Pompadour slicked perfectly into place, Huang Qiaoling gazes lovingly at his palatial home. Here, amid hectares of overgrown rice paddies in the eastern city of Hangzhou, Huang has built a display worthy of his splendid success: a $10 million replica of the White House. Huang, one of the richest men in China, wanders blissfully through a hall filled with portraits of America's Presidents, then strides into the most hallowed room of allthe Oval Office. Every detail has been immaculately reproduced, from the $60,000 baroque sofa to the U.S. presidential seal on the carpetnaturally, made in China. "Everything you see here is just like Washington," says Huang. "Only it's all mine."
A few changes have been made to suit his personal taste. In one cabinet, Huang, the 43-year-old founder of a Chinese tourism empire has substituted tomes on American history with minibar bottles of Remy Martin and a gaggle of dime-store ceramic ducks. On the mantelpiece of the Green Room stands a statue of Genghis Khan, whom "President Huang," as his staff insists on calling him, counts as his personal hero. And outside the window of the Blue Room, which Huang uses as his office (it would be inappropriate, he says, to work in the Oval Office), is a one-third-size Mount Rushmore with employees' quarters tucked in the back. Meanwhile, in front of the White House stands a miniature Washington Monument. "I bet you've never seen anything so wonderful," says Huang. "This is my dream house."
But one man's ersatz castle is another's vulgar affront. Not long after Huang's mansion was completed in 1999, U.S.-led nato forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Huang found himself answering angry calls from Communist Party bureaucrats demanding to know why he had built an icon of imperialist America. "I told them it represented American culture, not politics, and it wasn't their business what I built with my own money," he says. "I had invested a lot in Hangzhou, and it doesn't do any good to disrupt my business. I was sure they didn't want me to move my money elsewhere." The complaints ceased. More recently, though, Huang received the irritating news that another entrepreneur has built an almost full-scale U.S. Capitol building on the outskirts of Shanghai. Still, he insists, it doesn't really faze him. "Everybody knows the White House is much more beautiful than the Capitol," he says, sinking into an $8,000 chair in the Oval Office. "Besides, I have built Mount Rushmore and the Washington Monument, too. Who can compete with that?"
These days, plenty of mainlanders can. Decades after Mao realized his vision of a classless, property-less society by destroying wealth and all of its manifestations, China's monied Elite is making a boisterous comeback. With the unleashing of private enterprise and the rapid development of coastal cities, China now boasts nearly 10,000 entrepreneurs each worth $10 million or more, according to researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. The country's affluent ranks are among the fastest growing in the worldthe person who ranked 50th on a list of richest Chinese last year boasted $110 million; in 1999, No. 50 only had $6 million. Their commercial successes aren't necessarily glamorousone of the richest men in China, billionaire Liu Yongxing, built his empire supplying pig feed. Nor are they superlatively well-off by the standards of America's Bill Gates or Saudi Arabia's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. But the economic clout of China's nouveaux riches has become hard to ignore. Last year, the Communist Party finally admitted these once shunned capitalists into its fold.