More thoughts on fieldwork

One of the most intriguing aspects of China to me, has been the explosive growth in the commercial sector. A still developing market economy has provided a unique ability to watch what happens when closed economies open. This may sound like a silly statement to make but when one considers that capitalism and commercialism both developed over hundreds of years in the western world, while in China, these same developments have occurred in a matter of decades, there truly is an amazing story to be told. I have been fascinated by the love-hate relationship between western commercial brands and Chinese consumers. As we read last week, these influx of commercial and luxury goods in China has created a generational divide, whether it be on the sales floor of Harbin Number X or in the bazaars where geti (haggling merchants) provide low cost, low quality goods.

During my high school years, my family was fortunate enough to host several Amity teachers (think foreign exchange for teachers) Click Here to learn more. Both of the teachers we hosted came from China and, though I certainly learned some Chinese during their stays, my favorite activity was talking with them about students my age in China. One of the most fascinating things was the way they viewed western brands. Perhaps it was just my naivete, but I never really thought about Chinese students shopping at H&M, Forever 21, or waiting in line for the newest iPhone. To me, those were strictly American brands. Despite all the rhetoric about the corruption of American business practices at home and abroad, the Chinese youth that I knew, loved their western clothes and products just as much as I did.

When I enter an American shopping mall, I struggle to think of non-western stores that I shop at. Everything from the food court to the electronics stores, to the clothes I try on over and over again are all American. I know that in the past several years, there has been an escalation in rhetoric back and forth between China and the US. I know there are ongoing stories of sweat shops and dangerous working conditions at American factories in China, and yet I continue to read about the explosive growth of American firms in China.

One recent article that I read talked about the record growth of Apple in China, noting that at some Beijing high schools, the iPads per student is higher than at some Palo Alto, CA high schools. There is clearly a disconnect between the way the Chinese youth are viewing American brands now than there parents are. The teachers that lived with us described frenzied scenes of shopping in China and the way in which the Chinese shopping mall became a new social space. The rising commercial culture is shifting the landscape of social China as well as economical China. Few places better depict this shift than the new imposing shopping malls of urban China, and Beijing is one of the centers.