The bizarre trend — dubbed the “flaunt your wealth challenge” — has generated more than a million posts on Chinese social platform Weibo in the past two weeks.
China’s growing army of social media influencers have played a role in popularising the meme, sharing images of themselves participating in the challenge with their followers.
Dressed up in their finery, the influencers usually pose as if they’ve just fallen head first out of a luxury car and spilled their most valuable possessions onto the pavement.
The trend has puzzled many an outside viewer as to what the appeal may be, and the increased attention has not been an all-round positive experience for the participants.
Safety and purpose of trend called into question
Last week, one influencer had a friend shoot a video of her falling out of a car onto a pedestrian crossing in Taizhou, a city in China’s eastern Zhejiang province.
The video picked up more than 50,000 views on video sharing platform TikTok, according to Chinese state media People’s Daily.
Pictures showed the woman, identified only by her surname Chen, lying face down on a pedestrian crossing with luxury items worth thousands of dollars scattered around her.
The post attracted more than a thousand comments, with Chinese netizens questioning whether it was safe for the woman to be posing in the middle of the road.
Local police later issued Ms Chen and her friend a small fine for parking illegally.
The global internet trend started in July in Russia after a DJ posted a photo of himself pretending to fall out of a private jet on Instagram.
Since then, more than 100,000 Instagram posts with hashtags such as #fallingstars and #fallingstars2018 have been posted around the world.
Challenge prompts memes satirising the trend
The craze has also sparked a series of satirical memes with netizens from all walks of life replicating similar poses with objects from their everyday lives.
Some posts showed students falling over with books scattered around them, while apparent workers wearing hardhats posed with their work tools.
Chinese state-owned media outlets including the People’s Daily and CCTV have since publicised some of these images, praising various workers for taking pride in their jobs.
The act of showing off wealth also highlights China’s rising middle class, who have increasing purchasing power.
Chinese nationals accounted for 32 per cent of all personal luxury goods purchased around the world in 2017, according to a Bain Luxury study published by Bain and Company.
Haiqing Yu, an associate professor at RMIT and an expert on Chinese digital media, said the challenge was a way for people from different backgrounds to express themselves online.
“The Chinese middle class was the first to respond to the challenge, but it soon spread to [other less wealthy classes],” Dr Yu said.
“It shows that digital media has become more widespread [in China] and that it’s no longer only for people with wealth.”
Dr Yu said the development of China’s economy had resulted in more people embracing technology as a way to express themselves.
But at the same time, China has tightened its monitoring of social networks, she said.
She added it was common for netizens to now express their feelings with photos on Chinese social media because text was more easily tracked and censored.
“It used to be more straightforward in the past, but now [social media users] expect you to interpret the meaning of their photos,” she said.
“You can’t overinterpret [the new trend] politically, but it could be related to China’s political environment — under the present circumstances, people may be using this popular form of falling over to vent their feelings.”