Today's Chinese Consumers

Today's Chinese Consumers


Its diversity leads to two attitudes: the charm of the exotic and the fear of invasion. To overcome these two attitudes, both excessive and unjustified, it is necessary to understand China but above all to free oneself for a moment of one's own certainties and prejudices, accepting that there may be a point of view and a conception of man, nature, and the cosmos different from the own.

Although the Chinese economy is growing at surprising rates, the cultural substrate has remained largely unchanged despite the influx of Western culture over the last few centuries. Chinese society is still predominantly Confucian and Chinese citizens experience a conflict every day: the ambition to emancipate themselves towards a modern and Western lifestyle and the need to remain anchored to the rules imposed by a millenary tradition.

Of course, there are several manuals in the bookstore that guide the entrepreneur towards correct behavior when he is in front of his Chinese counterpart: the rules described will help him avoid faux pas and bring the ongoing business negotiation to a successful conclusion.

They will teach, for example, to avoid the number 4, whose Chinese pronunciation evokes death, and to prefer the number 8, which in Cantonese is pronounced like the verb “to grow” and therefore recalls prosperity; that it is not recommended to stick chopsticks in food and in particular in a bowl of rice because this is done with incense sticks in urns to remember the dead; that it is better not to give watches because they remember the time left to live, etc.

All these precautions are certainly useful, especially for those businessmen who do not have time to immerse themselves in Chinese culture, but they are not enough and do not help to fully understand Chinese thought. Instead, it is important to know the history of China and read the Chinese classics, which, before any other text, reveal the thought and modus operandi of the ancient Chinese, and are still alive and current today.

The revaluation of traditional culture today derives above all from the sense of belonging to one's own tradition, from the search for cultural identity that Chinese history and literature have always handed down, dynasty after dynasty, century after century. Today the re-evaluation of Confucius and traditional culture is not only made evident by the solemn declarations of political leaders, but also by the political strategies in progress.

The reference to traditional values, such as harmony and social hierarchies, reflects the concern to keep the people cohesive and to avoid popular uprisings and rebellions; on the other hand, in foreign policy, it responds to the ambition to promote the Chinese model as an alternative model to the Western one, where individual interest has prevailed and has taken precedence over the collective good. Chinese today think they have something to teach to the whole world: the Chinese government promotes Confucianism, Chinese language, and culture through the diffusion of the Confucius Institute, a cultural center similar to the German Goethe Institute or the US Cultural Program. China has not but ceased to be Confucian, although, over the course of history, Confucianism has experienced phases of decline and harsh criticism such as, recently, during the movement of May 4, 1919, when Confucianism was labelled "a poison left by feudalism ”, or during the cultural revolution (1966–1976), when it was outlawed because it was considered reactionary.

Today, those who will go to Beijing find the capital of the Celestial Empire immersed in an unstoppable industriousness, mass consumerism, a Western lifestyle that seems to leave no room for Chinese tradition. Yet, don’t be deceived by appearances. Consumers in China aren’t becoming western, they are increasingly modern and international, but they remain distinctly Chinese