The long march of the commodity in China

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


This chapter will chart a brief history of consumerism in China, comaparing and contrasting the established key eras in China’s history. It will begin with the Dynastic era (up until 1912) which spans from the first known dynasty (the Shang dynasty 1600–1050 BCE) to the fall of the last dynasty (the Qing dynasty) in 1912. This section will explore how part of the reason dynastic China is often imagined as a nonconsumerist entity is the perceived role of Confucianism in encouraging propriety and nonmaterial aspirations. The chapter will then analyze consumerism in the Republican era (1912–1949) that followed. In particular, movements such as the national products movement that Karl Gerth’s work explores and how the distrust of the West continued to inform China’s consumption and its burgeoning consumer culture. A brief synopsis of the Mao era (1949–1976) will follow and attempt to insist on a nuanced understanding of what happened to China’s consumerist desires and behaviors during this period. The next section will tackle the Reform era (1978—present) specifically analyzing the aforementioned preexisting lineage between Confucianism and aspects of Maoism and how Deng Xiao-ping utilized this in order to substantiate the opening up policies of 1978 onward and encourage not only the creation of wealth but also, crucially, the spending of it. The final section of the chapter will address the most recent two decades of the reform period up to the present. It will note how consumerism has become a stated ambition within China’s economic plans. Specifically, it will look at how consumerism began to be promoted not only to soak up excess production, especially following the 2008–2009 financial crisis, but also to create domestic waste that could be reused
as raw materials for production. The conclusion evaluates the bumpy path to a consumer society in China and discusses the socioeconomic and
cultural reasons for the way in which the onset of consumerism has not been, and continues not to be, straightforward in China.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConsumer Culture Theory in Asia
EditorsYuko Minowa, Russell Belk
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781003111559
ISBN (Print)9780367629496
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge frontiers in the development of international business, management and marketing


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