On December 13th, the Ipsos Think-Tank published its recent research study about global materialism patterns. For everyone following the social change in China, the results of this study were hardly surprising.
China scored the highest percentage among all countries in the question whether or not they think that their possessions represent their success and status. 71% replied that they agree that materialistic goods show their achievements. In comparison, in the US and Canada only 20% would admit that their assets represent their success. China also ranked first in the question if they feel pressured about being successful and acquiring wealth. Canada and the States are equal to the global average of 49%.
But to understand why materialistic goods have such a high status in China, it is important to consider China’s history and recent development. The Chinese population has been living under severe circumstances for decades and were not even in the position to possess luxurious goods. The political system of Communism more or less prohibited them from acquiring additional wealth. Only after the liberalization of the market by Deng Xiaoping 1979, the economic situation of the general public shifted. With his famous quote about approaching the economic development of China, he changed the mindset of the population.
“It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”
Yet, emphasizing the importance of wealth and status was not a new idea. Already in Confucianism it was every gentlemen’s goal to acquire a wealthy status position. Just it was Deng Xiaoping who actually put this inner ambition in words and made it the proverb of the transformation of China. But the early adapters of the economic development still had to suffer from the aftermath of the Mao revolution era. They might have been able to accumulate more money, but stamped from the political uncertainty of the previous decades, they rather saved the additional money then spent it on luxurious goods. For years, China has been the country with the largest saving rate among all countries. The lack of governmental support forced them to save in order to secure their life in pension. With increasing educational opportunities and the advantages that came in handy, families also started saving for their children’s education. From that follows that even the economy emerged fast and favored especially the middle class families, the still couldn’t take direct advantage of the money they acquired.
But now, the new generation – characterized by the one-child policy and a fast-increasing rich population – grows up in a more wealthy environment than their ancestors did. Parents overwhelm their children with everything they useful and useless, no matter what prize. But who can actually reproach them? The only thing they were working and saving for was their only child. They want it to grow up as the happiest child ever and in a country that suffered from poverty for hundreds of years, people will argue that luxurious goods might be the gadgets the kid needs to be satisfied.
Journalists and scholars are mangling about this topic, but a look back in history will proof that the same procedure happened after Germany rose from ashes and when the United States accelerated to the world’s number one economic power. The reason why countries like the US and Canada now score less in a survey, such as the one by Ipsos, is because the population lived in a stable and wealthy environment for years. The interest and emphasize on status symbols are shifting. It is not the car one is driving anymore, but the little cottage at a secluded, but beautiful spot one is possessing. The same shifting powers will happen within the Chinese society as soon as they reached a stable level of wealth, maybe even sooner than surveys can predict now.
Also check out The Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations
Supporting article: Sinosphere
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