Saturday, August 14, 2010

Western Influences

So there I was, in the heart of Xi'an, a Chinese city full of history and culture, home to the famous Terra-cotta warriors. The great walls of the city stretched from east to west, north to south, protecting the ancient capital. The lights of this beautiful temple in the center of the city shone in the night sky. Even with the modern advances of cars and electricity, the scene was dazzling.

But there seems to be something out of place... do you see it? Look carefully...

How about now, in a close-up of the bottom-right of the photo?

Yes, it is the ubiquitous McDonald's. Even in the heartland of Chinese history, you cannot escape the 99 cent (or should I say 6 Yuan) chicken nuggets and greasy french fries. It's actually kind of frightening how quickly this fast food chain can spread throughout a country. In major Chinese cities, you can find a McDonald's on every block. The kids can't get enough of it. The Other invaders include Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Speaking of KFC...guess where this next picture is taken?

It was on the site of the museum of the famous Terra-cotta warriors, one of China's national treasures. We had to pass this KFC to get from the parking lot to the main museum.

And guess what we also found displayed the Museum of the Terra-cotta warriors? A framed photograph of Clinton and his family visiting the warriors. Obviously the museum was very proud that such an important figure visited their exhibit.

Oh, and remember the Haagan-Dazs? These little precious scoops of ice cream cost a fortune, more than the cost of an average meal.

Why do people buy this ice cream? There is plenty of other brands in China that are much more affordable - but the reason people want it is because of the price. The high price means that this is a western luxury good, which represents somewhat of a symbol of social status.

Sadly, this seems to be a trend. Anything western, whether it be celebrities, pop music, movies, clothing brands, or food, automatically seems to be superior to their domestic counterparts. Teens listen to singers such as Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift and watch the popular TV show Gossip Girl. People want Buick cars and iPhones. Fashionable women wear Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren with their Dior sunglasses and Louis Vuitton or Coach bags (likely fake ones!). Boys run around in Nike shoes. Beautiful Caucasian models fill billboards in cities and commercials on TV. Students dream of studying abroad in Europe or the United States. Little kids whine for hamburgers or Lay's chips instead of traditional home-cooked food. Magazines and product advertisements are littered with English phrases in an attempt to look "cool."

Though it's good that China has "opened up" its economy in the past decades, I really hope that its people realize that "western" or "American" doesn't necessarily mean better. There are so many wonderful Chinese musicians, designers, beautiful models so China shouldn't have to look towards the West for talent or style. Also, Chinese food is delicious! I really hope people can realize that fast food can never compete with a good traditional meal.

It's interesting that at the same time the mainstream Chinese opinion derides the West and particularly the U.S. for being dominating and intrusive politically, the Chinese people are simply devouring all these western goods. If they are voting with their dollar (Yuan), I'm not sure what that means for the future. However, I guess it is possible to separate business and politics.

I learned in class that the Chinese do a very good job of separating the U.S. government from the American people (and their businesses). While most Chinese people have negative feelings towards the government, they believe that the American people as a whole are good. Therefore maybe it is not ironic that they have such favorable feelings towards consumer goods and such negative impressions of the government.

Anyways, I think that is enough rambling for today. What do you think about the spread of Western influence in China? Is it a benefit or is it harmful?


  1. Sorry, random and strange thoughts pop up in my head at night. But I was thinking that it might not be just the people's interest in ostentatious goods but also the businesses' interests and the government's. China has always been a major market, not just for producing and exporting but for sales as well, and marketing through people's weaknesses is common, the White models and the use of English, all slight of hand. And, on that note, business provides revenue for the government through taxes, and it encourages investment and employment - giving everyone a comfortable and simple lifestyle - letting businesses and governments work hand in hand, and it raises the approval ratings of the government. "Are you happy?" "I can buy t-shirts in a thousand different colors and foreign companies are coming overseas to sell just to me. I feel important so... yeah I'm elated!" It's the illusion of choice and self-awareness. It's the money-bug. I think a good sign of how well self-awareness works en masse is in Catholicism: Greed is a Cardinal Sin but look at how flashy and full of ceremony the Pope and Catholic services are. Not just to pick on Catholicism, having a leader makes my job easy, but it's the same in all religions. Even when preaching against it, the bug spreads pretty easily.

    As a fan of history, I'm supposed to believe that what is happening in China has happened before, and it probably has, and that the same result will occur, and it probably will, but, on a more optimistic note, usually the generation that works hard and diligently is the one that enjoys the 'good life' and hopefully the future generations will learn to not live off old glories and not to repeat old mistakes. What effort someone puts in, regardless of when and where they were born, if they try to go beyond the norm, then accomplishment and a sense of worth, happiness, should follow.

    Sorry this was so long <'^,> (Decided on a surrealist smiley face for some reason...?)

  2. I agree with you that the businesses definitely want to capture this large market. However, I'm not sure if the Chinese government really encourages this. First of all, the government has always been very wary of foreign influences. It was one of the fears when the Chinese first opened up their economy. Second, the Yuan is undervalued, which means that raises exports and lowers imports, so China has a trade surplus. We learned in class that this is very good for Chinese domestic businesses but it actually hurts the Chinese consumer since imports are so expensive. But you are right, it definitely creates investment and revenue for the government.

    Thanks for commenting! It creates good discussion.

  3. KFC and McD...well, I don't know why people like them, but come on! It's Haagen Daaz! Their ice-cream is SUPERB. For sure! ;-)

    I have to admit, I also have a bias against Chinese goods..when I see the sign "made in china", I immediately think it is lower quality. I'll have to go to China myself to check it out, but I'm just saying that I see where the Chinese people are coming from. The same thing happened in Korea, that wave of western good mania, yet at the same time resenting the country and its government. Hm...actually, I think it's still there.

  4. Definitely, I agree that some brands of ice cream are far superior to others, but still, the cost sometimes is frightening.

    I think many people have a bias towards Chinese goods. I can see this with my own relatives - they are really excited whenever we bring them presents that are made in another country. Even in the U.S., I think we scoff because everything is made in China! But we still buy them, because they are cheap. The quality may be lower, but the real reason the goods are cheap is because of the extreme low cost of labor in China.