China’s bourgeois pooches

It turns out that Chairman Mao was right to worry about counter-revolutionary mutts.


Zhou Tianxiao: creating a pet paradise
(Image credit: 2018 The Washington Post)

One has always been grateful for the assistance of one's four-legged friends. The (now fast-approaching) "Glorious Twelfth" wouldn't be quite the same without a loyal canine companion to pick up the grouse and deposit them at your feet. Still, it seems ridiculous to take that gratitude too far. Celebrity miss Kylie Jenner, we learn, "is having a lavish doghouse built for her pooches complete with air-conditioning and a white picket fence", says Sameer Suri in the Daily Mail.

This seems both excessive and unnecessary. A basket at the end of her bed or in her pantry would seem to solve the problem much more effectively, as well as deterring would-be robbers. Still, it makes more sense than those Americans (including Kylie's half-sister, Kim) who have bought "Neuticles" for their newly castrated pets to help them maintain their "dignity and self-esteem".

More than 500,000 animals have been surgically implanted with the silicone testes, says Peter Haldeman in The New York Times, despite the procedure costing thousands of dollars. Americans also spend an estimated $62m each year on other cosmetic procedures for their pets, including tummy tucks and nose jobs.

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Ah, America. But the country does not have a monopoly on such madness. Back in the dark days of Chairman Mao, dogs were banned in China for being too "bourgeois", say Danielle Paquette and Luna Lin in The Washington Post. It seems Mao was right. "China's youths are increasingly lavishing money" on their pets.

Indeed, "the Chinese are projected to spend the equivalent of $7bn on furry friends by 2022, a surge from $ last year". Chief among them is businessman Zhou Tianxiao, who has spent half a million dollars converting an abandoned warehouse into a "pet paradise" for his dog, Sylar, complete with a spa, a trampoline and an indoor pool.

A modern dog's life

Perhaps Zhou's generosity isn't completely crazy. Four years ago, he was unemployed and living downtown with his grandmother, spending "most of his time playing video games at internet cafes". But after a friend pointed out Sylar the Border Collie to him, "it was love at first sight". Zhou bought him then "watched YouTube videos of dog trainers in the US, studying their techniques late into the night". The resulting skills enabled him to teach Sylar "to high-five, play dead, walk like a human and leap on tables".

Video clips of Sylar's tricks went viral, turning the dog into a celebrity overnight, with nearly 800,000 followers on social media. Realising the economic potential, Zhou opened a dog food and toy store on Taobao, the Chinese e-commerce giant that allows users to peddle goods online. This venture made him a small fortune. Zhou is also making money from Sylar's house, offering spa treatments for $26 and giving other pet owners (and their pets) the opportunity "to stay the night in air-conditioned rooms with giant pillows and personal backyards". If this is what "a dog's life" looks like, then it no longer seems like such a bad thing.

Tabloid money get your children working for their keep

James Goddard-Watts, whose family founded the hardware firm Screwfix, is still locked in a multi-million-pound divorce battle with his former wife Julia, says Karren Brady in The Sun on Sunday. An agreement had been reached eight years ago that Julia should get a £3.25m house and a £4m lump sum. But she complained that James had not revealed the full extent of his wealth at the time. Cue the court battle.

Critics say Julia is greedy. But building a home and looking after a family should be worth at least half of whatever the partner who didn't do all that has earned in the meantime. The law agrees. "So people who hide [assets] from their spouse only have themselves to blame if said spouse feels forced to take them to court to get what's fair."

"As my eldest fast approaches double figures, pocket money is now being demanded on a weekly basis, so I've settled for £5 each for the older two and £3 for the youngest," says Camilla Tominey in the Sunday Express. Best money I've ever spent.

"Having endured nine-and-three-quarter years of scrabbling around on my hands and knees picking uppieces of pasta, pesto, Lego bricks, Hama beads, loom bands, peas, pen lids, popcorn, you name it now I have someone else to do it." And the children get to learn new skills. "While the youngest might not be able to handle the jet wash without being blasted half way down the garden like a dwarf firing an AK-47, her teeny-weeny fingers make her a dab hand at weeding the patio."

"I was really repulsed by the revelation that Burberry put to the torch tens of millions of pounds of expensive, perfect, box-fresh gear a year simply to stop it being snapped up by the wrong people'," says Rachel Johnson in the Mail on Sunday. "How snobby is that?" After all, there are some people in the world who cannot even afford to put a shirt on their backs.

This isn't just another fashion fail from the label (many years ago, the brand almost ate itself with anxiety about a so-called "chav" hijack of its elite, British identity). "This is possibly the ugliest example of capitalism I have encountered in my life, and confirmation that we've hit peak over-consumption and peak disposable fashion at once. It's verging on the criminal. Enough."