Chinese wealthy raise a glass to their official investments

By Wu Guangqiang
0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, March 16, 2011
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 [By Liu Rui/Global Times]

Hurrah for the expanded legions of the Chinese rich! According to the latest Forbes Rich List 2011, the number of billionaires from China rose to 115, nearly doubling last year's figure.

Some of the Chinese nouveau riche have been vexed by a trivial matter. How can they display their fast-accumulated wealth in a respectable and refined manner?

They know very well that they're holding themselves up for public mockery if they walk around wearing finger-thick gold necklaces.

They also know it would be too conspicuous to buy too much real estate. Their tendrils already have reached every conceivable realm of investment: antiques, vintage furniture, and masterpieces of calligraphy and painting. The prices of these items have been skyrocketing.

European wine has long been favored by the Chinese wealthy because a glass of wine in hand makes them look more like a nobleman. But the recent surge in prices of wine, boosted by freehanded Chinese buyers, has still stunned the global wine market.

Late last year, at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong, an anonymous Chinese phone bidder paid $232,000 each for three bottles of 1869 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, a Napoleon III-era product. That price broke the previous record of $156,450, paid in 1985 by the Forbes publishing family for a 1787 Lafitte bottled for US founding father Thomas Jefferson.

"Whoa" echoed in the auction room, but what was more shocking for the wine cognoscenti was the $70,000 paid at the same auction, not for another rare bottle of Bordeaux, but for a case of 2009 Lafitte - a wine so young that it has not even been bottled. Right before the auction, the much hyped 2009 vintage was being priced at around $18,000 a case.

Chinese domestic brands of liquor won't let foreign products steal their show. Since two years ago, China's most prestigious liquor brand, Moutai, has raised its price by at least 70 percent. Compared with 2005's average price 350 yuan ($53) a bottle, the current price 1,300 yuan is nearly a phenomenal four-time increase. Other famous brands such as Wuliangye and Shuijingfang have also followed suit, having increased their prices by a big margin.

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