controversy of t he Chinese Red Cross, a title verified by Sina, the Internet Company hosting Weibo. People started questioning the source of her financial support that enabled her to lead such a luxury lifestyle and the credibility of her claim as the of an officially recognized philanthropic organization. For


33 a 22 year old girl, both her level of consumption and responsibility seemed unusual for her age. The controversy aside, Guo is not the only consumer, nor even the first, guilty of flaunt ing wealth on the Internet in China. Before her, there had already been a number of similar incidents covered by mass media. Signorino Long launched a blog full of wealth flaunting content. Each post was a detailed recording of his daily life. He not only posted pictures of his newly purchased luxury products, but also publicized the brand name and price of his purchase. Signorino Long also revealed details of his personal life on his blog. In one of his posts, he claimed tha t he was the bread winner of his family which was supported by his 300,000 monthly salary (Approximately $47,000). On his post date d June 25, 2006, Signorino Long described how he took his girlfriend out for a drive in a Porsche convertible in Hong Kong, but turned off A/C to save fuel. He confessed that his conspicuous consumption was mostly for others to see. It was not until Signorino Long posted a picture of him using a stack of burning bills to light his cigarette that the public became furious. The n etizens widely condemned his behaviors on xuan fu in Chinese began to gain currency in China. Blogs are not the only channels to flaunt wealth. Internet videos provide another venue. In 2006, someone end office lady, expressed her anger when a min i car bypassed her luxurious elegant Honda Accord


34 Sedan. The context here is that driving private cars was not so common in China merely six years ago and Honda Accord was one of the best cars on the market. She described how she stopped the car and smashe d it. When she was criticized by the netizens, she uploaded more footage of her making controversial statements, such as people who earned less than 3000 RMB ($469) a month are inferior As can be expected, her remarks sparked a firestorm on the Internet The individuals who show off their wealth on the Internet frequently argue that they are merely sharing part of their life with the audience. For them, luxury goods have an actual utility func The tricky part of judging sn obbery, in oneself or others, is in determining the intrinsic value of a thing, or act, or person and However, it can be argued that whether a luxury product is considered conspicuous or not should be determined by whether it serves directly to enhance human life on the whole (Veblen, 1899/1994). In this sense, when a luxury product has less utility function but is used as a prop to show off wealth, it is a conspicuous good. How does the Internet become a platform for people to flaunt their wealth? There is no easy answer to the question, but the research literature provides us with some insights. According to CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) report (2010), up to June 20 10, the number of Chinese Internet users had reached 420 million and the penetration rate had climbed up to 31.8%, compared with 22.5 million and less than 3% respectively in 2001. These results demonstrate the astonishing growth rate and the potential pow er of Chinese Web users.


35 What is more, several reports have confirmed that Chinese affluent consumers are active Internet users. Internet usage among all age groups is above 90% (Atsmon & hile in store experience is still the most important factor driving a consumer's purchasing decision, web based luxury goods companies and online community (social networking) platforms are also infl uencing customers' choices. It is particularly true among consumers between the age of 25 to 44 who spend much more time collecting product information and exchanging views on purchased products within their online community ( Atsmon et al., 2011). The anonymity of the Internet is perhaps the biggest lure to the se conspicuous consumers. Online platforms such as blogs and discussion forums allow citizens to voice their opinions and exchange ideas. Since there is no visual and audible cues to define identity, people on the Internet are unknown to each other. As the popular adage goes, On the Intern People develop pseudonyms in cyberspace to hide their true identities and further protect thei r privacy. Since flaunting is not considered an admirable behavior and excessive self disclosu re is inappropriate in China, anonymity on the Internet allows the consumers of luxury goods to attract the attention they desired while maintaining their privacy. Zhao and He (2009) have studied the phenomenon and suggest that since the ult imate goal of mass communication is to influence public opinion in real life, the Internet is used by these sharer s differently because they do not want to cause any changes in their real lives. In other words, they intend to keep their virtual identity in the Cyberspace.


36 The individuals who flaunt their wealth online are also Internet sharers. Instead of showing every aspect of their livelihood, the conspicuous consumers only choose the most glorious aspect of their life to be put on public display, such as the possession of luxury goods or having an expensive lunch at a fancy restaurant. What they have in common with traditional Internet sharers is that they want to draw attention through sharing their personal lives. The decentralized nature of the Inter net allows each individual to become the communicator and the two way communication mechanism on the Internet allows users to receive instant feedback. This as identified by Zhao and He (2009), is one of the most important motivations for Internet sharers They need strangers' feedbacks to feel good about themselves. Chinese consumers are active Internet users and some online platforms have become major channels for them to generate product information. The anonymous and decentralized natures of the Inte rnet allow some of them to share their extravagant lifestyle with strangers without worrying about the consequences. Moreover, they enjoy being the object of attention. Before the era of microblogs, the individuals who wished to flaunt wealth employed all kinds of channels on the Internet such as blogs, forums and video sites. However, the flaunting behavior exhibited in these channels showed no venue for public display of wea lth. As revealed by one Finding out more about the rich ladi posted on Tinaya, there is a group of rich young women in China who are employing Weibo as a channel to show off th eir luxurious life style. With becoming a Weibo phenomenon, we need to have better understanding of this medium.


37 The Influence of Weibo Sina Corp, which operates China's third most visited website, launched Weibo in August 2009 (Wen, 2011). Since then, this new media forum ha s experienced exceptional growth and its influences in China are far reaching. New media has become a major source of news in China. According to a report recently released by Social Sciences Academic Press and Shanghai Jiaotong University, 65% of the hot events in China in 2010 were first reported by new media ( Sun, 2011). To understand why a 2 2 year old girl could attract so much national attention by flaunting wealth, we only need to take a closer look at Weibo's impact on Chinese society. Sina was the first I nternet provider to provide the service in China. Although its competitors introduced similar services afterwards, Sina Weibo already established its market share and became irreplaceable. To date, Sina Weibo subscribers account for 87% of all micro blogging users in China (Wen, 2011). In less than two years, Weibo has attracted more than 200 million registered users, a number that took Twitter four years to achieve (Barboza & Yan, 2011). Given China's large population base and the fact that Twitter, Facebook and other popular Western sites are blocked by the Chinese government, Weibo's dominance in the market is expected. However, no one could have foreseen the profound changes Weibo would bring to the I nternet world. When Weibo was first introduced i n 2009, the company created accounts for movie stars, real estate tycoons, athletes and writers who were already using Sina's blog service. It soon attracted millions of young people (Barboza & Yan, 2011). With the user base growing exponentially, plenty o f journalists, scholars and entrepreneurs in various


38 fields all joined this trend. Their involvements quickly turned Weibo into an efficient and powerful tool to influence public opinion. In March 2011, the city government of Nanjing aborted its plan to c ut down some 600 year old phoenix trees for a planned subway project because city officials were alarmed by the opposition from Weibo users (Ran, 2011). In another incident, a government official was removed from his post by his superior because his extra marital affair was exposed on Weibo. In the case of Guo Meimei flaunting her new Maserati discussed earlier, one of the immediate consequences was that the Chinese Red Cross organization. Most recently, the public outrage at the train crash which took place on June 23 this year has a direct connection with the massive power of Weibo. The news of the accident was broadcasted on Weibo as soon as passengers on the train sent mess ages through the Weibo platform from their cell phones. The original Weibo bulletin about this accident was then forwarded to tens of thousands of people (Sainsbury & Zhang, 2011). Weibo, as a social media platform, played a critical role in broadcasting t he accident. First, the eye witness messages from passengers on the train became the most reliable information source for traditional media. Journalists relied heavily on Weibo for their stories. Secondly, people relied on Weibo to locate their missing fam ily members or the two year old girl who lost both her parents during the accident were mobilized through Weibo. Millions of people were touched by her tragedy and plead for best doctors to treat her on Weibo. Moreover, bloggers also expressed their displeasure with


39 the authorities for the poor performance in rescue effort. The spokesperson of The Ministry of Railways of China was dismissed largely because bloggers were a ngry at his insensitive remarks after the accident. Before the emergence of microblogging, Chinese people never had a media tool so powerful. It not only alters government policies but also exposes corruptions. From a ct on Chinese society seems much bigger than Sciences, over 73% of microbloggers in China use Weibo as the primary information source compared to only 7% of Americans getting their news from social networking tools (Guo, 2011; The Pew Research Center, 2010). The Chinese government's strict control over other mainstream channels on the Internet and relatively l ittle interference with Weibo is one of the reasons why Weibo has be come the main outlet for controversial topics. China's Internet environment remains one of the most controlled in the world a ccording to a report presented by Freedom House (2009). Chinese authorities maintain tight controls over the Internet by using a v ariety of methods which come down to four forms: technical filtering, prepublication censorship, post publication censorship and proactive manipulation. Restricting access to foreign websites is the most common form of technical filtering. For instance, Yo uTube has been blocked because some of the contents on the site are considered inappropriate and offensive by the Chinese governments. Similarly, Facebook, Twitter, Word P ress are all information. Interestingly e nough, all of these websites have substitutes in China's web


40 sphere, albeit under strict surveillance for sure. Technical filtering can also be achieved through software. The Golden Shield Project's censoring system, known as the Great Firewall, was instal led by the government to block sensitive information (Woo, 2009). However, many Internet users have resorted to software to bypass Internet censorship since 1998. Meanwhile, pre publication and post publication censorship are also in place to ensure taboo topics would not appear on the Internet. The Ministry of Propaganda of the Communist government is in firm control of the mass media and gives specific directi ons on what should and should not be published. All the messages posted on blogs, bulletin board system (BBS), and comments are under close surveillance. If pre publication censorship is designed to prevent unauthorized contents from ever being published, post censorship aims to minimize the damage by what has already been posted. Filtering sensitiv e words and deleting posts and comments are no longer effective because of the speed of information flow on the Internet. Realizing this, the Chinese authorities have recruited people to write positive remarks about the government and report offensive post s (Freedom House, 2009). These people hired by the government members because it is rumored that they are paid 50 cents per posting of supportive comments. Because of the anonymity nature of the Internet, there is no way to know for sure which 50 Cent Party members. As an influential media forum, Weibo is under close surveillance by the authorities as well. The technical filtering appl For


41 example, after Arab Spring erupte suddenly became a sensitive word and would trigger off the filtering mechanism. Any I nternet search that used the word Egypt would result in an automaticall y generated message Acco rding to relevant laws, regulations and po licies, the search results cannot be shown Postings that have survived the filtering continue to be subject to post publication censorship. Sina hires at least 100 staffers to monitor the content of I nternet post ing 24 hours a day. Undesirable contents can be removed any time. Should anyone consistently publish controversial posts, her/his account risks being suspended (Epstein & Yang, 2011). Much has been said about the dark side of Weibo. However despite censo rship, by far the best pl (Wen, 2011). One of the primary reasons that Weibo can provide a relative free public space is that the sheer volume of its users makes it impossible for the censors to keep track of every post, not in a timely fashion anyway. Anyone can be a potential information source that may liking. And once something is posted, it can be quickly forwarded to thousands of people before censors have chance to delete it. Another reason that Weibo has become so influential is that mainstream media are extremely limited in terms of what they can and cannot show, publish or broadcast because government has a monopoly over the more traditional and more established media outlets television stations, radio networks, publishing houses and film studios. Paradoxically, the tighter official control over the conventional media has turned the public to citizen journalism in microblogs for information. For instance, a recent


42 shipwreck accident in Shaoyang, Hunan province cost the lives of many people. The official news report mentions only 12 deaths, whereas eye witness reports posted on Weibo would suggest a death toll of 50. In addit ion, Chinese netizens have developed various strategies to circumvent official censorship on Weibo. Equivoque (deliberately ambiguous expressions) or abbreviation is the most used strategy to substitute sensitive words. For the deleted posts, netizens forw ard screen shots of the posts and post them as picture files. All these strategies have helped microblogs to become a powerful tool in influencing public opinion in China. The discussion of strict control over media and Weibo s significance i n China will help us understand why the flaunting of luxury goods by a 22 year old girl caused people s deep distrust of state charities. Donations to charities in China between June and August in 2011 dropped by 86.6% to $131.4 million, compared to the $9 79.7 million donated between March and May of the same year (Staff reporter, 2011). Although it turns out that Guo s wealth has nothing to do with the Red Cross Society of China the incident exposes people s concerns about luxury goods. In a developing an d transitioning economy where corruption is common practice (Webster, 2002). Chinese people are sensitive about anyone with large amount of unstated source of wealth. Since traditional media channel are firmly controlled by the ruling Communist Party Weib o becomes an irreplaceable platform to expose possible corruptions. Under such circumstance, luxury goods displayed on Weibo not only represent wealth, status and good taste in China, but could also suggest corruptions and other unstated sources of wealth.


43 Theoretical Backgrounds and Research Questions As demonstrated in the literature review, Chinese luxury consumers' spending on luxury products has grown exponentially in recent years and such spending is usually focused on status functions rather th an utility functions of the expensive goods and services. Researchers have noted the influence of both Western and traditional Chinese ; Wang, Doss, Guo & Li, 2008; Wong & Ahuvia, 1998). Th is research focuses on the sector of wealthy Chinese customers who ostentatiously display their wealth online. In contrast to traditional wealthy consumers, the individuals in my study not only purchase luxury products, but go out of their way to show off their possessions of expensive merchandise to mass audience on the I nternet. As far as we know, it is a unique phenomenon that can only be understood in the particular cultural context of contemporary China. Hence, this research has two focuses. First, it seeks to interpret conspicuous consumption in contemporary China from cultural perspectives; and second, it examines the role played by media platform in the emergence of the flaunting of wealth. As far as the theoretical framework is concerned, the curren t study is largely informed by taste performance theory. Traditional Cultural Values Chinese society has been undergoing dramatic changes in the past fifty years. The emergence of luxury market there is both tied to and a product of a complicated history. Several prominent studies have attempted to analyze affluent Chinese these collective programming of the mind; it manifests itself not only in values, but in more superficial ways:


44 (Hofstede, 2003, p.1). Given the complexity of any cultural phenomena, Hofstede has intercultural context. Many concepts associated with traditional Chinese cultural values and Western cultural values are found in his framework and it is been extensively applied to intercultural studies in recent years. After reading the academic literature on conspicuous con sumption and Internet sharing phenomenon in China, the author has identified two aspects of Chinese traditional values that are most likely related to the flaunting wealth behavior online. These values come from several ideologies that have influenced the Chinese society for thousands of years. Collectivism Countries in East Asia share a collectivist cultural tradition in which people place collective interests above individual interests (Wong & Ahuvia, 1998). In collectivist cultures, the interest of the g roup is the first priority; Individual interest is minimized or considered not important. People are tightly integrated (Jandt, 2007). On the surface, with the doctrines of collectivist values which oppose individuals openly pursuing (2009) suggests that under certain circumstance, some conspicuous purchases have the function of differentiat ing on e group from another and in doing so, affirming solidarity to describe these consumers. With regards to the current research, we ask the following question: Q1: Is Collectivism related to the wealth flaunting behavior on Weibo? If so, what aspects of Collectivism can be observed?


45 Face Chinese luxury consumers' behaviors (Bao, Zhou & Su, 2003; Wong & Ahuvia, 1998; Henrik sen, 2009). According to Ting Toomey and Kurogi (1998), the concept of face a claimed sense of favorable social self worth that a person wan ts others to have of her or him ( p.187). In China, maintaining face is not only for the individual himse lf or herself, but for the community in which th social self in a collectivist culture such as China. In other words, one is encoura in most circumstances no matter what inner self is (Ting Tooney & Kurogi, 1998). Bao, Zhou and Su (2003) have examined how face consciousness affect consumer decision making process and conclude that consumers with strong face consciousness tend to p ursue conspicuous goods to enhance face or to avoid losing face. They are more likely to stick to established brands than the novel ones to avoid losing face. Based on their findings, we can extrapolate that most conspicuous goods consumers have a high lev el of face consciousness because they not only purchase luxury goods but also brag about their purchases to the public. Q2: Does the face concept help explain flaunting wealth behavior on Weibo? If so, how does it work? Taste Performance Theory Grodin and Lindlof (1996) have found that personal identity in postindustrial identities were conveyed by a few indicators such as wealth, religion and social class. In account, conspicuous consumption is often employed by affluent people to


46 demonstrate the superior status. Nowadays, with the development of information technology, the individuals are able to define and express themselves in a number of ways based on the t theory to the modern time and illustrates that in the Internet age, defining identity through consumption patterns is no longer limited to the affluent consumers (Parks, 2011). Although t he theory is still at initial stage, a few researchers have employed it to examine various online platforms. For instance, Liu (2008) investigated a sample of user profiles on MySpace and concludes that the users mainly craft these profiles to emphasize th eir prestige and differentiate themselves from others. Liu, Maes and Davenport (2006) have explored the deeper patterns of culture and taste reflected in the social network profiles and suggested that the latent semantic fabrics of taste allowed the users to have more flexible representations of themselves in Cyberspace. Other researchers have examined more online arenas. McGuire and Slater (2005) evaluated various online tools adopted by users to share their taste in music. The potential cultural benefits from using these tools are implied. Miller and Edwards (2007) studied the photo sharing culture on Flickr and have identified two types of users. The first type of user prefers to share images of traditional theme with their friends or family members while the second type uses the site to document their lives and interact with strangers. Park (2011) describes three boundary conditions which determine whether a update his or must include indicators of personal tastes and preferences. Third, the individual must


47 to the current research, the Weibo homepage is the persona which carries the virtual identity of the individual. Moreover, the users in our sample share their taste in luxury goods or services with their Weibo followers. Their identities are communicated mor e effectively compared with users sharing other tastes, given that conspicuous goods are already status signals and the media platform is employed to amplify the effect. The first and second conditions are met because the author has removed inactive accoun ts and accounts that made no constant mention of luxury products or services when preparing data for analysis. The third condition is also met because the user not only displays her virtual identity through the layout of her homepage and the content of her posts, she under her posts. Therefore, the taste performance theory could be applied to the current research to understand how the conspicuous consumers use Weibo to dis play their identities. Q3: How do the Internet flaunters employ the microblog platform to state their taste in conspicuous goods?


48 CHAPTER 3 R ESEARCH METHOD Defining the Flaunting Wealth Posts Through the re view of literature and multi keyword search on t he Internet, it could be has become quite a popular word in Chinese society in recent years. Despite the massive flow of informatio n related to the phenomenon of Xuanfu in China, there is very little discussion on this topic in the West. While flaunting wealth is a common occurrence around the world, flaunting wealth through social media is a rather unique cultural phenomenon, which is directly tied to the societal and economic situation in China. As such, it should be closely examined from a cultural perspective in order to gain a better understanding of the cultural differences between China and W estern society. Before we can further discuss the phenomenon of wealth flaunting on Internet, we need to define what constitutes we alth flaunting behavior first. According to Oxford Dicti to walk or move about so as to display one's finery; to display oneself in unbecomingly splendid or gaudy attire; to obtrude oneself boastfully, impudently, or defiantl y on the public view This definition is visually illustrated by a snapshot of Guo Meimei, the controversial rich girl we discussed earlier who posted the picture on the microblogs (shown in Figure 3 1) The text messa Oh... my little Maserati was not to let me mi The arrangement of the three images in this picture frame is rather interesting. There is a close up shot of the Maserati logo in the picture on the top left corner; the picture on the right is a shot of Guo herself with her


49 Hermes bag displayed prominently; the picture on the bottom left is meant to confirm her ownership of the luxury car. F igure 3 1 f launting w ealth p ost To some extent, the Internet has provided a new kind of public space. If rich people wanted to flaunt their wealth in the past, they had to be physically present in public space such as streets, t heaters, parks, shopping malls, airpor t, and etc. Nowadays, they do not have to go anywhere because of the new public space provided by the I nternet. The I nternet has indeed changed the nature of flaunting. All the meaning is embedded in the pictures poste d online. Back to our example, the close up logo shot indicated Meimei's intention: to let everyone recognize the brand of her car if the group shot was not distinctive enough. The text part went a step further by mentioning the brand name and the fact tha t the car qualifies to attend the luxury sports car carnival.


50 T he line between flaunting and sharing one's life is vague. As pointed out by the real snobbery question was whether one is taking pleasure in a thing or activity for itself or because the pleasure is that other people, most people, in fact, are for one reason or a So the real question becomes: whether one is taking pleasure in sharing his or her life with others or whether the pleasure is derived from flaunting stuff beyond the reach of everyone else. The latter off the luxury goods for the purpose of flaunting. Hers and other similar postings on Weibo suggest that: 1) The brand name of the luxury product or the luxury service is usually the focal point of the uploaded picture on Weibo. If the brand name is not available, the expensiveness of the product or service will be stressed. 2) The actual ownership of luxury product or experience of luxury service is one the emphasis of the many wealth flaunting posts. Content Analysis Content analysis is used primarily as a quantitative research method which translates text data into explicit categories consistent with the statistics (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Compared to the more prevalent quantitative content analysis, qualitative content analysis begins with an inductive analysis of texts and searches for patterns (Patton, 2002). In other words, it goes a step further than quantitative content analysis and digs deeper into the texts for meanings. This study sought for themes from the flaunting wealth posts Moreover, it is conducted to understand an emerging phenomenon that had not yet been examined by other research. The exploratory and explanatory purposes of the current study called for


51 a qualitative approach that develops the coding schemes inductively from the texts. Quantitative technique is also employed in contextualizing the Weibo homepages and posts in order t o provide a more holistic view of the flaunting wealth individuals. Frameworks for Image text relationship Sina Weibo has some features that Twitter does not currently provide. As a result, the posts to be analyzed for this research are different from the typical Twitter postings. Most posts included text and image as well as some other media forms, like audio and video. Marsh and White (2003) investigated the relationships between text and images in various media forms. They identified 49 image text rela tionships and categorized them into three groups according to the closeness of their conceptual relationship. Since our goal in this research is to explore the motivations of those who flaunt their wealth on Weibo and the strategies they have devel oped to serve that purpose, it is essential to figure out the connections between text and image in their flaunting posts. Hence, image relationship was applied to the current research to gain a better understandin g of the flaunting wealth phenomenon. T en text image relationships were identified for the current research. Their names and descriptions can be found in the Appendix section of the current study. Data C ollection and A nalysis Few qualitative content an alyses have been conducted on microblogs as it is an emerging social media platform. Vieweg, Hughes, Starbird and Palen (2010) studied crisis communication on Twitter. They analyzed microblog posts generated during two concurrent emergency events in North America. The tweets were obtained via keyword search and were analyzed through content analysis. Likewise, Qu, Huang, Zhang and


52 Zhang (2011) examined the microblog posts on Sina Weibo during Yushu Earthquake. They applied the qualitative method used by Vie weg et al (2008) to analyze the posts. What is more, researchers in health communication also utilized qualitative content analysis to study concussion relate d tweets on microblog (Sullivan et al 2011). All the above examples employed keyword searches t o collect tweets for analysis. However, for the current research, this method is inadequate because the flaunting wealth behavior involves a w ide range of topics and cannot be generalized with a few keywords effectively. Luckily, a post on Tianya, entitled who are more than willingly to brag about their luxury lifestyles to their fans on Weibo. Tianya was launched in 1999 and was ranked sites. It attracts more than 1.5 million page views per day and covers a wide range of topics and issues (Qu, Wu & Wang, 2009). The post exposing the Weibo accounts of the wealthy young ladies has attracted over two million hits and has generated over six engaged in wealth flaunting on Weibos. This post provided a rich database for analysis. Unlike research based on keyword search for data co llection, the current research uses a crowdsourcing method. The term crowdsourcing was first brought up by Howe (2005) in an article he wrote for Wired Magazine Prior to 2005, the method was already successfully applied to various fields such as business and economics. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds Surowiecki (2005) describes four conditions that shape these crowds: diversity of opinion, independence, decentralization and aggregation. In the case of the current


53 research, the basic information about pe ople flaunting their wealth on I nternet was gathered from a post in one of the most popular forums in China. First of all, the decentralized nature of the Internet ensures that the responses to the post came from all over China and were not limited to a pa rticular region. Besides, the high click through and response rate guaranteed the variety of the reported accounts. Thirdly, unlike face to face communication, the netizens were less likely to be influenced by others' responses. Finally, the post provided a platform for netizens to report Sina Weibo accounts containing flaunting wealth content. To sum up, the post on Tianya was actually a well established crowdsourcing project reflecting the wisdom of the crowds. The reliability of using this method was pro ved by many examples. Based on the post on Tianya, the author has collected a total of 104 user accounts on Sina Weibo. Reviewing each account post by post, the author removed 28 accounts because the users of these accounts either do not engage in obvious wealth flaunting behavior or have removed most of their posts on Weibo. As a result, a total of 76 accounts are left for examination. The next step is to obtain posts related to wealth flaunting. Since the account users update their posts at varying paces, some have only a few pages of posts while some have over 50 pages in their accounts (each page contains 47 posts) To rule out the bias and accurately reflect the characteristic s of each individual, a stratified sampling strategy is employ ed. F or each Wei bo account, every page would be marked with a backward sequence number It means the page that contains the latest posts would be labeled as page No. 1. If one account has 15 pages of posts, the one page that contains the individual s oldest posts would be labeled as page No. 15.


54 Secondly, the 76 accounts would be categorized into four groups based on how many pages each account has. Accounts that belong to Group A contain five or less than five pages of content; accounts that contain six to ten pages of po sts fall into Group B; and Group C includes all accounts that have 11 to 15 pages of content. Other accounts (more than 15 pages) would be categorized to Group D. For accounts that have more than 20 pages, only the first 20 pages would be examined in this research. T he researcher would pick the latest flaunting post from each account in Group A. If there is no flaunting post on page No. 1, the first flaunting post appears would be selected (this rule applies to all). F or accounts that have six to ten pages of content (Group B), the researcher would pick two posts one is the latest flaunting post and the other is the first flaunting post on page 6 Using this method, three flaunting posts (each from page 1, page 6 and page 11) would be selected for each acco unt that has 11 to 15 pages of posts (Group C). Four flaunting posts (each from page 1, page 6, page 11 and page 16) would be selected for each account in Group D. Employing this sampling strategy the author has collected a total of 280 flaunting wealth p osts. Each of the 280 posts is given a serial number according to their published date (No. 001 post was posted on March 4 th 2010 and No. 280 post was posted on September 25 th 2011). All the posts were collected on two consecutive days of September 25 th and September 26 th on 2011 Given that the content on the Internet can be easily removed by its author and the fact that the flaunting posts are often removed due to criticisms from the public, all the posts gathered are preserved in the form of snapshot There are two coding sheets for the current research. Coding sheet 1 measures the descriptive aspects of the Weibo homepages of the flaunting wealth accounts, from


55 which we could learn some basic information of the individuals who flaunt their wealth in C yberspace. The second coding sheet deals with the flaunting wealth posts on Weibo. A series of items were examined, including the flaunted luxury brand names as well as the overall tone of the comments of each post. These coding categories provided us with empirical evidence of the flaunting wealth behavior on Weibo. With respect to the qualitative content analysis, Hsieh and Shannon (2005) have identified three approaches. According to them, the conventional approach to describe an emerging phenomenon or categories is usually adopted during data analysis process. In contrast, the directed approach which applies pre existing theories to form the initial coding scheme works better prior to data analysis. Last but not least, the summative approach is used mo stly to examine how the meaning of specific terms or content is interpreted in the context. The current study investigates flaunting wealth phenomenon in Cyberspace. Given that no previous study has addressed this issue, all the themes regarding motivation s to flaunt wealth was generated during the content analysis process. The author decided to conduct a pilot study before the actual coding process. Each post that has 1 as the last digit of its serial number was extracted for this pilot research (for exa mple, No.1, No.11, No.21 No.261, No.271) By using this screening process, 28 flaunting wealth posts (10% of the entire sample pool) were extracted from the whole sample The author viewed the posts one by one carefully without undertaking any coding proc edure. After examining the posts, the author then reviewed all the samples several times and developed the initial coding scheme. The themes generated through this process served as the primary categories of analyzing


56 motivations to flaunt wealth. Several changes were made during the actual coding process and higher level themes were also developed from the initial categories.


57 CHAPTER 4 F INDINGS Weibo Homepages All the Weibo accounts under investigation in the current research are acquired from a post on Tianya, as previously discussed. The post has reported over a hundred account addresses of the wealthy women who show off their wealth. As a result, the entire sample in the current research has an inherent gender bias. Other than that, demographic questio ns are designed to gather basic information about the wealth flaunting individuals. Several studies have confirmed that Chinese affluent consumers are a lot younger than their counterparts in other parts of the world (Xiaolu & Pras, 2011; Debnam & Svinos, 2008). How about the individuals who flaunt wealth online? An initial goal of this research was to obtain the age information of this segment of conspicuous consumers. Although most of the individuals do not report their ages on Weibo, we are able to categ osts. Visual assessment could not tell us the exact age of the individual, but it is a useful way of determining the age range of the individual. As a matter of fact, 60 out of the 76 individuals in our sample use their own pictures as the profile pictures and nearly all of them have uploaded pictures of themselves in their posts. Subsequently, the author is able to categorize these individuals into three age groups: under 20 years old, between 20 to 40 years old and over 40 years old. Out of the 76 individuals investigated, 71 individuals (93.4%) are among 20 to 40 years of age and 3 individuals (3.9%) ar e under 20 years old.


58 Another objective of our investigation is the geographical distribution of these individuals. The chart below demonstrates that they are geographically scattered all over places, both in and outside of China. Those residing outside C hina account for 37% of the entire sample. Among the foreign countries these affluent consumers are located in, Canada has the largest segment of the flaunting wealth individuals, followed by the U.S. and Great Britain. With regard to the individuals resid ing in China, approximately 56.2% of them are located in Shanghai, followed by Beijing and Zhejiang province. Figure 4 1. Locations of w ealth f launter s population, develo pment of services and infrastructure and the cosmopolitan nature of considered as Tie r 2 cities whereas smaller cities are viewed as lower tier cities. from second and lower tier cities is growing. The current research confirms that the affluent consumers w ho are showing off their wealth online come from both top tier


59 cities and lower tier cities. Among the individuals living in mainland China, 75% of them come from Tier 1 city (Beijing or Shanghai), while 16% and 9% of them come from Tier 2 and Tier 3 city respectively. Figure 4 2 Locations of w ealth f launter s, breakdown by c ity t ier in Mainland China The feature of the microblog allowed viewing of updates from selected interested in us (shown in Figure 4 3 and Figure 4 4) All the individuals in our sample have higher follower numbers compared to following numbers. The number of people they follow varies from 1 to 636, while the number of people following these individua ls ranges from 191 to 195,185. The individual who has the most followers is an actress whose authenticity is verified by Sina. Since certified or verified accounts attract more visits than uncertified accounts, the researcher decided to minimize this bias by analyzing only 65 unverified accounts. In Figure 4 3 the author ranked the individuals (from 191 to 70,247) based on the number of their followers (shown as the RED line).The blue line below shows the number of people each individual follows. As can b e seen, even though the verified accounts are removed from our data base, the number of followers each individual has greatly exceeds the number of people the individual follows. Consequently, the blue line


60 appears to be a straight line at the bottom of th e chart. In order to present the data more accurately, Figure 4 4 demonstrates the number of people each individual is following on a scale 100 times bigger than Figure 4 3 Figure 4 3 w ealth f l aunting i ndividual Figure 4 4 In addition to the above information, the current research also examine d whether the homepages of the flaunting individuals contain any luxury brand names or logo s. Out of the 76 homepages, 28 of them have made reference to luxury brand names or logos either in background, layout or profile pictures.


61 Flaunting Post s For the flaunting posts, t he first category examined is the type of the post. Eighty five percent o f the sample s are original posts, 12% are @ or replying others and 3% are forwarded posts. Nearly all the posts contain pictures (277 out of 280). The flaunting posts published by the bloggers cover a wide range of product categories. Most posts (80%) hav e mentioned only one type of product whereas 17% of the posts have incorporated more than one product categories. All the brands mentioned in the posts can be classified into the 11 brand categories. Every time a brand category is mentioned, it is counted once. Out of the 11 brand categories, and are the least flaunted categories. Figure 4 5 Products mentioned in the flaunting posts by category The author then calculated the luxury brand names mentioned in the posts and lists the top three brand names that appear the most in the posts. Chanel is featured most prominently given it is one of the top three brands in various brand categories. Christ ian Louboutin enjoys most visibility in the shoes category and Hermes in the


62 suitcases and handbags category. The percentage of the top three brands in each group is then calculated. A wide variety of brand names is mentioned. Except for ges & Fo all of the brand categories mentioned over 10 brand names. This contradicts with the notion that Chinese customers know very few brand names. A list of the brands mentioned in each category can be found in the A ppendix of this study. Table 4 1. Top 3 most mentioned b rand s by w ealth f launting i ndividuals on Weibo ( The number in the brackets is the total times the category was mentioned ) Brand Category 1st 2nd 3rd Percentage of Top 3 Brands Numbers of br ands mentioned Cosmetics, Perfumes & Personal Care (19) Chanel (2) La Mer (2) Sisley (2) 31.60% 14 Shoes (63) Christian Louboutin (15) Chanel (8) Roger Vivier (7) 47.60% 28 Suitcases & Handbags (107) Hermes (46) Chanel (25) Louis Vuitton (8) 73.80% 21 Jewelry (32) Tiffany & Co. (6) Cartier (4) Chanel (4) 43.80% 16 Watches (3) Patek Philippe (2) Breguet (1) N/A 100.00% 2 (36) Chanel (11) Miumiu (3) Alexander McQueen (2) 44.40% 23 Beverages & Foods (13) Starbucks (5) Laudree (2) Louis XIII (2) 69.20% 7 Electronic Devices (14) Apple (10) Casio (2) N/A 85.70% 5 Automobiles (9) Ferrari (3) N/A N/A 33.30% 7 Services (15) Four Seasons (2) Ritz Carlton (2) N/A 26.70% 12 Accessories (44) Hermes (11) Chanel (7) Louis Vuitton (6) 54.50% 23 As illustrated above, one of the major criteria in defining flaunting wealth posts is whether it emphasizes any brand name in its content. Most Weibo posts are composed


63 of two parts: the text part and the image part. As a result, the luxury products or servic es are emphasized in different ways in our samples. Fifty seven percent of the posts do not reveal the brand name in the text but illustrate it in the pictures whereas twenty percent of the posts mention the brand name of the luxury products in the text s ection since there are no recognizable cues of the brand name in the pictures. Approximately one fifth of our sample emphasizes the brand names in both text and image. Having coded the content of each post, this author also examines all the comments attach ed to the post and identifies five types of comments based on their relationship to the product or service referred to in the post. To decide the overall emotive thrust of the comments to each post, the author first reads all the comments to the particular post, and then calculates the frequencies of each type. The comment type with the highest frequency is coded to the particular post. The description and the example posts are listed below. Nearly half of the posts have received mostly positive comments wh ereas only 3% of the posts have received generally negative feedbacks. In 20% of all the posts, the comments are mainly about seeking information, compared to 22% of the posts that have received mostly irrelevant comments that have nothing to do with the f launted products.


64 Table 4 2 Classification of c omment s and examples Content Description Example Posts Frequency (Percentage) Compliment The comment praises the product or service mentioned in the post and expresses admiration towards the individual who consumed them present from your amazing and it suits you 132 (51.8%) Denouncement The comment expresses anger, annoyance or contempt towards the product, service or the individ ual who flaunts wealth every day without doing any work. Where do you this money to do some 3 (1.2%) Seeking Information The comment asks questions regarding the product or the service mentioned in the post pair for ages. Where did 51 (20%) Providing Information The comment provides relative information regarding the product or the service mentioned in the post have lined up for this season are pretty. You should check out their 13 (5%) Irrelevant The comment is unrelated to the product or serv ice mentioned in the posts 56 (22%) Thematic A nalysis of the F launting P osts The quantitative content analysis has yielded some interesting findings. It outlines the characteristics of the conspicuous consumers who ar e flaunting wealth on Weibo. It also generates statistical clues to the question of what these consumers are flaunting and how they are flaunting. Since our aim is to understand the underlying reasons for their behavior, a qualitative analysis is conducted to identify thematic variations from the posts. Three main themes emerged from the analysis : materialism, equation of luxury themes are also applied.


65 Materialism Many of the posts in the current study manif est an obsession with materialism. C onspicuous consumers u se the microblog platform to show off their recently purchased luxury products, expensive gifts or conspicuous goods they collected in the past. In both text and image, the luxurious nature of the p roducts is emphasized for the audiences. The blogger displays how wealthy she is and seems to enjoy being the object of envy and admiration. The text portion of these posts often includes the brand of the product as well as blogger s delight in possessing it. At the same time, the image part frequently highlights the product through close up shot s Furthermore, the packaging imprinted with brand logos is often placed in the background. This is a rather interesting phenomenon. Since the product already info rms the audience of its value, the packaging placed in the background is sending out another signal, that is, the product is genuine. As indicated by Debnam and Svinos (2008) counterfeits from China dominate the underground trade in luxury fakes in the wo rld. In China, customers purchase counterfeits for different reasons. S ome brand ignorant customers do not even realize they are buying counterfeit products while others know very well that they are purchasing the fakes but they cannot afford the real ones ( Chandha & Husband 2006). The nouveau riche s in this study employ all means to differentiate themselves from those buying counterfeit products. As a result instead of only displaying luxury products, the individuals put packaging in the background to in form others that their possessions are real. Three sub themes are listed below, each followed with two example s


66 Consumption Consumption is the most common sub theme. The individual nor mally starts the I bought another This is what I got The picture followed is usually a visual footnote to the text. In the first example (shown in Figure 4 6) the text reads: I another color: c The image reinforce s the information in the text. is transformed into the black Chanel packaging and the color of the product is presented under the artificial light. Although there is no mention of the brand name in the text, both the logo and the brand name are shown in the picture. In addition the aut to imply that she owns more than one. In the second example (shown in Figure 4 7), the product is also the centre of attention. The text reads: I fell in love with this necklace recently. It seems much prettier when I got it. I am so lucky. Although no brand name is mentioned, several Chanel logos appear in the picture. Figure 4 6 Example A of the consumption sub theme under the category


67 Figure 4 7 Example B of the consumption sub theme under the category Gift In many situations, the conspicuous goods flaunt ed come from friends or family members. Instead of expressing appreciation in private, the individual choose s Weibo to amplify her joy. In our first example (shown in Figure 4 8) the text read as Thanks for the birthday ring from my husband The image is composed of two pictures. The first picture in the background is a close up shot of the particular product. It is a ring with sparkling gems. The high value is made obvious by the ring itself. She uses the smaller picture of the box imprinted with brand name to drive her point home. The image is used to supplement the text and together they form a functioning whole. In the second example (shown in Figure 4 9), the text reads: Thanks Xiaoyuan for her red rope Hope the new beginning really brings some good luck. The luxury goods were placed on the bag imprinted with the Cartier brand name and logo because the luxury goods are not conspicuous enough. The image is used to rei terate the information provided in the text.


68 Figure 4 8 Example A of the gift sub theme under the category Figure 4 9 Example B of the gift sub theme under the category Collection Another form of wealth flaunting is to show a collection of luxury products purchased in the past. Compared to the posts discussed earlier which seem to be motivated by a thread of genuine joy at owning expensive products, the posts in this category are entirely driven by a desire to flaunt. In the example provided in Figure 4 10 the individual posts a picture of her Let me flaunt my


69 collection of Balenciaga The products in the pictures were arranged closely to each other. Since there is not enough informatio n to identify the brand in the picture, the text helps us to understand the image. T he author use s in the text implying that she is fully aware of her motive. The second example (shown in Figure 4 11) also displays the luxury products in the same manner. The large quantities of luxury goods remind the audience how wealthy the individual is. Even though no brand name is mentioned in the text, a lot of brand name shoes can be discerned from the image. Figure 4 10 Example A of the collection s ub theme under the category Figure 4 11 Example B of the collection sub theme under the category


70 Equation of L uxury with T aste As illustrated in previous literature review Chinese consumers strongly associate luxury produ cts with good taste (Debnam & Svinos, 2008). In this category, the luxury goods are not displayed solely to flaunt wealth, but also to assist the individuals in express ing themselves. The blogger s enjoy the attention the conspicuous goods bring to them, bu t even more important to them is to be perceived as a person with fine taste. As pointed out by Veblen (1899/1994), conspicuous goods not only signal high social status of their owners, but also provide an opportunity for their owners to differentiate them selves from others. Thus, luxury products function as a uniqueness signal. The products displayed in these posts are not likely to be imprinted with large logos since the owners are more concerned with the aesthetic values of these products. Fashion Imman uel Kant believed that fashion was not associated with good taste given that a man of style usually relied on his own power of judgment and did not blindly follow the so called fashion Gronow (1993) argued that fashion is not only based on a collective ta ste of the society but also the individual's own aesthetic preferences. In other words, in consuming fashionable items, people are able to express their uniqueness as well as conform to the social standard of taste. Fashionable items are not necessarily lu xury products. However, as discussed above, Chinese consumers do not have a chance to develop the ir own styles and tastes. That is why they rely heavily on brand name recognition. Dressed in expensive designer clothes with assured taste value, the individu als minimize the chance to expose their own inadequacy in fashion aesthetics. As shown in the example post (shown in Figure 4 12), s everal pictures were merged together to create a lookbook (a collection of photographs compiled to present


71 the style of an i ndividual) T he individual incorporated the model in the same dress to her lookbook and a picture taken at a high angle was presented at the bottom right corner of the image. The high angle shot appears in our sample with high frequency. Just like the one in our example, most pictures were taken to show off designer bags or shoes worn by the individual. Except for the two pictures at the bottom right corner, the rest of the pictures signify the supposedly distinctive fashion style of the individual. They re spond to the message expressed in the firs If you can't be No.1, try to be the unique one. If you can't stay with him till the last moment, the n The text reflects the unique and independent life style of the individual. Another part of the post, however, reveals that the individual is brand conscious. She remind s fashion look is out of the price range of ordinary customers in the text and by presenting the picture of a model in the same dress displaying her Hermes bag. Although she trie s to avoid direct flaunting, she sought social differentiation from others nevertheless. Figure 4 12 Example A of the fashion sub theme under the c ategory


72 The second example (shown in Figure 4 13) is quite similar to the first example. The individual mentioned luxury brand name s in her post and made herself the focus of the post My Miumiu s clutch can hold so much stuff. I am a boring person for I only love black, white and grey. The leopard simply The text reads. The image emphasize s what is expressed in the text and the individual displays her style in the image. Figure 4 13 Example B of the fashion sub theme under the category Lifestyle C onspicuous consumers try to convince others that they live a high quality lifestyle by hinting at the fact that they are regular customers of high end restaurants or hotels. Other than directly flaunt ing the luxury service they enjoyed, these customers convey the message in a more subtle way. They are more concerned with maintaining their image of excellent taste than simply displaying the objects. For example (shown in Figure 4 14), Yesterday I revis ited my favorite Rit z Carlton to have some red wine. The environment on the top floor is so comfortabl reads the text. From the text, the blogger stresses her high status by discussing red wine, which in


73 China is usually con sumed by affluent customers who aspire to Western lifestyles In the picture, the lush interior dcor echoes the text. The photo has the feel of hotel promotion commercial. The composition is professional and the image quality impeccable. Although there ar e many elements in the photo, they are organized in a logical way. The glasses of the red wine, the candle, the food and the bottle of white wine are at the bottom half of the picture. The waiter is displayed at the left corner. To fill the blank space in the picture, the landmark building of Shanghai is also presented. The image reiterates the meaning emphasized in the text. The author mention s the name of the luxury hotel and the fact that she often dr i nk s red wine to communicate her tasteful way of livin g. Likewise, the second example (shown in Figure 4 15) also emphasizes the luxury hotel experiences. The b rand name is mentioned in the text and the individual stresses the high floor number to imply that the unique experience of staying in a luxury hotel. The image is a restate ment of the meaning expressed in the text.


74 Figure 4 14 Example A of the lifestyle sub theme under the category Figure 4 15 Example B of the lifestyle sub theme under the with category Luxury R outinizing Through the routinization of luxury, bloggers imply that to them, luxury products are just normal items. They are more concerned with the utility function of the luxury products than their status function. In this type of post, flaunting is carried out in a way theme. Compared to the former themes in which the conspicuous consumers make deliberate attempt to flaunt, the affluent consumers in this category ten d to downplay the significance of lux ury goods. However, this does not mean that they want their conspicuous consumption to go unnoticed. Rather, they drop hints in their posts for the audiences to figur e out. As One's status dwells i n the minds of o (p.73) ; to those who


75 have no knowledge of luxury brands, a handbag is a handbag, whether it is worth tens of thousands or only hundreds of dollars. Hence, these posts are not intended for the mass audiences on Weibo, but only for those familiar with the luxury brands. Information sharing and seeking Since the individuals publishing the posts in this theme appear to focus on the utility function of the luxury products, they often make comments about quality, cost performance and dur ability. This implies that they are not likely to be overwhelmed by the big brand names. They may also seek product information on Weibo just like a regular customer would, except that the product in question is on the high end. The first post chosen is an example of information sharing regarding luxury products (shown in Figure 4 16) T Even Louboutin flats hurt my feet. I could hardly walk in these shoes today. This happened every time. Figure 4 16 Example A of the ormation sharing and seeking sub theme under the category


76 Figure 4 17 Example B of the and seeking sub theme under the category Although Louboutin is one of the most expensive brands of s hoes, the author of this post clearly has a lot to complain about She implie s in the text that she has owned many pairs of Louboutin s and she is therefore convinced that they are not comfortable to wear. The image exhibits the product and the picture was taken very casually without much consideration of composition. T his leaves us the impression that this the blogger is not deliberately flaunting. The image is simply meant to illustrate what has already been said in the text. The second post (shown in Fi gure 4 17) is an example of information seeking. In the post, the individual asks : a person who is very clumsy, how do you wrap around the handle if you use bigger silk scarf? Normally I would push one end inside, but it looks awkward Is there a way to fasten the scarf? The text does not reveal any luxury brand names. It seems like a regular customer asking for advice from peers. The image, however, exposes the true identity of the individual: a conspicuous consumer. The picture was shot from a high angle which makes the bag


77 prominent. Other than the designer bag, the luxury brand name scarf, the ring and the button with a Chanel logo all differentiate the individual from regular customers. The image is used to make the text more understandable; howe ver, unnecessary elements are added to ensure the picture snapshots with luxury products in sight The other sub theme under this category displays the luxury products in a very inconspicuous manner. The text portion normally di scusses something irrelevant to the conspicuous goods demonstrated in the pictures. However, if we look at the image and text more closely, there are still many hints left by the author to suggest her superior status. In the first example (shown in Figure 4 18) the blogger writes December, what a rough start however, the image she uploaded contradicts her stat ement. Rather than life, she merged multiple pictures to show off her luxurious lifestyle. The pictures were clearly taken du ring a meal at a fancy restaurant. These seemingly random snapshots were carefully chosen and arranged by the individual. Figure 4 18 Example s A of the sub theme under the category


78 Figure 4 19 Example s B of t he sub theme under the category For instance, ostensibly, the picture at the top illustrates the individual reading the menu, however, the real focal point is the extremely large diamond ring on her finger. Furthermor e, the low angle shot of the exquisite chandelier at the top right corner makes it amply clear that she was dinning at a very high end restaurant. The three pictures at the bottom showing the delicate food reaffirm s this point. Last but not the least a H ermes bag is also visible in one of the pictures highlight ing the wealth of the individual. Collectively, these pictures project a classy lady in possession of all kinds of luxury accessories and a regular patron in fine restaurants. The content of the pi cture seems to have nothing to do with the information provided in the text. As a result, the image text relationship is meant to decorate which means the image does not stimulate any emotional response from the reader and is only used to make the text more attractive. M any posts of this theme have the same image text relationship In


79 these posts, the conspicuous consumers make the display of their wealth in more subtle ways and assume an air of casualness about their luxury life style. It should be note d here that although this post also emphasizes a lu xurious style of living, it is different from the example provided in the lifestyle sub them e since the current post does not deliberately mention any brand name but solely rel ies on the audience to deciph er the status signals. The second example (shown in Figure 4 19) is also a casual snapshot. The text bye, Handan. Beijing, I am back. From the information provided in the text, the image can be decoded : the individual was at a bus station or train station, as can be told from the chairs. The image still looks very confusing because there is no real focal point in the picture ; the only thing that attracts attention is the designer bag imprinted with logos. The blogger probably shot the picture out of boredom when she was waiting for the bus or train. For the audie nce, her flaunting message is very clear


80 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSIONS AND RECO MMENDATIONS General Discussion The previous section reports the statistical evidence culled from flaunters' ho mepages and their posts. The t hree themes emerge from the analysis of these posts are: materialism, equation of luxury with taste and luxury routinizing. In this chapter, we will discuss the relationship between deep rooted Chinese cultural traditions and individual behavior, as well as the role of the microblog platform in facilitating taste statements. The aim of the current research is build a foundation for further discussion. Before exploring this study s a ssumptions, first the findings will be compare d with the published literature on the subject. Hedrick Chinese consumers suggests that a majority of these consumers are between 25 to 34 years of age. In this study 93.4% of the individuals are between 20 to 40 years ol d and 3.9% are under 20 years old. Twenty and forty are selected as the boundaries of the age group because twenty is the legal age of marriage for women in mainland China and forty is usually considered the starting point of middle age in contemporary Chi nese society. The findings of this study demonstrate that the nouveau riches showing off their glamorous lives on Weibo are generally younger than the conspicuous goods consumers in China This is because microbloggers in China are mostly youngsters. Based on the statistics collected by Sina (2010), 47% of the Weibo users are under 22 and women are more likely than men to use Weibo. F rom the content of their posts and through their own disclosure, it was determined that most of the individuals in our sample are non working wives in wealthy households or children of the affluent. There were a few business women in our sample


81 Xiaolu and Pras (2011) have emphasized the importance of studying rich non working wives and second generation members of wealthy famil ies in the context of conspicuous consumption in China. One of the most interesting findings of the current research is that among the wealth flaunting consumers on Weibo, approximately 2/5 of them live abroad. They are mostly wealthy women married at a y oung age and accompanying their husbands to foreign lands. Judging from their posts, they seem to have little interaction with the local society and are attached to Weibo to connect with friends and families in China. Shanghai seems to have the largest num ber of Internet flaunters. As noticed by Chadha and Husband (2006), Shanghai is one of the most modern cities in the world and the affluent class in the city has distinctive taste in style and strong desire for material goods. Once a fishing town, Shanghai grew in importance in the nineteen century when China came into frequent contact with the Western world. This historical background this study s results Additionally, when profiling Chinese elite who consume luxury goods, Xiaolu and Pras (2011) note that they generally live in large cities where they have more opportunities to develop international exchanges than the rest of the population. This observation is also reflected in our finding given that 33 out of 76 of the individuals in our sample reside in Tier 1 or Tier 2 cities in China. With respect to the Weibo platform, the author has found that these Internet flaunters have a large fan base. Although their followers number range from a few hundred to hund significantly outnumber th e individuals the blogger is following This means that the lives of these


82 affluent housewives and rich college students appeal to a large number of audience on Weibo. A lthough it may not be their intention to draw so much attention, the huge subsequent crowd of fans has changed the dynamic of the bloggers to flaunt wealth. Discussion f rom a C ultural P erspective Chinese traditions helped shape the behavior of the Internet flaunters. From our findings, we have learned that these individuals prefer t o show off luxury goods in the categories. This is consistent with what KPMG ( 2008), one of the largest professional services firms have suggest ed, that the market for bags and fashion accessories has seen stronger growth than other categories of luxury goods in China. The reason for the relative low profile of automobiles is likely due to their extremely high prices whereas the lack of motivation in flaunting watches results from the absence of recognizable logos. Of the categories of affordable luxuries, the most highly priced brands are favored over their lesser competitors. The b est example is the popularity of Hermes among the wealthy Chinese. This one single brand accounts for 43% of mention in th e suitcases and handbags people in Western societ ies generally choose products th at define the personality of their owners while Asian customers prefer products accentuating their group identity. Because of that, the conspicuous consumers in our study are inclined to prefer best known brands to less distinguishable ones. Thus, one of the most important motivating factors in public display of wealth may be to affirm a newly acquired upper class group identity. To members of this class, possession of luxury items is the entry card to an exclusive club.


83 The individuals in our focus do see m to be group oriented, as evidenced by their brand choices and flaunting behavior. Another aspect of collectivism is also related to the current research: the non confrontational communication style of the bloggers followers Since maintaining group harm ony is the priority among group members, any form of confrontation is discouraged (Xiaolu & Pras, 2011). For this reason, criticism of flaunting behavior is rarely found in the comments on post s Most comments are compliments or polite exchanges on a varie ty of topics. Flaunting wealth may not be a socially acceptable behavior in China; however, in the absence of public condemnation, wealthy individuals may have little reason to change their flaunting behavior. M any researchers have shown that the traditio n of gift exchanging in interdependent cultures contributes to the growth of luxury consumption in those societies (Henriksen, 2009; Wong & Ahuvia, 1998). In collectivist cultures such as China, gift giving is often used as a way to maintain and strengthen social relationships. In the context of the current research showing off gifts from friends or family members is on the rise on the I stone so to speak. By showing off their appreciation of gifts in such a public fashion, they enhance their relationship with the gift gi for both the recipient and the giver. Based on these observation s th is study demonstrates and pr is a crucial motivation for individuals to flaunt wealth. The concept of face has two components : material prestige in a society and o Husband, 2006). The consumption of luxury products is an important way to demonstrate the otherwise unobservable wealth and


84 success. In this respect, the author has identified the deep rooted cultural grounding in understanding Chinese's obsession with luxury goods. Of course, the individuals in this study are not a homogeneous group. We are ab le to identify three different types of Internet flaunters based on the themes of the posts. The individuals in the first group are the most conspicuous. They have a tendency to flaunt pricey and well known brands. In their posts, they always emphasize the brand of the products and highlight them in the pictures. T hey are the typical conspicuous consumers who mostly shop for the status s ymbols embedded in the luxury goods. The second type of Internet flaunters is less conspicuous, they are brand conscious, but unlike the first type, they also pay attention to the style of the luxury product or the quality of the service. Other than shopping for the symbolic values of the luxury products, they use them to express their personalities. In their posts, the produ cts or services are presented more discretely to highlight their taste. The third type of luxury goods consumers flaunters are the least conspicuous. They may be brand conscious, but they also care about the utility function of the luxury goods. In their p osts, the brand of the luxury item is not emphasized unless it is a necessary part of information exchange regarding the product To these individuals, they want to leave others an impression that consuming luxury products is a normal part of their life an d is not worth making a big fuss about. The distinction among the consumer types is a key to our discussion of the concept of face. As we have argued, the maintenance and enhancement of face is very important in Chinese society. The first group of individ uals has the strongest desire to


85 be nouveau bao fa hu Since they have just become wealthy, they are eager to be recognized as such (B raun & Wicklund, 1989). The conspicuous consumers in our third category are likely to be those who have enjoyed their wealthy status for a while. They are less interested in enhancing their face through direct flaunting but inclined to maintain their statu s through a casual attitude toward luxury items in their posts. The second type of consumer is situated between the two They are less conspicuous than the first type of consumer since they rarely directly boast about their belongings. Also, they have high er level of conspicuousness than the third type of consumer given that they often emphasize brand names in the text. Ting Toomey and Kurogi (1998) have examined the relationship between the concept of face and conflict solving styles from an intercultur al perspective and proposed that individualistic cultures, such as the United States, tend to use more direct face threatening conflict resolution styles, whereas collectivistic cultures, such as China with greater degree of interdependence, tend to use mo re indirect mutually face saving conflict resolution styles. As we have previously indicated, a majority of the comments found on flaunting wealth posts is either complimentary or regarding topics un related to the luxury products or services. Eve n the few critical remarks do not directly assault the author of the post. For instance, a disapproving comment on the individual displaying a stack of boxes imprinted with various big If I were rich enough, I would donate some money to someone who really needs it instead of buying these luxury goods. Giving away excessive wealth wouldn't affect my quality of life negatively at all, but it would make a huge difference to someone else's life. Anyway, never mind what I say and have a nic Obviously, the person who wrote this


86 comment disapproves of the flaunting wealth behavior. However, instead of denouncing the wealth flaunting behavior, the comment suggests a hypothetical alternative way of dispensing wealth. The last sentence eve n retreats from that position to avoid invoking any tension. What this example shows is that the flaunting wealth behavior on Weibo is saving culture. So far this study has ex amined the connection between the traditional cultural values and wealth flaunting behavior on Weibo. We find that establishing group identity and enhancing or maintaining face among peer group are the two major motivations for such behavior. The Chinese e mphasis on group harmony and traditional face saving culture mean that wealth flaunting behavior is largely left unchecked which in effect encourage the individuals to continue flaunting unabated. The Weibo Platform According to taste performance theory, people craft their personal i dentities which are based on patterns of material and cultural consumption (Parks, 2011). As our research shows, the individuals who flaunt wealth on Weibo do so to establish their identi ty. But most of them have no concept of personalized identity and can only focus on group identity. Weibo allows them to construct that identity without having to leave home. Besides making taste statement in their posts, these individuals communicate othe r messages as well. The author has investigated whether luxury brand names or logos are featured in these individuals' homepages as well. As it turns out, 28 out of 76 individuals have indicated their attachment to luxury goods on their homepages. One of t he individuals uses a Chanel bag as her profile picture and several other individuals adopt luxury brand logos as the


87 backgrounds of their homepages. Also, Weibo allows users to add tags describing their interests. It offers another opportunity for the ind ividual to stress her interests. It should be pointed out here that Weibo made deliberate efforts to learn from Twitter, the forerunner of microblogs, both in format and operating principle, such as the 140 characters limits (Wen, 2011). At the same time, the company has also developed many features of its own to enhance user experiences. After examining the homepages of the wealth flaunting individuals, the author has identified several unique functions of Weibo that have particular appeal to those who wi sh to brag about their luxurious lifestyle to others. Richer M edia This is the most popular feature of Sina Weibo. Users are allowed to post pictures, videos, music or polls directly from their main page without any plugins. In contrast, Twi tter did not a llow its users to upload photos directly until the August of 2011. To individuals who wish to flaunt their wealth, this is a must have feature. Most of them e text, they prefer to take a close up shot of the product with the pack ag ing imprinted with large Chanel logo in the background. In addition, Weibo offers a wider range of emoticons for the young users to choose from (Falcon, 2011). To those who are only interested in displaying luxury goods, emoticons are especially helpful in eliciting emotions and saving the trouble of typing characters. In a word, the richer media forms on Weibo allow the affluent consumers in China to present themselves in more flexib le ways.


88 Verified A ccount This feature is related to the hierarchical nature of Chinese society. The verified account s are created specifically for celebrities, managers, or anyone with power and influence. Sina set up a dedicated page for celebrity user s to bring in more users (Falcon, 2011). The name of a verified account use and is linked to the person's webpage. To some wealthy consumers in China, the verified account feature helps them to pursue prestige in the socie ty along with demonstrating it through conspicuous goods. Posts with T hreaded C omments As illustrated above, one of the factors that motivate people to brag about their wealth on the Internet is the feedback from strangers. On Twitter, one can only reply to the author but cannot see others' comments directly. On Weibo, however, users' comments are threaded under each post. The author can also join the comments to communicate with other users. This feature appeals to the Chinese netizens because they prefer to interact in groups. It is common to see thousands of comments under one single post. Some conspicuous consumers enjoy being the opinion leaders of their own fans group by communicating with their followers in the threaded comments. Their virtual identi ties are thus presented to the audience in a very realistic way. Forward with C omments China's microblog also provide s the function of making comments when adding inf ormation to the original post. Conversations are thus preserved in this way (Landwehr, 2011). This feature is often used by conspicuous consumers to draw attention, such as request ing the price or details of certain luxury goods that have been


89 posted by de alers or emphasizing that they have the same luxury products that are displayed by others. In this kind of posts, the bloggers are not directly presenting the luxury goods, but are making their taste statements through commenting on other posts. Limita tions and Implications for Future Research As a tentative research on flaunting wealth phenomenon in China, the current study has several limitations. First, the study only investigated a group of women who exhibited such behavior on Weibo. Obviously, such behavior is not confined to women. As we have discussed in the literature review, some researchers have suggested that men are also guilty of showing off their wealth online. In order to have a more complete picture of conspicuous consumers, future studie s should incorporate male respondents as well. In terms of methodology, the current study has employed both quantitative and qualitative content analysis techniques and retrieved user accounts from an existing crowdsourcing project on a forum. For future quantitative investigators, a larger sample size is needed in order to attain a more holistic view. Meanwhile, the qualitative analysis perspectives on flaunting wealth me ssages should be considered. Besides, to determine whether an act is flaunting or not depends on many factors, such as the knowledge of luxury brands and the sociological status of the observer. For instance, the posts categorized under the third theme of our qualitative analysis may not be considered as flaunting wealth to observers with little knowledge of luxury goods. It is thus problematic to investigate such phenomenon from a single point of view. Future


90 studies should also examine the voices from the other side through focus groups or in depth interviews with bloggers who exhibit luxury goods online. Furthermore, the major objective of the current study is to interpret the flaunting wealth phenomenon from a cultural perspective. Two of the most commo n doctrines of Chinese traditional values are selected for the current study. Future cultural researchers interested in cultural analysis should explore additional aspects of traditional cultural beliefs and practices. Finally, the current study sheds som e container sufficient empirical evidence. Given its increasing influence on Chinese society, Weibo deserves further scholarly atte ntion. It i s especially important that future researchers examine the microblog platform from an intercultural perspective, since people from different cultures tend to consume media very differently.


91 APPENDIX A COMMON TEXT IMAGE RELATIONSHIPS AND THEIR DESCRIPTIO N (MARSH & WHITE, 2003) Text image Relationship Description Functions expressing little relation to text Decorate Image is used to make the text more attractive without produc ing any real effects on reader's perception Elicit Emotion Image is used to s timulate emotional response from the reader Control Image is used to stimulate other more active reactions from reader Functions expressing close relation to the text Reiterate Image is used to restate the meanings in the text Organize Image is used to assist the text and to form a functioning whole Relate Image is used to help the reader identify the concepts embedded in the text. Explain Image is used to make the text more understandable to its reader Functions that go beyond the text Interpre t Image is used to illustrate complex ideas in the text Develop Image is used to further illustrate the idea in the text by degrees or in detail Transform Image is used to recode the text into concrete form; relate components to each other and facilita te the reader to recall the content in the text by providing organization


92 APPENDIX B CODING SHEET SAMPLE: WEIBO HOMEPAGES 1. Number of people the individual follows 2. Number of followers the individual has 3. Where is location of the individual as shown on th e homepage? 4. Does the individual use her own picture as the profile picture? A. Yes B. No C. Not sure 5. W hich age group does the individual belong? A. Under 20 B. 20~40 C. Over 40 D. Not applicable 6. Does the homepage of the individual contain logos or names of any luxury brand? A. Yes B. No C. Not sure


93 APPENDIX C CODING SHEET SAMPLE: FLAUNTING WEALTH POS TS 1. Time the message was posted 2. Type of post A. Original post B. Forward other's post C. @reply 3. Does the post contain pictures? A. Yes B. No 4. What's the content of the picture, describe here 5. Doe s the post contain more than one brand? A. Yes B. No C. Not sure 6. Which brand is mentioned in the post? 7. Which category does the flaunted product belong? A. Cosmetics, perfume & personal care B. Shoes C. Suitcases & handbags D. Jewelry E. Watches F. s wear G. Beverages and foods


94 H. Electronic devices I. Automobiles J. Services K. Accessories L. Others (Specify) 8. How is the brand emphasized in the post? A. Mentioned in the text B. Brand logo appeared in the pictures C. Both D. Not applicable 9 How many comments does the post have? 1 0 Which of th e following is the dominant theme of the comments? A. Complement B. Denouncement C. Seeking information D. Providing information E. Not relevant to the post F. N/A


95 APPENDIX D BRANDNAMES MENTIONED IN EACH CATEGOTY Product Category Description Cosmetics, perfume & persona l care Chanel, Clinique, Dior, Harajuku, Hermes, Jurlique, Lancome, La Prairie, La Mer, Lanvin, Mark Jacobs, Sisley Cosmtiques Paris, SK II, Style Nanda Shoes Adidas, Alexander McQueen, Alexander Wang, Balmain, Celine, Chanel, Charlotte Olympia, Clot Inc., Givenchy, Gucci, Hermes, Jimmy Choo, Louboutin, Marc Jacobs, Mastermind JAPAN, Miu Miu, Penny Loafer, Prada, Roger Vivier, Salvatore Ferragamo, Sergio Rossi, Staccato, Stella McCartney, Ugg, United nude, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent Suitcases & ha ndbags Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Banana Taipei, BCBG, Cambridge Satchel, CC Skye, Celine, Chanel, Chanel, DIOR, Dolce & Gabbana, Franck Muller, Gucci Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Roger Vivier, Samsonite, Yves Saint Laurent Jewelry Bvlgari, Carti er, Chanel, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Emerald Ring, Harry Winston, Hermes, Joyce, Juicy Couture, Prada, Tiffany Co., Valentino, Van Cleef & Arpels, Versace Watches Breguet, Patek Philippe Adidas, Alexander McQueen, ASOS, Balenciaga, Chanel, C hloe, Club Monaco, Dolce & Gabbana, Gap, Givenchy, H&M for Lanvin, Hale bob, Helmut Lang, Hermes, Miu Miu, Paul Frank, Richard Nicoll, Rojita, SLY, Valentino, Vera Wang Beverages and foods Chateau Cablanc, Godiva, Laduree, Louis XIII, Perrier Jouet, Starb ucks, Veuve Clicquot Electronic devices Apple, Canon, Casio Lumix, Vertu Automobiles Aston Martin, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Land Rover, Maserati Mercedes Benz, Services Bottega Louis, DFS, Hong Kong Palace, Four seasons, Kaiseki Cuisine, Le Pr e Catelan, Limo, Marriott, Ritz Carlton Accessories Alexander McQueen, Cartier, Celine, Chanel, Chloe, Chrome Hearts, Fendi, Givenchy, H&M for Lanvin, H&M, Hello Kitty, Hernes, Juicy Couture, Karen Walker, Louis Vuitton, Ma rc Jacobs, Miu Miu, MMJ, Murua, Philip Lim, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Vintage Category L. Others Cartier, Chanel, Hello Kitty, Hermes, Montblanc


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102 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Xiaomo Chen was born in Anhui, China. At age nine, she moved to Beijing with her parents. At age 16, she attended No.13 Senior High an institute with 82 years of history. The campus was part of the former residence of Zaitao, a prince in the Qing Dynasty. Surrounded by historical relics for three years, Xiaomo started to grow interest in liberal arts. She attended Communication Unive rsity of China, majoring in Broadcasting Editing and Directing when she was 18. In college, Xiaomo learned basic skills in making short films and editing Television documentaries. After completi ng h er Bachelor of Arts degree in 2009 s he attended the College of Journalism and Communications at University of Florida She continued to pursue her interest in media with a focus on intercultural communication. Upon completion of h er thesis and the receipt of Master of Arts degree in the fall of 2011 Xiaom o is preparing to work in the media industry as an entry level worker.