In Depth

What is the ‘falling stars’ challenge?

China’s favourite new internet trend highlights the country’s stark income inequality

Affluent Instagrammers in China are flaunting their wealth in a bizarre new challenge in which they pretend to fall over and scatter their luxury goods around them.

The internet trend - known as the Falling Stars Challenge - has prompted more than a million posts on Instagram and Weibo, the country’s equivalent of Facebook. Also known as the xuanfu tiaozhan, or “flaunt your wealth” challenge, participants posts pictures of themselves splayed on the floor amid piles of designer clothing, shoes,  jewellery and even bundles of cash, The Guardian reports.

The social media trend appears to have been started by a Russian electronic musician called DJ Smash, who posted an Instagram photo of himself pretending to have fallen out of a private jet in July, says Australia-based entertainment news site Pedestrian.tv. The image subsequently went viral.

The trend was quickly picked up by wealthy influencers in China, where the hashtag has now received more than 2 billion views on Weibo, according to The Guardian.

However, the “challenge” is causing a headache for Chinese authorities. Two Chinese women brought traffic to a standstill on a busy street in Taizhou city, Zhejiang province, earlier this week when they stopped their car on a pedestrian crossing so that one of them could pose on the ground beside a Gucci handbag, pair of high-heeled shoes and an assortment of make-up, reports the South China Morning Post. They were subsequently tracked down, arrested and fined for disrupting traffic.

Similar incidents have been reported in other Chinese towns and cities.

Meanwhile, poorer people have also taken part in the challenge as “a way to poke fun of the country’s wealthy”, says Quartz. “Instead of expensive bags, though, they’re surrounded by their work tools or books.

“Even Chinese state-media outlet People’s Daily has found amusement in the falling stars challenge, sharing some images of parody versions, such as those from firefighters, students, and soldiers.”

The Guardian suggests that state employees may be reworking the trend in order to “deflect from the focus on wealth”, which is both a “topic often linked to government corruption” and a stark reminder of China’s increasingly severe income inequality.

China’s Gini coefficient, an index that measures income inequality, increased to 0.465 last year. A Gini coefficient higher than 0.4 is a sign of severe income inequality, according to the United Nations.

A recent report by the International Monetary Fund found that although China is “on the brink of eradicating poverty” following rapid economic growth in recent decades, income inequality “increased sharply from the early 1980s and rendered China among the most unequal countries in the world”.

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