Two Wealthy Women Staged a Photo Shoot With Their Mercedes-Benz in the Forbidden City, Sparking Outrage in China Over Wealth Inequality

The director of Beijing's Palace Museum has apologized and two senior managers have been suspended amid a social-media firestorm.

Paramilitary policemen patrol around the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images.

When two young Chinese women posed for a selfie besides their Mercedes-Benz SUV inside an unusually empty Forbidden City, they were probably hoping for attention with their not-so-humble brag. They got more than they bargained for, sparking widespread anger and mockery on the social media. The backlash has resulted in the suspension of two senior managers at the Palace Museum in Beijing.

“On Monday the Palace Museum is closed, so I hurried over, hid from the crowds, and went to play in the Forbidden City,” wrote Lu Xiaobao LL, one of the women in the picture, according to the BBC. The other apparently bragged about going there to “run wild,” according to the New York Times. After her post prompted outcry, Lu at first defended her behavior, saying she was at the cultural site to see an exhibit but she soon deleted the post. Screenshots had gone viral, however. Critics uploaded fake Mercedes-Benz ads, joking that Beijing’s Forbidden City now has a McDonalds Drive-Thru.

The women’s behavior earned a stinging rebuke from the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, and questions have been asked about the Palace Museum’s role in the affair.

The snap of two women posing beside their luxury vehicle on the historic grounds, which was home to Chinese emperors from the 15th century until 1912, has generated an intense debate about the privileges rich Chinese families enjoy, as well as the gap between the nation’s wealthiest and the rest.

“Don’t roll your privileges over China’s face,” wrote a Weibo user, according to the New York Times. Another widely shared post said: “Deleting the pictures is useless; the entire Chinese nation has seen them,” the BBC reports. Such a conspicuous display of privilege strikes a jarring note as President Xi Jinping promises to eliminate poverty by 2020. He has also championed a crackdown on officials who flaunt their wealth.

The Palace Museum, meanwhile, has also been under fire for enabling the faux pas at the World Heritage site. The museum’s director, Wang Xudong, issued an official apology today, January 21. According to Chinese outlet the Paper, Wang explained that a week ago, more than 200 people were invited to the museum for a private event. Due to an overflow of cars, a temporary parking lot was set up where the provocative photos were taken.

Wang blamed the situation on a problem within the museum’s “internal management.” The museum’s deputy director, and its director security, have reportedly been suspended.

The newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, weighed in on the controversy. It declared that a national relic had been violated. “Under the rules, everyone is equal,” it said, adding: “No one has the privilege to ‘run wild.’”

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