Law in Contemporary Society
-- ChristinaYoun - 23 Mar 2008


In Chapter 5, Veblen says that “our standard of decency in expenditure, as in other ends of emulation, is set by the usage of those next above us in reputability; until in this way, especially in any community where class distinctions are somewhat vague, all canons of reputability and decency, and all standards of consumption, are traced back by insensible gradations to the usages and habits of thought of the highest social and pecuniary class – the wealthy leisure class” (p. 1/5 from wiki). This made me think of an U.S. News & World Report article I read on Chinese consumerism about a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, I could not find a link to the article, but it was about the Chinese youth changing consumerism in the country by saving all their earnings from menial jobs to purchase luxury goods. Since they live with their parents and do not have incidentals like rent or utilities, young Chinese factory workers would just save their earnings for over a year to buy a pair of designer shoes or jeans, a handbag, etc. Veblen says that each class usually strives to emulate the class directly above it, but it seems that in China, the factory workers and other low-wage workers are striving to emulate the wealthy leisure class directly. Since Veblen believes that higher class emulation is especially strong in societies where class distinctions are somewhat vague, I wonder if China’s communist roots have something to do with the new consumer phenomenon.

However, this article suggests a more concrete gradation of classes. The author points out that more than a billion Chinese citizens will not be able to afford the new luxuries that the wealthy class and a growing middle class now enjoy. This article also makes an interesting point that the wealthy Chinese do not want to be Western, but rather, they want to be emphatically Chinese in a “modern” way. But judging by the interview portion with Monica Wang, an actress who is arguably one of the pop icons of Chinese youth, the “modernization” that is prevalent in Chinese pop culture seems to be predominantly American: McDonalds? and KFC; Pepsi and Coke. The interview with Tom Doctoroff, Greater China CEO, also reveals that Western culture may have a heavy hand in shaping Chinese consumerism. While Doctoroff explains that the Chinese are adamant about their Confucian ideals, Western companies have figured out how to use those ideals to sell Western products and imbue Western ideas within those Confucian ideals. For example, the Chinese diamond ad makes a connection between a diamond ring and the red string that is thought to attach one to his/her intended by tying a red string on the woman’s ring finger. Since Veblen’s theory suggests that the Chinese wealthy leisure class shapes the standards of consumption in Chinese society and Western culture seems to heavily influence the wealthy Chinese, I wonder how much of the Chinese consumerism culture is actually shaped by Western culture despite the Chinese’s goal of modernizing without Westernizing.


Webs Webs

r3 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:47:14 - IanSullivan
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