As an expat living in China, you would probably say that life is becoming rather more comfortable here. The city where I live is not particularly glamorous, but its amenities are certainly improving with each passing day. Of course we gradually adjust to the Chinese lifestyle and even pick up some habits to call our own, but the amenities that are making life a little easier are often those inspired by the West. Issues related to Western influence in China are complex and there is a great deal of contention. Some aspects of the Western impact on modern-day China are more obvious.
Photo: Patrick Denker
1) Foreign direct investment helps the economy grow
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been pouring into China with investors attracted by investment opportunities and its growing domestic market. This has played an important role in China’s economic development and export success, with foreign-invested enterprises accounting for over half of China’s imports and exports, according to the Ministry of Commerce. China’s FDI in September 2013 rose 4.9 percent from the previous year to $8.8 billion, as released in a report by the Ministry. Investment from the United States and the European Union continues to grow with an 18 percent and 4 percent jump, respectively, over the eight-month period. U.S. direct investment totaled $2.5 billion as of August 2013 and EU levels hit $5.4 billion.
The growth in FDI not only demonstrates the international reliance on the Chinese economy but China’s need for it is shaping the way the economy develops. A Ministry of Commerce spokesperson has said that China is focused on the quality and structure of foreign investment rather than growth figures. One could see the opening of the new Free Trade Zone in Shanghai as both a way of ensuring Chinese competitiveness within the markets as well as encouraging FDI into the Chinese business environment.
2) Food and beverage scene and changing diets
Foreign firms have penetrated Chinese food markets and supermarkets have risen to become the leading food retailer in urban areas, taking the place of some traditional markets. A growing range of foreign brand names and imported products can be seen lining supermarket shelves, with specialty supermarkets popping up around the country focusing on just imported goods. Western food chains are also thriving in China, particularly fast food. More and more people are eating burgers, pizza, cakes, donuts, pastas and just about every other Western culinary invention. KFC grew to have 4,260 locations in China in just 26 years and McDonald’s is expanding in China at the rate of 10 new restaurants per week.
3) The role of international chains and malls in defining trends and fashion
In China, a mix of higher living standards and falling trust in local brands means people are looking to international brands more now than ever. The wealth and buying power of the growing middle-income group is serving as a driving force behind changes in consumer behavior and lifestyle. A study completed between 2011 and 2013 by Millward Brown interviewed consumers in 10 Chinese cities to pinpoint the top 20 foreign brands in China. According to the results, 13 of the top 20 brands were from the US, two from Germany, two from France, one from Italy, and one from the UK/Netherlands corporation Unilever. South Korea's Samsung was the only Asian brand on the list.
Quoting Tom Doctoroff’s book, What Chinese Want, “The Chinese are the most brand-friendly people in the world...They use brands as tools for success in society, as weapons of advancement in the battlefield of life”. With the rise in incomes, consumers have raised their sight to more fashionable attire. China’s ever growing middle class – HSBC forecasts that 93 million Chinese household will join the middle class by 2015 – don’t want high-end luxury brands and they don’t want cheap local brands. Currently foreign high street stores are filling the gap. Brands like Zara, Uniqlo and H&M are taking over the Chinese high street; an enormous H&M has just opened in Hohhot, because they fill the criteria that local brands currently can’t.
High school students in China anxiously await the next episode of their favorite American TV series or highly-anticipated Hollywood film. Celebrations for Western festivals such as Halloween and Christmas are becoming widely embraced in China, especially among the youth. American high school diplomas are the new must-have for the upwardly mobile. And no Chinese wedding is complete nowadays without the Western traditions of a white dress, father walking the bride down the aisle, vows in front of a digitally-projected cross, exchanging of rings, and the accompaniment of bridesmaids and groomsmen. From sports to coffee, and music to movies, Western culture is big and getting bigger in China.
Western culture began trickling into China over 30 years ago when they opened their borders to foreign trade. Western brands and ideas have exploded in the past decade hand-in-hand with the economic boom and expanding middle class. That’s not to say that Western culture is taking over Chinese culture, but rather the Chinese are grasping Western influences and making them their own.
During an interview with a skateboarder in Beijing, the young man was asked what he liked about Western culture and his response was the freedom, open-mindedness, and positive way of thought. Tom Doctoroff, in writing about China’s dangerous love for the U.S, states that the Chinese admire – and are even intoxicated by – the U.S.-style individualism and their can-do spirit. It is evident that the West has found its landing in China, let’s just hope the relationship can stay mutually beneficial in times to come.
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Keywords: influence of west on china how the west has changed china
I think the idea that China is "grasping Western influences and making them [its] own" is going to become increasingly true in the next few years. The "diaosi" phenomenon is an indication that certain sections of Chinese society are moving straight past Generations X & Y and crashing headlong into Z. Modernity giving way to postmodernity. Take "Chinese Christmas" as an example: stripped of religious connotations, Christmas in China is a urban, youth led celebration of fashionable consumption. This ironic and playful borrowing of the very "worst" parts of the tradition is exactly the kind of cross-cultural reinvention that characterises other, more historically open countries in Asia. Of course, none of this is true if you grew up in a small town in Gansu.
as for food i can say most of the chinese i know dont like the western food. its western-chinese food and has nothing to do with any western influence as they are too stupid to copy it. free toughts etc still havent reached china yet. wait another 30 years till its not a third world country anymore
I don't agree your tone on this copy food thing! To be fair, you can see many young generation has impacted with western food ie KFC, Macdonal etc.. and gain the weigh as western size. However, We are not Philipines whom copied everything from westerns and it seems stupid to do it. Could western copy Chinese food ? no you can't ! but I saw many of them like it. Ya China is not perfect when it is developping,but it gives you a chance to see how a big coungry to grow!
Already seeing ugly fat Chinese on the street. But that is not the fault of western fast food. It is caused by over consumption of food, especially carb and fat rich foods. Chinese are eating 8x as much pork as they did in early 80s. Vast amounts of oil in food. Lots of sugar, candy, snacks, and soda. Just go into any supermarket and look at the percentage of the store dedicated to jello candy, other candy, cookies, cakes,soda, instant noodles, oil. Many modern Chinese are eating more in one meal than their parents used to eat in a day. Asian girls used to be known for being skinny and the boys weedy, a big part of this was small meals.
Errrr... Fast food is not "western food" god damn it, it's a small, tiny subset of it. Calling fast food "western food" is like calling fried rice "chinese food". Fast food is seen everywhere because it's easy to produce in mass. Fast food was *conceived* to be mass produced ! So yeah, KFCs are popping like mushrooms after the autumn rain. Proper Italian food with italian ingredients (like, proper cheese, olive oil, ham, etc) ? Proper French food with french ingredients ? Proper Spanish food with spanish ingredients ? Those are still extremely rare. The places serving those are very expensive, as most of the ingredients have to imported, thus are heavily taxed. In the end, most Chinese never had anything close to actual western food in their mouth, because the places serving those are very rare and not quite affordable.
Exactly! You can buy a "Steak" at Balabala, but it's still just flash frozen ox meat beaten and smothered in pre-packaged sauce. It is no more American than the Forbidden City. But to have Chinese over at my home, they are afraid to even sample steak which hasn't been blackened the whole way through. The Chinese palate hasn't Westernized so much as just gotten less discriminating.
Well, Chinese do have conservative tastes, that's an other thing... but *all* Chinese I know who tried some genuine Italian/French/Spanish/whatever food found things to their taste and enjoyed it. Like actual Parma ham, paella, steamed fish with cream sauce, chorizo, and more.
KFC has 4,260 locations! That's nothing...The local KFC brand "Wallace" has over 14,000 locations and opened a mere 12 years ago. Of course China is becoming more Westernized, we live in a global society. I wouldn't really say that just because China has a bunch of McDonalds and KFCs that the country is more western. Look further, are there more foreigners opening up businesses to compete with locals such as restaurants and do the locals eat in those restaurants?
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