… used more expensive and more elegant satin to construct screens that extended for 16 miles before his own house.

However, Wang Kai refused to concede defeat. He then sought the help of Emperor Wu who is his nephew. Intrigued by the contest, the emperor gave a tw0-foot tall coral tree in his imperial collection to Wang Kai, so that the latter could show it off to the public.

This gives a boost to Wang Kai’s determination to continue the contest. He then invited Shi Chong and a large number of officials to a banquet at his home. While everybody was feasting, Wang Kai announced with glowing pride, “I have a rare coral tree in my house. Do you want to have a look?”

Wang Kai had maid bring out the coral tree which had symmetrical branches and bright pink flowers. His impressed guests lavished praise on the rare plant.

Yet Shi Chong simply looked on with a sneering expression. Seeing an iron ruyi on the table, he grabbed it and lightly tapped the coral tree with it. With a loud crash the coral tree shattered into tiny pieces.

The invited officials were stupefied and Wang Kai’s face turned red with anger. “What on earth are you doing?”

“Don’t be upset, I’ll give you another one.” Shi Chong replied.

“Yes, give me another one! Give me another one!” Wang Kai shouted.

Shi Chong sent his attendant home to fetch all the coral trees in his collection for Wang Kai to choose from. A group of attendants returned with dozens of coral trees, including six or seven that were three to four feet tall, every one of them elegantly shaped and brightly colored.

All those present were dazzled by the display, Wang Kai conceded defeat, finally realizing that the wealth of Shi Chong was many times that of his own.

That brought to a close the farce of the wealth contest and Shi Chong’s fabulous wealth became known throughout Luoyang. A minister, Fu Xian (傅咸), complained to Emperor Wu, criticizing this extravagance and squander and describing it as even more devastating than natural disasters. He expressed a fear for the future if this kind of one-upmanship continued to confer prestige instead of being actively discouraged.

Emperor Wu ignored these complaints. Like Shi Chong and Wang Kai he went on supporting his extravagant lifestyle by redoubling his plunder of the country. This corruption and decadence signaled impending disaster.