Posts Tagged ‘wealth’



“Tigress Tycoons” for Newsweek

Zhang Xin/张欣, Yang Lan/杨澜, Zhang Yan/张兰 and Amy Chua pose for a portrait at Capital M in Beijing, China for Newsweek.

This was one of my most intimidating assignments to date: a portrait of three of the richest females in China along with Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in less than ten minutes before their power dinner. It really was a Tigress Tycoons showdown. The leader of the streak, in my eyes, was Zhang Xin/张欣 (far right). Her company, SOHO China, is easily one of the top real estate developers in China, building some of the most daring (and sometimes dastardly) megablocks in the country. These properties reshaped Beijing’s skyline and netted her about $2.7 billion. Forbes and the Financial Times consistently list Zhang Xin as a top businesswomen in Asia. Her biography is also staggering. She saved up money working in Hong Kong garment sweatshops before moving to England to study at Cambridge and on to New York City to work at Goldman Sachs. Amazing. Next to Zhang Xin is Yang Lan/杨澜, also know as the “Oprah of China” thanks to her massive television presence and media empire. While not a rags to riches story like Zhang Xin, Yang Lan hit it big on Chinese domestic television, sometimes garnering viewing audiences in the hundreds of millions. She was one of the first talk show hosts in mainland China who really spoke her mind and cofounded Sun Television Cybernetworks.

Last and certainly not least of the Tigress Tycoons is Zhang Yan/张兰 (far left). She founded the popular South Beauty restaurants with now boasts over forty locations throughout the country. Known for their opulent settings, they also serve up extremely tasty Sichuan fair. Zhang Yan completed the female power trifecta. Amy Chua is nothing to scoff at of course, but fits into a different category with her academic and literary accolades. Her book promoting the “Tiger Mother” parenting method  sent waves around the world, especially in mainland China. There is even now an “Eagle Dad” spinoff category. Anyway, it was a bit tense at first getting all the ladies together, but thanks to the antics of Zhang Xin’s husband, Pan Shiyi, who decided to take photos along with me, the ten minutes passed without a hitch. Be sure to check out Amy Chua’s accompanying profile of the Tigress Tycoons.

Zhang Xin/张欣, Yang Lan/杨澜, Zhang Yan/张兰 and Amy Chua pose for a portrait at Capital M in Beijing, China for Newsweek.



    “The God of Gamblers” – Macau Profile for The New Yorker

    Matthew Niederhauser's clipping for "The God of Gamblers" in The New Yorker

    Macau looms large on the iniquitous edges of Asia. It is a city of sin: filled with casinos, prostitutes and any other vice or luxury one could imagine. In many ways this is business as usual. Trafficking of women and general skullduggery date back to the earliest days of the Portuguese colony at the turn of the 16th century. Now the stakes are much higher though, and for many visitors, money is not an object. Macau currently draws the biggest “whales” in the world and most of these high rollers come straight out of mainland China. The increase in gambling revenues in Macau is unprecedented. Galaxy Entertainment tripled its profits during 2011, and the entire casino industry is already up 20% in the first quarter of this year compared to last. Macau outperforms the Las Vegas Strip nearly six times over and there is no end in sight.

    The already outrageous revenues posted by Macau casinos also appear to be the tip of the iceberg. It is largely acknowledged that a massive amount of cash moves through V.I.P. gambling rooms where high-stake bets are off the books. No one knows how deep that well goes. Money laundering and connections to triads run rampant through the “junkets” who shuttle wealthy mainland Chinese gamblers into Macau and collect their debts elsewhere in order to bypass currency limitations at the border. Macau is riding the tails of China’s economic boom and catering to the extravagant tastes of the Chinese nouveau riche looking to flex their often illicit financial muscles.

    At the top of the pyramid are two of the world’s richest men: Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson (also the largest contributor to Newt Gingrich’s campaign efforts). Both are in heated competition to rule Macau as their fortunes continue to skyrocket despite serious allegations of corruption and a spotty track record. A WikiLeaks spinoff called CasinoLeaks – Macau offers up condemning fare based on collected public records. Be sure to read Evan Osnos’ article in The New Yorker that features my photography. He does an amazing job navigating this intricate web of sordidness. More photographs that didn’t make the cut can be seen below.

    Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

    Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.Patrons of Galaxy Macau gawk at the "Fortune Diamond" that emerges from a fountain with a light and music show in the main lobby every thirty minutes.Children take photos of mermaids at the "Vquarium" in the City of Dreams.

    Patrons of Galaxy Macau pose with the "Wishing Crystals" that are equipped with motion sensor technology that trigger special effects and bestow good luck on those nearby.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau pose with the "Tree of Prosperity" that sports over 2,000 branches and 98,000 leaves composed of 24-karat gold and brass leaf - a true symbol of auspiciousness.Patrons of Wynn Casino Macau gawk at the "Dragon of Fortune" that rises 28 feet out of the floor and symbolizes vitality, good fortune, and well-being.

    Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.The main casino floor of the City of Dreams is one of the largest in Macau.Patrons of the Venetian Macau can take gondola rides through its giant indoor mall.

    The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.A couple poses for wedding photographs outside the Venetian Macau.The pineapple-shaped Grand Lisboa towers over central Macau.



      Counterfeit Paradises: Windows on the World

      Visitors scramble up the steps of the United States Capital beneath Mount Rushmore at Windows on the World

      International vacations are a must for the burgeoning number of nouveau riche across China. A well-used passport is a sure sign of fulfilling a “modern” and “cultured” lifestyle and completes the trifecta of high social status along with ownership of multiple homes and foreign luxury cars. Even in the face of the global economic downturn, China continues to boast the fastest growing outbound tourism market in the world. In 2009, the average expenses paid by Chinese for international travel went up 21% and will continue to grow as more and more flex their purchasing muscle. In Shenzhen, however, a favorite travel destination remains the Windows on the World. A short subway ride from the city center, the park boasts over a hundred small-scale replicas of famous monuments and buildings from all over the world. Here Chinese can fantasize about visiting foreign countries and practice taking tourist photographs. This make-believe space is one of consumer indoctrination and a selling point for a notion of civility that will most likely prove as empty as other social movements in China’s past.

      A child wearing bunny ears poses for her parents in Piazza San Marco at Windows on the World

      Crowds fight for position in front of the Sphinx and Giza Pyramids at Windows on the WorldA child attaches herself to the United States White House at Windows on the WorldMount Fuji and the torii gate from the Itsukushima Shrine feature prominently in the Japanese section at Windows on the World

      A visitor strolls by Mont Saint-Michel at Windows on the WorldTwo ladies pose in front of Angkor Wat at Windows on the World

      A man crouches in front of the Versailles with Saint Peter's Basilica overlooking its garden at Windows on the WorldA child poses with Native American Indians at Windows on the WorldA child flashes the peace sign in the square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica at Windows on the World

      Visitors fight for position in front of Niagra at Windows of the WorldA child crawls onto the London Bridge with Parliament in the background at Windows on the WorldA man poses in Gamehenge at Windows on the World

      A child sits on the shoulder of his father in front of the Taj Mahal at Windows on the WorldVisitors paddle around the Statue of Liberty and Easter Island with Rio de Jenairo's Christo overlooking at Windows on the WorldVisitors clamber over Abu Simbel at Windows on the World



        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        The Water Cube on Beijing’s Olympic Green is easily one of the most enthralling aquatic centers on the planet. Its bubble-like exterior is almost as recognizable in China as the Mao portrait hanging above the Forbidden City. However, ever since Michael Phelps walked away with eight gold medals in 2008, the Beijing municipal government has struggled to make the complex a commercially viable venture and just recently placed all their hope in an incredibly ornate theme park. The “Happy Magic Water Cube, Beijing Water Cube Water Park,” now dominates the southern end of the structure and caters to an emerging urban elite who can afford the hefty entry price. The water park epitomizes the fantastical escapism so sought after by a burgeoning moneyed class in Beijing. Here one can slip into a state of reverie and forget about the smog-covered skies and endless traffic jams just outside the aqua-blue cellular membrane encasing the Happy Magic Water Park. It is the ultimate leisure playground in a country still coming to grips with profound social inequalities.

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist ChinaHappy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China

        Happy Magic Water Park: Reverie and Leisure in Communist China



          Beijing Auto Fair: Commodity Hypersexualization

          Attendees crowd around a model to take photos at the 2010 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition

          Cars are quickly becoming the most hypersexualized and sought after commodity in China. Purchases already surged 45% last year, surpassing the US with 13.6 million vehicles sold, and show no sign of stopping. The greatest manifestation of this phenomenon is now the Beijing International Automotive Fair held every year on the outskirts of the city. With scantily clad models striking poses in every booth, over 40 luxury cars were sold in the first few days alone including a Bugatti Veyron sporting a 5.5 million USD price tag. Every car manufacture in the world comes to pay homage to the fastest growing car market on the planet.

          Attendees pack the floor at the Mercedes booth at the 2010 Beijing International Automotive ExhibitionA model poses with a Hummer knockoff at the 2010 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition

          A 2010 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition attendee photographs himself in a MercedesMany car manufactures display their engines at the 2010 Beijing International Automotive Exhibition



            Dubai or Bust: The New Babel Falls

            The Burj Khalifa is the largest building in the world and still relatively empty.

            This past week I finally got to visit the developmental monstrosity that is Dubai. Nothing can really describe the audaciousness and scope of the luxury metropolis they hope to raise from the sands of the surrounding desert. Ranging from the largest mall in the world to the tallest building in the world, Dubai is building a new Babel that is already on the verge of going completely bust. For the foreseeable future however, despite the world economic downtown, the cranes are still moving as one of the largest construction sites in the world continues to lurch forward.

            Beachgoers stand off in front of the massive high-rises lining the Dubai Marina

            Huge art instillations are scattered about the Dubai MallYet another shoe store in the Dubai Mall

            Massive towers rise next to the waters of the Dubai MarinaConstruction company signs clutter a crossroad in the new business district

            The Dubai Mall is one of the most lavishly decorated in the worldDubai prides itself as a international destination for luxury goods

            A new subway line runs by newly constructed towers near the Dubai Marina



              Beijing Luxury Orgy

              Champagne for all at the Lane Crawford opening

              As urban residents wield greater purchasing power, sophisticated shopping becomes an ever-important status symbol. Those at the top of Beijing’s increasingly stratified income brackets constantly seek to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. Conspicuous consumptive habits thus provide instant prominence and luxury companies are scrambling to cater to and expand upon every whim and desire. Designer clothing, sports cars, and jet-set vacations become necessary additions to any ostentatious parvenu enjoying the taste of once forbidden fruits.

              This weekend I bore witness to the star-studded opening of Lane Crawford’s department store in Beijing. It’s a four-story behemoth in a glitzy mall and only stocks vogue international fashion designers. Apparently Beijing has stepped into the sartorial big leagues. Whether or not the store will make money is another question. Beijing doesn’t exude pretentious airs quite like Shanghai or Hong Kong yet. Local shoppers prefer to browse the racks and then hit the streets in search of similar black-market counterfeits. Still, this won’t stop major luxury brands vying to cash in on Beijing’s nouveau riche and their swelling materialistic obsessions. Too much is at stake in this potential market.

              Unfortunately sipping on Moet all evening and ogling $5,000 USD Raf Simmons leather jackets can only provide so much enjoyment. Such prices smack of insolence considering the average income of rural farmers in China still tops out at around $225 USD per year according to the Xinhua News Agency. Even most city dwellers who average $750 USD per year would be left out of the commodity feeding frenzy occurring in department stores across Beijing. Many disenfranchised economic groups are starting to take action though, and the Chinese state is starting to realize the vast potential of widespread social unrest if income gaps continue to widen in favor of those already lining their closets with Givenchy, Paul Smith, and Prada. Even though the potential for a luxury backlash looms ever on the horizon, for now nothing seems to stand in the way of these corporate giants.

              See “China’s hunger for luxury goods grows” for an excellent description of Chinese yuppies aka chippies.

              A Lane Crawford window display for their grand opening





                All content © 2014 to Matthew Niederhauser