Chinese joke of the day: A young man went to seek for advice from a Zen master, complaining that he was rich but unhappy

Updated: Friday November 8, 2013 MYT 6:50:53 AM

Let’s phrase it, we all want riches


A new phrase which pokes fun at the Beverly Hillbillies of China has gone viral, but many actually yearn to befriend the wealthy.

THE Chinese Netizens are a creative lot. This is proven through a variety of Internet catchphrases and expressions that dominate the social media every now and then. When a new phrase is introduced, it goes viral overnight, and people would start using it to relate to their everyday experiences. The memes could have been inspired by a conversation in the television drama series, a quote in a news story, a line from a song or could be simply made up. Entertainment aside, the catchphrases are often used to poke fun at the current affairs in China. The latest phrase is tuhaoTu denotes earth or uncouth and hao means grandeur. The term tuhao can be interpreted as the “nouveau riche” or Beverly Hillbillies of China. Generally, it is used within a sarcastic context to describe the new rich people who are wealthy but lack sophisticated style. According to Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Wikipedia, tuhao is not a new word. It has appeared in texts which date back to the Song and Qing Dynasties and used to describe the rich and the powerful or landlords who exploit the poor.

Tuhao recently became famous through a joke on the Internet: A young man went to seek for advice from a Zen master, complaining that he was rich but unhappy. The Zen master asked, “How do you define rich?” The man replied, “I have an eight-figure bank savings and three apartments in Wudaokou (a place in Beijing). Am I wealthy?” The master then extended his hand without uttering a word, and this gesture was interpreted by the young man as advice to be grateful and give back for what he has gained. But the master explained, “No, tuhao, let’s be friends.”

His response implies that even a Zen master, who is supposed to live a simple, non-materialistic life, is eager to be associated with the rich. The joke explains a social phenomenon in China, where people yearn to befriend the rich in the hope of benefiting from the relationship, even though they might secretly despise them out of jealousy.When the gold-coloured iPhone 5s was released, it was dubbed tuhao jin, or the local tyrant’s gold.

If you cannot afford to buy the new phone, no problem.

Business-minded traders have introduced gold handphone covers and skins to give old handphones a new look and attain the status of tuhao.

The usage of the word extends beyond just gadgets.

Lavish events peppered with unglamorous details, buildings with gold finishings and those who spend a huge amount of renminbi merely to impress are also labelled astuhao.

While tuhao is largely used in a light-hearted context, it underlines the lure of materialism in China.

The desire to befriend a tuhao can be interpreted as a thirst to become a tuhaothemselves.

A commentary in Global Times said having the right connections with tuhao is seen as a shortcut to success in China, where “people lose confidence in changing their fate through knowledge or personal capabilities”.

“Although not glorious and solid, it is better than struggling at the lowest end of society,” it said.

A report by the Foreign Policy echoed the same sentiment.

“Small wonder that while Chinese may resent tuhao and poke fun at their taste, making their acquaintance (or better yet, marrying into their families) remains a convenient and enviable way to move up China’s increasingly treacherous social ladder,” it said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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