“Versailles Literature” Trending on China’s Internet: A New Way to Brag

A new, pretentious form of bragging is stirring up controversies among Chinese internet users, as some publish stories that may look like complaints, but often are just thinly-veiled ways to show off.

Here are a few examples of actual social media posts.

“There weren’t enough electric car charging stations in the neighborhood and we weren’t allowed to install new ones,” user Mengqiqi77 posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter. “So we had no choice but to move to a bigger house with a private garage for my husband’s Tesla.”

Mengqiqi77, whose Weibo posts triggered discussions about this internet phenomenon, was not quite done. “My husband is so thrifty, he only wears $23, 000 KITON suit, even on important occasions,” she said. “He just wears $5,000 Zegna suits to work, and always the same Armani handbag and D&G shoes.”

At first sight, these posts might look like complaints about inadequate infrastructure and her “overly thrifty” husband who always carries the same bag. But to many netizens they just do not feel genuine and reek of a sense of superiority.

Her narratives have led to a massive discussion on the Internet, with quick-witted internet users naming this new way of flexing “Versailles literature.” Ah Chinese netizens, they never disappoint.

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The term was inspired by Japanese manga The Rose of Versailles, which depicts the sumptuous and aristocratic lifestyle of the Queen of France, and is now used on Chinese social media to refer to a new style of bragging, in which people comment on their “unsatisfying” life in order to subtly show off their wealth and status.

Many young social media users appreciate this phenomenon, sarcastically mocking other netizens’ vanity. This in turn has sparked plenty of jokes, spreading the Versailles literature far and wide on the web. The fun lies in packaging tastelessly braggy posts as a form of high-end, refined nonchalance designed to attract attention and jealousy.

Weibo user Xiaonaiqiu is believed to be the founder of the Versailles literature. She even gave a lecture on it, teaching people how to create a proper narrative.

Versailles literature “scholars” have distilled the essence of this aristocratic literary form into three key elements –compliments from others (subtlety is the key, so words have to come from other people), complaints that outsiders do not see why such wealth, status and advantages can be annoying, and rhetorical questions to make said advantages clear (just in case readers do not figure it out themselves.) Time and place must be mentioned skillfully, too, to reveal superiority.

For instance, one could say:

“I went to Sanlitun (an expensive area in Beijing packed with luxurious stores) and plenty of people hit on me or took my pictures (compliments, albeit indirect, from others). I just do not understand why people would do that (complaints). I only wore a simple white dress showing the result of my daily workouts. Plus, why did people keep speaking English to me? Could it be that years of studying abroad have given me a stylish look? (Rhetorical question.)”

Weibo user Xiaonaiqiu giving a lecture on Versailles literature and how to create it. (Source: screenshot)

As a matter of fact, this style is believed to predate its modern digital incarnation, appearing in American literary classic The Great Gatsby, in which the wealthy Gatsby had it all but his lover’s heart.

This flaunting, subtle or otherwise, reflects anxiety regarding social status and an eagerness to climb the social ladder by creating a rich persona, rather than a simple show of material abundance. Some of the braggers may actually be well off, but many simply go the extra mile to appear wealthy and superior to commoners.

Nor is it all that funny, especially if online vanity is taken seriously by the audience.

For, as French philosopher Henri Bergson once put it, “The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity.”