Thursday, 8 July 2010

From Communism to Consumerism


A very interesting article from the Guardian website about the fast growing consumers market in China, specifically in Shanghai. It was only a few decades ago that China started recovering from the destructive era of the cultural revolution, since China has opened itself up this has greatly transformed China from a largely peasant driven society to now a society of 'superconsumers', it's capitalism in full throttle. Quite simply it went from one extreme to another. There's the emergence of a growing middle class population that has hardly existed before.

There are some interesting points that got me thinking in this article. One being the environmental impact it will have, as the average population becomes wealthier and so does the increase for consumption, which correlates to the increasing demand for resources. Of course this is inevitable for a fast growing supereconomy like China, and also adding to the concern being the most populated country in the world. It's not going to be problem confined to China as other developing countries will soon follow suit. I'm not sure what can be done, but one suggestion in the article is to reconstruct the economy so that the consumption of resources will become more sustainable. What that involves, I don't have clue.

The second point in the article is the dramatic change in lifestyle in society. Only two generations ago majority of people in the mainland had barely enough to feed themselves and maintain their livelihood. With the growing economy and increasing income, people no longer need to worry about putting food on the table. They can afford many luxuries and maintain the middle class lifestyle with plenty more to spare. As the article mentioned obese children are becoming more common than before because this. But at the same time we need to bare in mind that poverty is still a problem in large parts of China.

My last point is something that is hinted in the article but wasn't really focused on. Just simply looking at all the brands names mentioned; Luis Vuitton, Chanel, Starbucks, Jaguar Gucci...etc and the list goes on. All of these brand names are symbolic of luxury and prestige, and yet none of them are Chinese brands. Obviously the article is making a point on how foreign companies and corporations are infiltrating the Chinese market, but it's quite true that Western goods are percieved to be higher class, it's the signifier of wealth that all middle class wants to possess. Chains of these companies have been opening up in China at a massive rate. It's like colonisation through consumer products being sold to the conquered people. Sure sounds a bit like the Opium War doesn't it?
Most revellers in the lounge are European. "Where can I meet Chinese partygoers?" I ask Emily, but she is reluctant to recommend anywhere: "There are clubs, but they are the type of place you'd find in a second-tier city. The music and decor are not as good, but Chinese men prefer them because they don't want to be near foreigners. Chinese women are different. They are more open. They go where the quality is."
The 'quality' being foreign or specifically western obviously. Where as anything Chinese are automatically considered to be lower tier and inferior. You can sort of draw the same analogy with the Shanghainese women and their foreign boyfriends (nothing against them, just raising an example). This doesn't mean Chinese people want to be like westerners, rather they just want to share the same privilage as them. It's quite sad even China as a growing global power, Chinese brands and product has yet to be held with the same quality and prestige as western products by Chinese themselves. Unfortunately people are too obsessed with chasing their fortunes and rich life style to even realise this. But it's totally understandable. I'm hoping this is just a phase that China is going through.

As we congratulate China as prominent global economy power and modernity obviously it comes at a high price. One thing for sure nothing's going to stop or slow it down. However I think everyone in the world is entitled to live a life of luxury and plentifulness. It's a natural thing. At the moment poverty is still a problem that needs to be dealt with, there's uneven distribution of wealth between rich and poor, which is a major challenge. In developing countries this will bound to happen. But a materialistic society where it is mostly consumption and commercially driven is also not ideal either.