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Home  /  Inside China  /  China's Brand-Name Rush
China's Brand-Name Rush print version
China's recent history and fast development hold some explanations for the prominent position of brand name products within the local economy, as well as the issues which lead so many Chinese consumers to well recognized logos.
Famous brands (名牌 míngpái) are probably more popular in China than in anywhere else on the planet. Once the average Chinese earns enough money he or she will not wait long before purchasing brand name merchandise, while lower class Chinese hope that buying fake brands could allow them to join the consumer power which China's free-market revolution is promoting so powerfully. Within 30 years of China's reform era (改革开放 gǎigé kāifàng), the country's consumer values have been turned upside down.

On the most basic level, nowadays more people in China enjoy buying brand name merchandise, compared to the past, since new products are offered to them and aggressively advertised and because more Chinese have the money to afford them. China's middle class is growing in a tremendous pace, even faster than the growth of skyscrapers across the thin air of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou or Chongqing. More leisure time, more money to spend; adding to that the fact that many of the new middle class members remember the days when their family where living from hand to mouth quite vividly, then celebrating the new obtained prosperity is (and showing it off on the way), is a desired conduct indeed. Several economists and China anthropologists believe that the fast transformation China has experienced lately, and the painful wounds many middle aged Chinese experience concerning their struggle during the Mao years, leads them to consumerism self-compensation, a habit which involves the attraction to brand-name products.

Furthermore, while higher classes can afford purchasing luxuries, less wealthy Chinese who wish to join the capitalist race, often try to adopt superficial brand-name-cover, in the form of fake Rolex watches, fake Louis Vuitton glasses or a fake Dolce&Gabbana dress, hoping that such product could conceal their peasant background. This is particularly true in the case of immigrants in developed cities, who wish to adapt to the new environment, a process which often begins in the most visible features such as apparel, footwear and makeup. Though middle class Chinese sometimes have the ability to recognize fake products (and hence to justify the more expensive purchases they perform), consuming fake brand-products by non-wealthy immigrants is still a wide-spread habit and expresses coordination with consumer norms, even when the fake items cannot 'fool' other urban residents.

Another argument, explaining the Chinese attraction to brand names, which in my opinion is less powerful than the ones mentioned above, is the fact that many Chinese are inexperienced in consumer activities. Because of the novelty of the free market economy or new possibilities middle class Chinese come across, Chinese consumers do not rely on their own intuition when making a purchase. Wishing to avoid from making consumer 'mistakes' which could lead them to losing face, or simply ending up with a low quality product, such consumers would often go on the safe side by sticking to famous brand names. This is especially relevant in the case of new immigrants to big cities, but also when it comes to the urban middle class, which still feels way behind the western half of the globe when in terms of consumerism skills.

Brand names are a synonym for a more 'western' and 'modern' and besides wanting to own quality products, such brands increase the pace of the time machine many Chinese ride recently, leaving a dull lifestyle and arriving to a modern existence, in which there is an emphasis of one's superficial appearance and conduct. Such trends also raise questions about value deterioration and the blind worship of materialistic fashion, which are often expressed in public debates in China, though such consumer attributes are far from reaching saturation and are becoming intensified daily.

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