TIME China

This is Why the Word ‘Ferrari’ Is Sometimes a Banned Search Term in China

A Ferrari 458 Italia sports car is road tested in Beijing.
A Ferrari 458 Italia sports car is road tested in Beijing. China Photos—Getty Images

Another fatal crash in Beijing raises the specter of wealthy excess

Traffic-choked Beijing isn’t the best environment for Ferraris. But the Italian sports car has gained a reputation as the preferred plaything of China’s new rich, with sometimes grisly results. At 3 a.m. on Feb. 13, a Ferrari — cherry red, naturally — careened into a guardrail on the Chinese capital’s airport expressway, killing one of the three men inside. The 21-year-old driver escaped with a broken arm and other injuries, according to one local media report, but the force of the collision was so powerful that chunks of the car were scattered across the road like Lego pieces.

The wreck is the latest in string of fatal incidents involving Ferraris in China. And since Ferraris are considered a favored car of “princelings,” the privileged offspring of China’s communist elite, such crashes signify far more than the unfortunate intersection of poor driving skills, excessive speed and luxury vehicles.

Two years ago, another Ferrari — this time, jet black — spun out of control, killing the son of Ling Jihua, an ex-aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao. Two young women were also in the car, and they were rumored to have been significantly unclothed at the time of the crash. The ensuing cover-up cost Ling an expected promotion and helped lay bare factional rivalries within the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Rumors of the Feb. 13 Ferrari crash have circulated on social media, complete with dramatic photos. The incident was later confirmed by Xinhua, China’s state news agency, which noted that all three occupants of the car had zero blood alcohol content. The relatively prompt coverage contrasted with the muddled state of affairs following the crash two years ago. Although some local press initially reported on the 2012 accident, news was quickly hushed up. For a time, the word “Ferrari” was even blocked by state censors on local micro-blog searches.

It wasn’t the first time the word “Ferrari” ran afoul of the authorities. After rumors spread that disgraced politician Bo Xilai’s son may have tooled around Beijing in a red Ferrari, the auto brand searched in tandem with that exact color turned up error messages on some Chinese search engines. The same also happened briefly when a 31-year-old Chinese investor plowed his Ferrari — crimson, again — into two other vehicles in Singapore in May 2012, killing three people, including himself.

Even with confirmation from official media about the Feb. 13 crash, Chinese have used local micro-blogs to air plenty of questions and opinions. The identity of the driver was a matter of intense speculation, with some wondering why two of the victims were taken to a military hospital instead of the closer civilian one. Jinghua, a local Beiing newspaper, reported that one of the injured was a recently decommissioned member of the military who had found a job as a driver. The mother of the wounded man, who is surnamed Deng, told Jinghua that two people were crowded into the front passenger seat. (She did not know whether her son was driving the car or not, and he is suffering from cranial bleeding.) The 458 Ferrari model that was totaled on Thursday is designed for two passengers, not three.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

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