MIDDLE CLASS IN CHINA
Chinese are living better overall: consuming more food, energy and goods than ever. One-fourth of the population — the equivalent of everyone in the United States — has entered the middle class. Definitions of middle class vary. One marker is an income above $10,000. Others say it is a household that owns an apartment and a car, has enough money to eats out and take vacations and is familiar with foreign brands and ideas. As of 2012 the Chinese upper middle class were defined by some as household earning between 100,000 and 300,000 yuan ($16,000 to $47,000) a year. At that time this segment of the population was growing by 28 percent a year. [Source: Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2012]
The Chinese middle class has grown at phenomenal rate since the end of the Mao era. The group didn't even exist in the 1970s and now it is comprised of 64 million people, according to a MasterCard survey in 2002. In the survey middle class was defined as a household earning more than $5,000 a year, a level regarded as high enough to buy a car or think about purchasing an apartment in China. The middle class is expected to expand to 600 million by 2020.
In the early 2000s, some defined the middle class in China as people earning more than $3,000 a year. As of 2002, there were around 100 million Chinese who fit this description and their numbers were increasing at a rate of about 20 percent a year. The income of the he top 10 percent of urban dweller rose from around $1,200 a year in 1995 to $4,600 in 2005. At that time less than 5 percent of the population earned that much and only 15 million made more than $32,000 a year. Roughly 500,000 Chinese earned $64,000 a year or more, but it was hard to say for sure because hard figures wre hard to come by. Among those that fell into this group are top bureaucrats, factory managers and land developers.
The Communist party has given its tacit approval to the emerging middle class as a positive aspect of modernization. Some outsiders see the creation of a middle class as a key step towards creating a democracy. The Chinese middle class perhaps has been the greatest beneficiary of China’s economic boom. Francis Fukuyama, professor of international studies at Johns Hopkins, wrote in the Japanese newspaper the Daily Yomiuri, In the years since Tiananmen Square, “the Chinese middle class has been largely coopted by the regime, which allowed it to expand and get rich with extraordinary speed.”
Links in this Website: FAMILIES, MEN AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; URBAN LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DRIVING AND OWNING A CAR IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOME LIFE AND POSSESSIONS LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; EVERYDAY LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; HOMES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Book: Pianos and Politics in China by Richard Curt Kraus is about middle-class cultural taste
Members of the Middle Class in China
Shanghai suburb The Chinese middle class is comprised of businessmen, writers, doctors, lawyers, employees of foreign companies, professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and intellectuals. Many of these people openly label themselves as middle class. This is a far cry from the old days when being labeled bourgeois was one of the worst things that someone could be called.
A largest chunk of the middle class is made of government workers who continue to make comfortable salaries and receive various perks such as subsidized apartments or houses, which they pay very little for. The money they earn is either saved or spent on things like televisions, household appliances and education for their children. A car or an overseas vacation would eat a large share of their income. Some government workers supplement their income with bribes, “fees” or hurry up money.
A typical middle class couple in the mid 2000s was made up of an engineer husband and a wife that works in real estate. Together they earned $10,000 and live in a $37,000 condominium. Their wedding was at a nice hotel, including lunch for 150, cost $4,000. Their dream is to own a “really good car...within 10 years.” A middle class household in Shanghai at that time that earned $18,000 a year and lived in a three bedroom apartment, furnished with foreign brand-name furniture. They owned a Volkswagen Bora, ate out twice a week, used their air conditioner all summer and bought their 12-year-old daughter a $250 Panasonic cell phone.
A typical young, up-and-coming middle class woman in the mid 2000s worked as an editor for an entertainment weekly, earned about $1,000 a month, spent her free tine in shopping malls and trendy new restaurants and dreamed of owning a car and a house. People earning more than $32,000 a year can live in a nice suburban townhouse or home, vacation in Thailand or Europe and drive a Buick.
Middle Class Life
Changsan minivan Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “Ask a relatively affluent Beijing family with a household income of $US17,000 ($16,590) a year, a home, a car, an iPad or two and a child receiving six hours of private piano lessons whether they are members of the middle class and most will be surprised at the suggestion. The same people, however, will cheerfully talk for hours about organic food websites, the hidden costs of quality education, Ikea countertops and the first season of Sherlock, a show, like Downton Abbey and The Big Bang Theory, that they have downloaded tens of millions of times. *~* [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 6, 2013 *~*]
“Open an upper-middle-class Chinese woman's handbag (probably Louis Vuitton or Gucci) and the contents will also be instantly class-defining: a Samsung Galaxy S III loaded with the Taobao shopping app and another that provides hour-by-hour reckoning of the PM2.5 air pollution. She may already have a couple of Panasonic air purifiers at home: since the Beijing smog "airpocalypse" in January she probably has a top-of-the-range 3M pollution mask rolling around in her bag with the lippie, the eyeliner and (for some) the Hongtashan cigarettes.*~*
“But it is the bigger, less visible outlays that will be top of her and her husband's minds. Private health insurance, an upgrade to a BMW from a cheaper car, a possible second home in the countryside and, above all, expenditure on their offspring. Every day after school and at the weekend there will be hours of extra tutorials in English and maths and piano. Using a logic that is now starting to fill their home with goods, they will justify an expensive Yamaha keyboard as "educational". Many are budgeting for their children to be educated beyond degree level. *~*
“Some will go further in their planning. More and more Chinese parents are spending a week in Britain on tours of famous public schools. Many parents devote themselves to securing a foreign passport for their children, giving them an "escape route" in the event of some vaguely defined calamity befalling China. A small number have been scouting around cities in the US looking for properties to buy as birthday presents for their three-year-olds. *~*
David Pilling wrote in the Financial Times, For many middle-class city dwellers...today’s China is a fantastic adventure, a lunge into a world of previously unimagined possibilities. Even among the generation that lived through the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, this is widely regarded as the most optimistic time to be alive in China in hundreds of years. [Source: David Pilling, Financial Times, June 10, 2011]
Zheng, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who died in the 2011 Wenzhou train crash, “promised me a good life," his wife Wang Hui said. Bloomberg reported: “The couple vacationed at beach resorts on Hainan Island, off China’s southern coast, and visited Beijing to see Tiananmen Square. Two years ago, Zheng bought a black Buick luxury sedan. When a daughter arrived, they nicknamed her Tangtang, or Sweetie, and Wang became a stay-at-home mom. [Source: Bloomberg News, September 18, 2011]
Zheng and Wang exemplify China’s economic transformation. Hailing from Xuzhou in northern China, Wang moved to the southwestern coastal town of Xiamen, across the strait from Taiwan, to work on cruise ships. Zheng was her colleague. They married in 2005 and moved to Zheng’s hometown of Lianjiang and he started a foot-massage business, eventually expanding into restaurants and Internet cafes. Over those six years, per-person annual income for China’s city dwellers almost doubled to more than 19,000 yuan. "I didn’t have to worry about money," she says. Wang shows the last photo she has of her husband, taken with her iPhone in the People’s Square in Lianjiang on July 19. In it, Zheng is wearing jeans, black T-shirt and flip-flops, bending next to Tangtang, whose hair is swept off her face with barrettes. He’s pointing to Wang.
Middle Class Consumption in China
Disposable incomes and consumption rates are expected to grow by about 18 percent a year, compared with just 2 percent in the United States. A car takes up 140 percent of a Chinese buyers’ annual income, compared with 30 to 40 percent in the United States.
There is an element of show to consumption. Haagen Daz shops and Starbucks are often filled with customers but few Chinese buy pints of ice cream to take home or make coffee at home. A young woman may use a Chanel lipstick at a trendy restaurant but something else for work. Marketing expert Tom Doctoroff told U.S. News and World Report: “Brands are fueling the rise of the middle class in China. The Chinese have an aching ambition to climb up the ladder of success, and brands are the mark of people who have made it.”
Middle class status has become so fashionable that a whole series of "white collar" books and guides have sprung up that give advice on things like eating caviar, arranging candles, removing spinach trapped between one's teeth and telling a coworker he has body odor. There are also books for "pink-collars" (clerks and office workers) and golden collars (nouveau riche).
Middle class families with two busy parents are increasingly hiring maids. The demand for maids has risen as it has become easier for people in the countryside to move to the cities.
See Health Clubs, Recreation and Sports
Middle Class Kids in China
Leslie T. Chang wrote in National Geographic: “At the age of four, Zhou Jiaying was enrolled in two classes’spoken American English and English Conversation---and given the English name Bella. Her parents hoped she might go abroad for college. The next year they signed her up for acting class. When she turned eight she started piano, which taught discipline and developed the cerebrum. In the summer she went to the pool for lessons; swimming, her parents said would make her taller. Bella wanted to be a lawyer, and to be a lawyer you had to tall.” [Source: Leslie T. Chang, National Geographic, May 2008]
“By the time she was ten, Bela lived a life that was rich with possibility and as regimented as a drill sergeant’s. After school she did homework unsupervised until her parents got home. Then came dinner, bath, piano practice. Sometimes she was permitted to watch television, but only the news. On Saturdays she took a private essay class followed by Math Olympics, and on Sunday a piano lesson and a prep class for her entrance exam to a Shanghai middle school. The best moment of her week was Friday afternoon, when school let out early. Bella might take a deep breath and look around, like a man who discovers a glimpse of blue sky from the confines of the prison yard.”
In her fifth grade class “Bell ranked in the middle---12th or 13th in a class of 25, lower if she lost focus...She spoke a fair amount of English...her favorite restaurant was Pizza Hut, and she liked the spicy wings at KFC...She owned 30 erasers---stored in a cookie tin at home---that were shaped like flip-flops and hamburgers and cartoon characters...If Bella scored well on a test, her parents bought her presents; a bad grade brought a clampdown at home...Her best subject was Chinese...She did poorly in math. Extra math tutoring was a constant and would remain so until the college entrance exams.”
On her heavy workload, Bella’s parents told Chang, “We don’t want to be brutal to her. But in China, the environment doesn’t let you do anything else.” In any case Bella began o rebel and talk about how much she hated school and loved Hollywood movies and Japanese manga. Her parents viewed themselves as failures according to Chang.
Middle Class Stress in China
Leslie T. Chang wrote in National Geographic: “For China’s emerging middle class, this is an age of aspiration---but also a time of anxiety. Opportunities have multiplied but each one brings pressure to take part and not lose out, and every acquisition seems to come ready-rapped in disappointment that it isn’t something newer and better. An apartment that was renovated a few years ago looks dated; a mobile phone without a video camera and color screen is an embarrassment. Classes in colloquial English are fashionable among Shanghai schoolchildren, but everything costs money...Freedom is not always liberating for people who grew up in a stable socialist society; sometimes it feels more like a never ending struggle not to fall behind.
One study found that 45 percent of Chinese urban residents are at risk to health problems due to stress, with the highest rates among high school students. Parents are often perplexed by modern life and turn to their children for advise. Kids show their parents cool Internet sites, tell them which brands to buy and pick out the restaurant when they go out to eat. In many cases school homework is too difficult for the parents to help. One sociologist told Chang, “Fathers used to give orders, but now fathers listen to their son.”
In newspapers there are stories of high school students with eating disorders, teenage boys reading books with homosexual themes, university-age couples living together and job seekers flooding Buddhist temples because the Chinese word for “reclining Buddha,” wofo, sounds like the word “offer. Families tell stories of cleaning ladies stealing from them and friends dying in car accidents, young girls meeting strange men online, crimes in their neighborhoods and old friends disappearing because they are embarrassed about their lowly jobs or their companies going bankrupt.
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “At the height of Beijing's rainy season, flooding hit the capital in a furious, 20-hour deluge. In the midst of the mayhem, one proud car owner lingered too long and was trapped in his new Hyundai Tucson 4WD. As the waters rose around him he drowned, beating his fists hopelessly on the sturdy Korean windows. The next day, and for the five days that followed, China's middle classes scrambled to their favourite online retailers and unleashed the biggest hammer-buying spree in history. Nobody, they judged in their universal middle-class angst, should ever be trapped in a posh tractor without the tools to smash their way out. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 6, 2013 *~*]
“It is reactions like this, say analysts, that will shape China's middle class as it continues on its way to becoming the most powerful social bloc on the planet. In a country where even the most palpably middle class still do not identify themselves as such, the hammer-buying binge was as defining as any economic formula or statistician's pie-chart. It spoke of an underlying nervousness about the world, of hyper-rapid middle-class groupthink and of the emerging faith that there must be a consumption-based answer to everything. *~*
“The same families that capture their children's every move with a Canon EOS-60D will also have a cheaper digital camera in their cars to supply evidence in the event of a crash. Crashes happen a lot in a country where an entire middle class is buying its first car at more or less the same time. And with every passing day, the Chinese middle class inadvertently defines itself more clearly. It protests vociferously over proposals for chemical factories, but only at the weekends. It queues for eight days for the chance to apply for a top kindergarten. Through Sina Weibo microblogs it gripes with sophistication and erudition, tweeting a stream of complaint and mockery towards China's leadership. *~*
Chinese yuppies, known as dahu ("new money people") and to some as Chuppies, are very conspicuous in their clothes, habits and lifestyle. They include fashion designers, businessmen, nouveau riche farmers, traders, factory managers and skilled workers and are found mostly in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Describing Chinese yuppies, Henry Chu wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "They are smart, confident, optimistic. They emphasize quality of life---and are increasingly able to pay for it. They work and socialize with like-minded people, forming loose networks with fellow travelers on the road to greater personal freedom and fulfillment."
Chinese yuppies have a healthy appetite for household appliances, TVs and foreign products and are the market that many foreign companies hope to cash in on. Yuppies in Beijing drive Japanese cars, live in spacious suburban homes, dress in Chanel and Armani clothes, use cell phones, work out at the local gym, own microwave ovens and DVD players, vacation abroad, wear Prada and Gucci shoes and shop at IKEA.
Chinese, who quit their secure government jobs and strike out on their own, are known as "Xia hai" (a term that means "plunge into the sea"). Busy career women who fall in to this category often say "I have no time to be married."
Stressed Out Yuppies
To relieve the stress some young white-collar workers engage in pillow fights at local clubs and have formed nie nie zu (“pinch brigades”) that roam supermarkets shoplifting snacks, puncturing noodle packages and letting the fizz out of carbonated drinks. Workers with insomnia seek relief from Internet-recommended lullabies, binge eating or playing computers games in which they “steal vegetables” from virtual gardens.
A health survey of 20,000 Chinese white-collar workers by Microsoft web portal MSN, found that 80 percent of those surveyed had been depressed over the past six months. Six percent said they were in need of urgent help. One 30-year-old Chongqing professional told the Strait Times, “Because of the stress I face at work, I wake up earlier than a rooster and go to sleep later than a dog---making me zhu gou bu ru (“lowlier than a pig or dog”).
In July 2009, a man who worked for cell phone maker Foxconn who killed himself by jumping off a building said he suffered from overwork. He had worked the previous three months without a day off. The same month an employee with the same company committed suicide after being accused of stealing an iPhone prototype.
Brand Names and China's Middle Class
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “There is not a consumer products giant, pharmaceutical group, luxury goods company, Hollywood studio or global carmaker that does not care passionately about what China's middle class wants. At the moment, the French chain Carrefour probably has the strongest lock on Chinese middle-class supermarket shoppers. Britain's Tesco is trying to wrestle them away. The contents of their fridge, which will either be a Siemens or a high-end Haier, is of special interest. White-collar parents are obsessed with food safety but have less time than ever to cook. High-end premade dumplings will do at a pinch, but the fridge will probably contain organic milk and vegetables bought to fulfil the demands of a TV chef's "quick and simple" recipe. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 6, 2013 *~*]
Some urban Chinese have become crazy about designer labels and names. On the streets in fashionable districts in Beijing and Shanghai men wear Zegna suits and women carry Louis Vuitton bags. Burberry is a particularly valued name among the counterfeit makers. Gucci has stores in China. Armani plans 30 stores by 2006
Marketing expert Tom Doctoroff told U.S. News and World Report: “Brands are fueling the rise of the middle class in China. The Chinese have an aching ambition to climb up the ladder of success, and brands are the mark of people who have made it.”
Tommy Hilfiger opened its first store in 2002 and had 40 stores in 23 Chinese cites in 2005. Business for Adidas doubled in 2004 and almost doubled again in 2005. One university students told U.S. News and World Report he was given $62 a month for expenses school and ate nothing but instant noodles all month and used the left money to buy Nike basketball shoes.
Many buyers are chuppies and people in their 20s and 30s that live at home and have large disposable incomes. Western companies are trying very hard to establish brand loyalty at a time when many Chinese are just developing their sense of taste. A 32-year-old Chinese woman told U.S. News and World Report, “In the U.S. kids know what they like. But in China, no one in the past thought that way---what do I prefer? What do I like to do? I am just starting to figure that out now.”
See Luxury Goods, Economics
China’s Middle Class and Housing
There has been a surge of home ownership in China. Home ownership remained somewhat of a novelty but increased in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2000, 25 percent of the families in Shanghai owned their homes. In Guangzhou and Shenzen the figure is near 50 percent. By 2007, 80 percent of urban homes in China were owned by individuals.
Clifford Coonan wrote in the Irish Times, “Bian Xiaosong, who is 33, and Zhao Xiaohui, who is 32, both work for local firms and have a family income of about €1,400 a month, which is a pretty good salary in China. In 2008 they bought an apartment in Beijing for about €120,000, paying 20 percent down. They pay about half their income every month on their 20-year mortgage. [Source: Clifford Coonan Irish Times, January 22, 2011 <>]
“Sure, we feel pressure that we can hardly save our money to do other things, and we need to think carefully before we decide to have a baby. But we had no choice: we have to buy an apartment to live in, and the price has doubled now anyway,” says Bian. “Really, we don’t care so much about whether the price was rising up or going down, since we bought it to live in, not to invest in, unless the price fell so much that it cost less than we bought it for. All my friends bought apartments like we did; it’s our main expense,” he says. “We believe the government won’t let the real-estate market collapse, especially here in Beijing, the capital. If the real-estate market collapses, the whole economy will go down.” Some people save and save and just when they think they have enough for a down payment and are ready to buy a flat, the prices surge. <>
Thames Town and American Middle Class Suburbs in China
Thames Town Western-style suburban developments outside Beijing have names like Napa Valley, Soho, Central Park, Palm Springs, and Vancouver Forest. Condominium developments in Shenyang have names like Up East Side Manhattan. Some middle class apartments are outfit with solar panels.
Some of the developments in the suburbs of Beijing, such as Beijing Riviera, are almost exact replicas of American suburbs. Mothers watch Oprah on cable television, children drink Slurpees and play in large backyards, fathers barbecue hamburgers. The streets have names live Maple Avenue and Park Lane, with no Chinese translation. There are swimming pools and putting greens.
Orange County is a development about an hour outside of Beijing financed with Chinese money and designed by American architects. It features tidy cookie-cutter homes with neat lawns, Tudor facades, backyard barbecues and $500,000 price tags. In accordance with feng shui the houses are oriented towards the south with mountains to the north. As is teh custom in China the cooking is often done in a separate shack outside the main house.
Shanghai is building nine satellite towns, each designed to mimic the architecture and culture of a different foreign country: Scandinavia town has Nobel Science and Technology Park. Canada Maple town has palm trees and a bridge with Roman columns.
Thames Town, a suburb 70 kilometers away from Shanghai downtown, contains a Gothic-look-alike church, cobblestone streets, a statue of Churchill, Georgian, Victorian and Tudor architectures the Cob Gate Fish & Chips and a piazza with guards in red uniforms.The town has become a tourist attraction with visitors thronging to have a look at the Western-style architectures and for scouting interesting corners for photography. The community is so admired brides and grooms come there in large numbers to have their wedding pictures taken. [Source: Xu Shenglan, Global Times, June 9, 2009]
Shanghai’s One City Nine-Satellite Towns program aims to relieve population pressure and break the mold of dull rural development. The one-square kilometer town has been developed into a community township incorporating a school with sporting facilities, kindergarten, club, theater, hospital and hotel. Various cultural and arts festivals, exhibitions are frequently held here. Many of the residents are foreigners who make jokes about their artificial environment but say they have chosen it because they want a safe and pleasant environment for their kids. Others are Chinese anxious to experience the American dream.
In a middle class development near Nanjing called Stratford, a polluted river was buried underground in giant pipe while a new ornamental river, really a lake, has been built above it. Other foreign-style developments include the Balinese retreats and Italian villas in Nanjing, the Venice and Zurich in Hangzhou
TV Drama 'Mad Men' Popular with Young Chinese Professionals
The 1960s-driven TV drama 'Mad Men', with its suave Manhattan ad man Don Draper, is popular with young Chinese professionals. Julie Makinen wrote in Los Angeles Times, “It’s not exactly 1960s nostalgia that's driving young, urbane Chinese professionals like Ken Ji, a 28-year-old from Shanghai, onto the Internet to spend hours with Don Draper, or Tang Deleibo, as he's known in Mandarin. Yet hundreds of thousands of viewers like Ji have turned the Madison Avenue period drama — which explores issues of suburban ennui and changing social mores around sexism, racism, individuality and homosexuality in the time of JFK and LBJ — into an improbable Chinese niche hit. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2012 |::|]
“While Americans may see "Mad Men" as an escapist retro-cool trip to their parents' boozy, bygone, better-dressed era, Ji and many of his fellow fans view the program through a different lens. In this country — where 63 percent of workers are exposed to cigarette smoke on the job, the divorce rate is rising as fast as GDP and boardrooms remain bastions of men who banquet — the AMC show is less like a portal to a lost past and more like an oddly relatable snapshot of the present, or maybe even the desirable future. |::|
"I think it reflects reality. You can see from 'Mad Men' that U.S. was already sort of open in the 1960s. China is developing and moving toward the stage reflected in the show," said Ji, who works in the international department of the real estate Internet portal Soufun and has watched all five seasons of the series in the last two months, many downloaded to his cellphone. "You can apply the characters in the show to people around you. Don is probably my favorite, but I like Megan too." |::|
“Like "Mad Men's" characters, young white-collar workers in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are often imbued with an alluring sense of living in a nation on the rise, even as they grapple with rapid and disorienting social, cultural and economic change. Sabrina Wang, a 31-year-old senior manager in the corporate communications division of Ogilvy & Mather China, is such a fan that last year she had a "Mad Men" party at her home in Beijing and encouraged friends to come dressed like characters from the show. Wang is particularly enamored with budding feminist Peggy Olson and sexy queen bee Joan Harris, two complicated women who transform themselves from secretaries to positions of substantial power, and not just because they slept with men in the firm. "They're very confident. They are like women in China, struggling for their lives, trying to get jobs, compete with male professionals and show their talent," said Wang, whose office also threw a "Mad Men" soiree last year. |::|
“Part of the resonance of "Mad Men" in China may be that just like America in the early 1960s, there's a widely shared sense that the country is on an upward trajectory. Though there may be warning signs of choppier waters ahead, no one can fathom exactly how it will all turn out. And like in the U.S. of the '60s, the consumer culture here is growing rapaciously, and advertising is evolving from simple, direct messaging to a more creative, glamorous business of sophisticated campaigns. But while the often unprincipled principals of "Mad Men" had to contend with a new medium called television, China's ad men — and women — are now dealing with the Internet and mobile phones.” |::|
California in China
Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Thousands of Beijingers wake up every day in Yosemite. Hordes more have moved to Palm Springs, not to mention Orange County and Silver Lake. They shop at UCLA and go to Hollywood for a bite to eat. All without leaving the Chinese capital. When I first moved to China about a year ago, I fretted a tad about missing the Golden State and living in a country where everything had unfamiliar names. Instead, I've found it hard to escape California's good vibrations: There seems to be a little slice of home — or at least some weird or wacky reference to it — almost everywhere you turn. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2015 >>>]
“In Hong Kong, you can buy a villa in the Beverly Hills, a gated community whose amenities — a go-cart race track, indoor ski slope and pet hotel — appear aimed at those with 90210-type tastes and wallets. A new 27-story building in the territory's Lan Kwai Fong district, packed with restaurants and bars, is called the California Tower. Chongqing has a California Inn, and you can check into a Hotel California of one stripe or another in cities across the country (and hopefully, at some point, leave). Parents in Sichuan send tots to the California Sunshine kindergarten, while Hangzhou shoppers can engage in retail therapy at the California Sunshine mall. >>>
“Orange County — an hour's drive north of downtown Beijing — is a housing development designed by, yes, a Newport Beach architect and built with imported American tiles and fixtures. But authenticity is hardly a prerequisite for allusion: Beijing's Silver Lake is a gated community with large, boxy houses and no hipsters, architectural pearls or reservoir. The capital's Yosemite subdivision, meanwhile, boasts a boulder out front that resembles Half Dome if you squint, but the homes are McMansion-style, not mini-Ahwahnees. >>>
“Sure, Beijing also boasts Manhattan-minded apartment complexes: Central Park, Central Park Plaza, Soho and Park Avenue. Paris is also a popular locale to name-check. But California does stick out for the sheer multitude of shops, hotels, housing complexes and other businesses that take its inspiration from the state. A search of records at the Trademark Office of China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce found 271 companies — from clothing makers to lighting manufacturers — that have registered the word "California" as part of their name, compared with 63 that use "New York." Countless other businesses never bother to register trademarks.
Why California is So Appealing in China
"California has a strong impression among Chinese for its sunshine, beach, and relaxed lifestyle, which highlights happiness, enjoyment and indulgence," Feifei Xu, strategy director of Labbrand, a Shanghai-based branding consultancy, told the Los Angeles Times. "The perception of California as a mythical place is really strong in the minds of Chinese compared to other places in the U.S.," said Michael Tsai, a restauranteur, citing L.A.'s weather, proximity to China, prestigious universities and large population of Chinese exchange students. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2015 >>>]
Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Xu, the branding expert, noted that songs such as the Eagles' "Hotel California" and the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" (included on the soundtrack for Wong Kar-wai's 1994 cult classic film, "Chungking Express") have exerted a powerful influence on younger Chinese. They trigger, she said, "feelings of escape, exile and … a dreaming land." The Chinese tourists, students and investors who have gone to California in waves in recent years have returned home with visions that echo in myriad and unpredictable ways.
“Even UCLA has seen fit to capitalize on the L.A.-as-lifestyle ethos in China. Head to a mall and you might stumble upon a store called UCLA that resembles the Gap and peddles khakis and polo shirts. It's not a rip-off. The university actually licenses its name to a Chinese partner, which has more than two dozen outlets across the country. >>>
“Cynthia Holmes, director of UCLA Trademarks & Licensing, explained that in markets such as China, "UCLA" signifies not just the university but also a whole host of positive attributes that makes the name work as an "aspirational" fashion brand with products far beyond Bruin T-shirts and caps. Ford gets ready to export Mustang to China, Europe Ford gets ready to export Mustang to China, Europe. "The Southern California location, the image that there's always sunshine, the adjacency to the Hollywood scene, Disneyland … 'UCLA' includes some of that imagery," Holmes said.” >>>
Chinese Government and the Chinese Middle Class
Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “None of this has passed unnoticed by the leadership. Years of economic boom have given China a middle class that is quietly establishing a hefty political, social and economic importance. So it should: membership is estimated at about 250 million people, making China's middle class bigger than all the other regional ones put together. Its desires, fears and furies are beginning to be felt in China and beyond. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, March 6, 2013 *~*]
“For the parents of infants, few issues have so clearly marked the middle classes as powdered milk. Low-income earners must risk Chinese brands; the middle classes buy Cow & Gate, Hipp or Karicare, often smuggled in from Hong Kong. Last week Hong Kong criminalised people returning to China with more than two tubs of milk formula. Since Saturday there have been more than 40 arrests. *~*
“In Beijing and in the senior ranks of the party the question of how to keep the middle class happy has even greater resonance. The party's success depends not just on expanding the middle class, but on ensuring it fuels consumption for decades to come. "There are some standards we meet and others we don't," said a mother grudgingly prepared to admit that her family qualifies as middle class. "It is a class that wants stability above everything, that would sell a kidney if it meant a better education for our daughter, and where I spend every day knowing I haven't saved enough for retirement." *~*
Has the Chinese Government Bought Off the Middle Class?
On the belief that China’s regime has bought off the middle class, Minxin Pei wrote in the Washington Post: Hardly. Three decades of double-digit economic growth has elevated about 250 to 300 million Chinese---mainly urban residents---to middle-class status. Since the regime crushed the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989, the middle class has been busy pursuing wealth, not demanding political freedoms. But this does not mean this group has thrown its support behind the ruling party. There is a world of difference between political apathy and enduring loyalty. [Source: Minxin Pei, Washington Post, January 26, 2011;Minxin Pei, director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, is the author of “China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy.”]
At most, the Chinese middle class tolerates the status quo because it is a vast improvement over the totalitarian rule of the past---and because there is no practical or immediate alternative. But as the Arab Spring shows, a single event or a misstep by authoritarian rulers can transform apathetic middle-class citizens into radical revolutionaries.
That can happen even without a precipitating economic crisis. Today, China’s middle class is becoming more dissatisfied with inequality, corruption, unaffordable housing, pollution and poor services. In Shanghai a few years ago, thousands of middle-class citizens staged a “collective walk” and stopped a planned train extension, a project that threatened their home values. A similar demonstration last year in Dalian resulted in the shutdown of a polluting petrochemical plant. The party knows it cannot bank on middle-class support. Such insecurity lies behind its continuing harshness toward political dissent.
Chinese Middle Class Flee the Cities
Reporting from Dali, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, A typical morning for Lin Liya, a native of Shanghai transplanted to this ancient town in southwest China, goes like this: See her 3-year-old son off to school near the mountains; go for a half-hour run on the shores of Erhai Lake; and browse the local market for fresh vegetables and meat. She finished her run one morning beneath cloudless blue skies and sat down with a visitor from Beijing in the lakeside boutique hotel started by her and her husband. “I think luxury is sunshine, good air and good water,” she said. “But in the big city, you can’t get those things.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 22, 2013 \*\]
“The town of Dali in Yunnan Province, nestled between a wall of 13,000-foot mountains and one of China’s largest freshwater lakes, is a popular destination. Increasingly, the indigenous ethnic Bai people of the area are leasing their village homes to ethnic Han, the dominant group in China, who turn up with suitcases and backpacks. They come with one-way tickets from places like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, all of which have roaring economies but also populations of 15 million people or more. On Internet forums, the new arrivals to Dali discuss how to rent a house, where to shop, how to make a living and what schools are best for their children. Their presence is everywhere in the cobblestone streets of the old town. They run cafes, hotels and bookstores, and the younger ones sit on the streets selling trinkets from blankets. \*\
“One magnet is the village of Shuanglang, which became a draw after the famous Yunnan natives Yang Liping, a dancer, and Zhao Qing, an artist, built homes there. As at other lakeside villages, the immigrants, some with immense wealth, live near fishermen and farmers. “All kinds of people come here with different dreams,” said Ye Yongqing, 55, an ethnic Bai artist from the region who has lived mostly in cities, including London, but bought a home here five years ago. “Some people imagine this place as Greece or Italy or Bali.” “Dali is one of the few places in China that still has a close tie to the earth,” he added, sitting in front of a table of squashes in his garden courtyard. “A lot of villages in China have become empty shells. Dali is a survivor of this phenomenon.” \*\
“Ms. Lin said she first fell in love with Dali when she came as a backpacker in 2006. She returned twice before moving here. In 2010, on the third visit, she and her husband, whom she had met trekking in Yunnan, looked for land to lease to build a hotel on Erhai Lake. It has not all been easy going, Ms. Lin said, citing negotiations and misunderstandings with local officials, villagers and employees. “We just wanted to switch to a different life,” said Ms. Lin, who had lived in Shanghai as well as Guangzhou. “My friends in Shanghai are struggling there — not only in their work, but also just to live. The prices are too high, even higher than in Europe. They become crazy, go mad.” \*\
“Ms. Lin moved here less than two years after giving birth to a son. “It’s good for the baby because it’s like my mother’s childhood,” she said. “My mother’s childhood in Shanghai — the air was still clean, you could see blue skies, there was clean water.” That is a common refrain among parents here. One afternoon, four mothers, all urban refugees, sat outside a bookstore cafe, Song’s Nest, practicing English with one another. “The one thing we all have in common is we moved here to raise our children in a good environment,” one woman said. \*\
“The bookshop’s owner, Song Yan, moved here this year and translates books by an Indian philosopher popular with Chinese spiritual seekers. One night, she and another translator and urban refugee, Zheng Yuantao, 33, talked over dinner about their moves. “I’ve never felt so free in my life,” Mr. Zheng said. “I grew up as a city boy, and I never realized how much I like living close to nature.” \*\
“From the nearby lakeside village of Caicun, Huang Xiaoling, a photographer, flies back to Beijing to shoot portraits and events for clients. She had once lived in a courtyard home in the Chinese capital, but fled in September with her 3-year-old son and husband, an American who works remotely as a technology director for a New York publishing company. “I’m still productive even though I don’t go into an office,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s the weather and the environment, or just me feeling that, ‘Oh, I got out of the cave that I wanted to escape.’ ” \*\
Chinese Professionals Leaving in Record Numbers
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times, China “is losing skilled professionals like Ms. Chen in record numbers. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 508,000 Chinese left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development . That is a 45 percent increase over 2000. Individual countries report the trend continuing. In 2011, the United States received 87,000 permanent residents from China, up from 70,000 the year before. Chinese immigrants are driving real estate booms in places as varied as Midtown Manhattan, where some enterprising agents are learning Mandarin, to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which offers a route to a European Union passport. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, October 31, 2012 \+/]
“Most migrants seem to see a foreign passport as insurance against the worst-case scenario rather than as a complete abandonment of China. A manager based in Shanghai at an engineering company, who asked not to be named, said he invested earlier this year in a New York City real estate project in hopes of eventually securing a green card. A sharp-tongued blogger on current events as well, he said he has been visited by local public security officials, hastening his desire for a United States passport. “A green card is a feeling of safety,” the manager said. “The system here isn’t stable and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I want to see how things turn out here over the next few years.” \+/
“Emigration today is different from in past decades. In the 1980s, students began going abroad, many of them staying when Western countries offered them residency after the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. In the 1990s, poor Chinese migrants captured international attention by paying “snakeheads” to take them to the West, sometimes on cargo ships like the Golden Venture that ran aground off New York City in 1993. Now, years of prosperity mean that millions of people have the means to emigrate legally, either through investment programs or by sending an offspring abroad to study in hopes of securing a long-term foothold.” \+/
“Perhaps signaling that the government is concerned, the topic has been extensively debated in the official media. Fang Zhulan, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, wrote in the semiofficial magazine People’s Forum that many people were “voting with their feet,” calling the exodus “a negative comment by entrepreneurs upon the protection and realization of their rights in the current system.” \+/
Why Chinese Professionals Leaving in Record Numbers
Ian Johnson wrote in the New York Times, “At 30, Chen Kuo had what many Chinese dream of: her own apartment and a well-paying job at a multinational corporation. But in mid-October, Ms. Chen boarded a midnight flight for Australia to begin a new life with no sure prospects. Like hundreds of thousands of Chinese who leave each year, she was driven by an overriding sense that she could do better outside China. Despite China’s tremendous economic successes in recent years, she was lured by Australia’s healthier environment, robust social services and the freedom to start a family in a country that guarantees religious freedoms. “It’s very stressful in China — sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company,” Ms. Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. “And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad. It is more free in Australia.”[Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, October 31, 2012 \+/]
“Few emigrants from China cite politics, but it underlies many of their concerns. They talk about a development-at-all-costs strategy that has ruined the environment, as well as a deteriorating social and moral fabric that makes China feel like a chillier place than when they were growing up. Over all, there is a sense that despite all the gains in recent decades, China’s political and social trajectory is still highly uncertain. “People who are middle class in China don’t feel secure for their future and especially for their children’s future,” said Cao Cong, an associate professor at the University of Nottingham who has studied Chinese migration. “They don’t think the political situation is stable.” \+/
“Political turmoil has reinforced this feeling.“There continues to be a lot of uncertainty and risk, even at the highest level,” said Liang Zai, a migration expert at the University at Albany. “People wonder what’s going to happen two, three years down the road.” Wang Ruijin, a secretary at a Beijing media company, said she and her husband were pushing their 23-year-old daughter to apply for graduate school in New Zealand, hoping she can stay and open the door for the family. They do not think she will get a scholarship, Ms. Wang said, so the family is borrowing money as a kind of long-term investment. “We don’t feel that China is suitable for people like us,” Ms. Wang said. “To get ahead here you have to be corrupt or have connections; we prefer a stable life.”
Image Sources: Cgstcok photos and Changsan Motors, Wiki Commons, Reuters and China Daily
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2015