Viral article reveals deceptive practices by aspiring socialites in Shanghai

Society & Culture

How far would you go to pretend to be rich? Renting out Hermès handbags, sharing Gucci sheer tights, photographing luxurious foods for social media (but not eating any)'s all part of the game in some socialite circles.


A recent exposé by a Chinese blogger revealing the length that wannabe influencers will go to fabricate an image of wealth and power has led millions of people to criticize social media.

In an article (in Chinese) published on October 11, which has since been viewed more than 100,000 times on WeChat, blogger Lǐ Zhōngèr 李中二 documented his observations while going undercover in a community of aspiring socialites in Shanghai.

Citing a tip from one of his readers, who claimed that his ex-girlfriend was an avid follower of the community and wanted to be part of it, Li wrote that he was invited to join a WeChat group named “Shanghai socialites” after paying a 500 yuan ($75) membership fee and submitting a bank statement of 100,000 yuan ($14,891).

According to the invitation, the private group was meant to provide a platform for “young and attractive girls” to share information about designer bags and form friendships. One of its greatest benefits, as the invitation boasted, was setting members up with “high-quality men” who work in finance or who have lived abroad. “Exclusive pool of potential partners for someone unique like you,” the invitation read.

As Li expected, however, it took no time for the members of the group to reveal that they were nothing but charlatans pretending to be affluent socialites. With their appetite for fame and influence, some of the members resorted to extreme measures to appear rich, including renting out Hermès handbags and taking turns to use them on dates with prospective boyfriends, and — probably most shockingly — sharing intimate items like sheer tights by Gucci.

In one example, six members teamed up to pay roughly 500 yuan for afternoon tea for two people at the Ritz-Carlton. Laying down the rules of sharing the luxurious experience, one of the members said in the group chat that no one was allowed to consume the food so that the other girls could photograph — and share on Instagram and Weibo — the meal in its entirety.

Li also noted that the members’ faux wealth came with a great irony, which is their contempt for “average” men from modest backgrounds, the type of people who they thought were not worth dating. In one conversation, a member complained about a date she went on, saying that it was embarrassing for her to find out that the guy was driving a BMW, rather than a Ferrari as she anticipated. “I hinted to him that I wanted him to take me shopping. But he kept beating around the bush. I told him to get out of my face. Be careful, sisters! Those who drive BMWs are stingy as hell,” she said.

Full of eye-opening anecdotes and jaw-dropping conversations between the members, Li’s article quickly became a smash hit, doing the rounds on all sorts of social media platforms. As of Monday, the hashtag #上海名媛群# had amassed over 1.2 billion views on Weibo, with commentators marveling at the great lengths that these wannabe socialites went to in order to create the illusion that they were living the high life.

“It’s no secret that fake it until you make it is a common tactic by up-and-coming influencers, but these ‘socialites’ have taken it to the next level,” a Weibo user wrote. Another one said she was disgusted by the “socialites” sharing tights with strangers, stating, “I’m grossed out.”

The exposé even gave birth to a meme fest where internet users ridiculed the “socialites” by joking about forming shopping teams themselves. “I would love to gather dozens of friends to buy a high-end car together. Happy to make the sacrifice and drive the first 100 miles before the car reaches its best condition!” a Weibo user wrote.

Perhaps unhappy with their perceived association with fake braggers, Bulgari Shanghai and Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, two luxury hotels loved by the real rich, responded (in Chinese) to the article on Monday, saying that they never caught someone sharing a room with a bunch of others just to snap pictures.

Meanwhile, the exposé has been facing its own authenticity questions. According to some skeptics, the article is likely to be an art of fiction specifically crafted to satisfy people’s curiosity about how boastful posts could be made. “It reads like a collection of imaginary assumptions by a man about privileged women obsessed with material goods,” a Douban user wrote. After going through past articles published by Li, most of which were inflammatory essays that cast women in a negative light, some people also suspected that Li was a misogynist who thought women were inherently shallow. “I’m convinced that he is on a mission to provoke misogynist views by producing attention-grabbing content,” another Douban user commented.

The suspicion, however, was denied by Li. In an interview with the Chengdu Economic News, the author said (in Chinese) that he was kicked out of the group right after the exposé went viral. “I don’t want to waste my energy on making a case for myself. It’s totally up to the readers to decide whether they believe it or not. I have a full-time job in real life and being a blogger is just my side hustle,” he said.