Show­ing off

With an un­usual dis­play of riches, a med­i­cal pro­fes­sional calls into ques­tion pub­lic at­ti­tudes to­ward wealth and the need for bet­ter pay for his pro­fes­sion.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@chi­ RAYMOND ZHO U

Chengdu urol­o­gist who flaunts his wealth says he’s try­ing to in­still pride in young doc­tors.

Ren Lim­ing is a urol­o­gist with the Sec­ond Peo­ple’s Hos­pi­tal in Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince. He was thrust into lime­light when he posted a photo of a down jacket he just bought — with the eye-pop­ping price tag of 10,000 yuan ($1,400).

Some were amazed by his flaunt­ing of per­sonal wealth. They thought peo­ple in the health­care in­dus­try should keep a low pro­file be­cause of the pro­longed ten­sion be­tween doc­tors and pa­tients in China.

Many doc­tors have been ac­cused of tak­ing cash gifts from pa­tients or their fam­i­lies — to the point that they rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant part of their in­come.

Ad­mit­tedly, Ren’s ex­pen­sive jacket, to­gether with the rev­e­la­tion that he makes 1 mil­lion yuan a year, raised the sus­pi­cion that his lav­ish life­style is built on this so-called gray in­come.

Just as he was sup­posed to be shed­ding tears of re­gret over the out­burst of van­ity, Ren came for­ward and di­vulged more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to a lo­cal re­porter.

He owns three prop­er­ties and about one-fifth of his an­nual in­come, i.e. 200,000 yuan, is from his day job at that hos­pi­tal, an amount that he spends on cloth­ing alone.

He de­rives other in­come from on­line con­sult­ing and off­line teach­ing, prac­tic­ing medicine at other places and mak­ing health­care-re­lated in­vest­ments.

The pur­pose of “spilling the beans”, he says, is to in­still pride in young pro­fes­sion­als who are just en­ter­ing the busi­ness. He says many of his peers in the top ech­e­lon make as much as he does, or even more.

He also ad­dresses the sen­si­tive topic of “gray in­come”, say­ing that if your le­gal earn­ings are high enough you’d have no in­cen­tive to take bribes.

But I sus­pect that his real mo­tive is to pro­mote his busi­nesses as well as his per­sonal name. Now that he is the best-known urol­o­gist in the city, re­quests for con­sult­ing would go through the roof, I imag­ine.

Which is not wrong, al­beit a bit un­con­ven­tional. If so, Ren was ex­ploit­ing the na­tion’s hate-therich men­tal­ity for his own good.

Love them, hate them

China has come full cir­cle from “To get rich is glo­ri­ous” in the 1980s to “You’d bet­ter lie low if you’re filthy rich be­cause the whirl­winds of envy will sweep you away”.

The in­ter­net has mag­ni­fied the wealth gap, with web­sites in­ces­santly hyp­ing the life­styles of the rich and then fol­low­ing it with blan­ket ha­tred of the high-pro­file de­mo­graphic.

In re­cent years the voice of rea­son has ap­peared, ar­gu­ing that the key is not how much wealth one has but how that wealth was ac­cu­mu­lated, legally, eth­i­cally or not.

A tricky point of de­bate is the so-called orig­i­nal sin, which refers to the of­ten less-than-up­right way the first pot of gold was made, a “sin” that’s said to tar­nish most pri­vate en­trepreneurs.

For many years Chen Guang­biao was China’s most con­spic­u­ous spender. He would stack up a wall of bills and take pho­tos with it. He claimed to be a big phi­lan­thropist, but has turned out to be a big show­man who used phi­lan­thropy as a means to in­gra­ti­ate him­self into the cir­cle of power.

I’m not dis­count­ing the des­per­ate need for van­ity that char­ac­ter­izes the nou­veaux riche, but when the flaunt­ing gets too tacky it in­deed arouses sus­pi­cion that there is more than van­ity at work.

Maybe some­one of Guo Meimei’s age would not think twice be­fore post­ing ex­pen­sive pur­chases made pos­si­ble by a rich sugar daddy, but a ma­ture en­tre­pre­neur would prob­a­bly re­sist the temp­ta­tion un­less he or she is to­tally iso­lated from the in­ter­net cul­ture.

Guo al­most sin­gle-hand­edly ru­ined the rep­u­ta­tion of the Red Cross when she gave her­self a ti­tle af­fil­i­ated with the or­ga­ni­za­tion and posted lux­ury items.

Rich doc­tors, poor doc­tors

I don’t know how au­then­tic Ren’s re­port is that many of his peers make as much as he does.

A few years ago, I went on a trip to Africa with a dozen health­care pro­fes­sion­als who were to of­fer free med­i­cal ser­vices for treat­ing cataracts. I learned first­hand that most of them did not make that much.

I did a lit­tle search and found a 2015 sur­vey on, a med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion site. It sur­veyed 30,000 doc­tors na­tion­wide and con­cluded that the av­er­age an­nual salary was 77,000 yuan, and 74 per­cent of them were not sat­is­fied with how much they earned.

If this fig­ure is ac­cu­rate and can be ex­trap­o­lated to the whole coun­try, it con­firms my im­pres­sion that doc­tors in China are far from be­ing en­vied — not only com­pared with their coun­ter­parts in de­vel­oped coun­tries, but with pro­fes­sion­als in other Chi­nese in­dus­tries such as fi­nance.

Con­sid­er­ing the higher-than-nor­mal in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing, their in­comes can be said to be on the lower end of the so­cial spec­trum.

The pri­mary rea­son in­comes of Chi­nese doc­tors do not re­flect their sta­tus or mar­ket de­mand is that the rates of China’s med­i­cal ser­vices are highly reg­u­lated.

It costs only a cou­ple of yuan to see a doc­tor, so even if a doc­tor treats 100 pa­tients a day it does not add to much.

To sub­si­dize the cost of coun­sel­ing, hos­pi­tals would add a heavy markup to the drugs pre­scribed.

The prac­tice was rooted in the good in­ten­tion of of­fer­ing nearly free service to ev­ery­one, but it has led to less-than-de­sir­able re­sults.

For ex­am­ple, some peo­ple would flock to the best hos­pi­tals for some­thing as in­nocu­ous as a com­mon cold. Mean­while, both pa­tients and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives would dan­gle big bribes to doc­tors, which is the mar­ket’s way to “cor­rect” the re­al­ity of doc­tors be­ing se­ri­ously un­der­paid.

When­ever there is a com­plaint against the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, peo­ple nar­rate sto­ries of Amer­i­can doc­tors as role mod­els. But they tend to for­get that Amer­i­can doc­tors are paid 15 times as much.

And it is pretty hard for any­one to keep up the good at­ti­tude if 100 pa­tients are squeezed into one shift.

Ev­ery­one also wants free or nearly free health­care that is also qual­ity service, and few see the irony in it.

A gov­ern­ment should help those in need, the poor who can­not af­ford ex­pen­sive med­i­cal ser­vices. But if it makes health­care af­ford­able by ar­ti­fi­cially de­press­ing the in­comes of the pro­fes­sion, it is tan­ta­mount to driv­ing away fu­ture tal­ent from the in­dus­try.

In that sense, Ren has be­come an an­ti­dote even though his so­lu­tion may not be ap­pli­ca­ble across the in­dus­try.

When­ever there is a com­plaint against the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion, peo­ple nar­rate sto­ries of Amer­i­can doc­tors as role mod­els. But they tend to for­get that Amer­i­can doc­tors are paid 15 times as much.


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