AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In China, luxury car maker, Ferrari, is apologizing for a publicity stunt gone wrong. The company celebrated 20 years in the Chinese auto market with a million dollar special edition car doing donuts atop an ancient wall in the city of Nanjing.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE REVVING)
CORNISH: The problem is it left tire tracks and that didn't go over well with the public when video of the car peeling out at a historic site hit the Web. Here to talk about the outcry is Rob Gifford, China editor for The Economist. Hi there, Rob.
ROB GIFFORD: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So, to start, are critics upset over the damage to this historic place or the fact that it was a million dollar luxury car that was the culprit?
GIFFORD: I think probably a bit of both. This is a rather symbolic incident, really, in China and the collision of so many things that Chinese people are annoyed about. For a start, the sort of flaunting of wealth. There's an assumption, I think, that people who have Ferraris are basically - got their money in an illicit way. And, also, just sort of degrading or looking down on Chinese cultural heritage and not caring about leaving tire tracks on top of a precious 600-year-old wall. Put it all together on the Internet with 300 million microbloggers and it's a rather inflammatory brew.
CORNISH: How has the Chinese government responded to this outcry?
GIFFORD: Well, interestingly, speaking of the microblogs, the Weibo - 300 million people on the Weibo, anything that's hot, they love to talk about. It's just like Twitter. At one point, I think the word Ferrari was blocked because anything that's even vaguely - could cause any kind of controversy, the microblogs themselves block these terms so that the authorities won't get annoyed with them.
I think more significant here, though, is what Ferrari did. Ferrari themselves came out and apologized. They know which side their bread is buttered and they know that they can't afford to annoy the people of China, who are now their second biggest market.
CORNISH: What is the cultural significance of this wall? Tell us about this place.
GIFFORD: Well, Nanjing is the former capital of China and this wall was built in the Ming Dynasty some 600 years ago. And, yes, I mean, it's one of those old cultural relics. Interestingly, it's rather run down, so it's not as though the Chinese authorities have really done a huge amount to preserve it. But, no, it's very symbolic of China's past, so I think the public generally felt this was just not appropriate.
CORNISH: Now, let's talk a little bit more, though, about luxury cars in China because while we're talking about an outcry here, it has a booming luxury car market. Right?
GIFFORD: It does. And, of course, there are tens of millions of newly rich people in China, hundreds of millions, in fact, depending on how you define it. The luxury car market is limited to the very wealthy, but of course, there are very many of them, as well.
But, as I said, the annoyance among ordinary people is the suspicion that you'd only be that rich if you were corrupt. I think, in the West, of course, there's plenty of corruption, but if someone's driving a Ferrari, you tend to think, oh, you know, well done, mate. You made a lot of money and you've been successful, and it's not quite as simple as that in China.
CORNISH: Rob Gifford, thank you for talking with us.
GIFFORD: Thank you, Audie.
CORNISH: Rob Gifford. He's the China editor for The Economist magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.