Reading thread is a new series offering personal journeys through the Marco Polo Project catalogue. This piece is the sixth in a series by Francis Beechinor, from the London University School of Oriental and African Studies.
I recall an interesting chat I had with a cab driver in Beijing, almost immediately after saying hello he asked:
‘How much do you earn?’
‘Oh, right. Erm, well I’m a student so I don’t earn anything. I have a loan.’
‘How much is your loan?’
‘Well, I go to uni in London so it’s quite big.’
‘In total, with school fees, its £14,000.’
‘OK. How much do you parents earn?’
‘Huh? I dunno, I’ve never really asked.’
‘How much do they roughly earn?’
You get the picture. Although this was a distinct experience, I was frequently asked about wages in China. I’ve been told that this is to do with the Deng reforms and how people are now obsessed with money.
We’re obsessed with money too, but China may offer a more intense expression, considering the speed of economic development over the past two decades.
This week, we’ve gathered some fantastic articles on consumption and wealth-distribution in China. Have a read and if you have any similar stories to the one above, share them!
by Hong Huacao, 1st February 2014
In this piece, Hong Huacao goes back to basics. Sorry, Hong goes back to fundamentals. Fundamental Marxism, which isn’t basic.
Hong appreciates the one0party system but still sees contrast and inequality in Chinese society. 80 year olds rummaging in bins next to 20 year olds driving Lamborghinis.
For Hong, change requires keeping the single party system, but going back to more fundamental, not basic, Marxism.
by Sun Xiaoji, 5th January 2013
This piece appeals to me as it really puts consumerism in its place. In China, as well as Western countries, consumption is used to determine a person’s position in society.
Hence, the taxi driver asking me how much I earn. He was using money and how much I spend to see where I was in terms of social class. Admittedly, he wasn’t being very subtle about it.
With this in mind, as Sun says, consumption is ‘barbaric’ or at least uncivilized when it reverts back to tribal forms of relationships.
by W, 25th November 2012
China’s development has happened so fast that you don’t have to look too far back to find a time devoid of McDonalds and KFCs.
This articles deals with that nostalgia and the ‘common knowledge’ of today, in a personal voice. For instance, everyone knows about Barbie dolls, Walmart and Carrefour, don’t they?
by Zhu Xuedong, 18th October 2013
Luxury in China often accompanies corruption. Mistresses or Porsche-shaped trails of breadcrumbs usually lead to stories of collusion and fraud.
Zhu talks about how the luxury of corrupted business people or officials infuriates the Chinese public. It’s the Gucci bag in the middle of the scheming which tips people over the edge.
by Shui Shang Nan, 20th March 2012
‘67,000 Yuan (£6,700) for a bottle of wine? Yeah, I’ll buy that.’
Obviously there is excessive consumption in the West, and China might just follow our example – but I sometimes feel that luxury and poverty are on steroids in China.
Shui discusses the extent of Chinese luxury-spending, but bits of the translation are missing. Can you finish it off?