Generational Traditions in China

Tradition, this word means something different to everyone, but the same general traditions are upheld in a culture. To us in the UK, tradition could be the local parade, Christmas celebrations or even as close knit as family traditions that have been happening for generations. Traditions stretch across a culture, and as they are intimately linked to each other. Tradition affects culture, and as new generations pick up traditions things change. Some traditions being forgotten or changed into something different.

This blog post will look into the traditions of China, and how some of the generations celebrate tradition, change or have even stopped them all together. When deciding on what aspect of life I wanted to focus on for this report most of the generational differences would of been seen as bad, or sad. I wanted to show a nicer side to the generational differences, where tradition is upheld and still seen with respect.

Chinese new year is the first tradition that comes to mind when thinking about China,  as a child I thought it was odd as it did not happen on the same day as our own new year. The Chinese new year is never on a set date but between the 21st January and the 20th February this is due to the Chinese running on a lunar calendar rather than a fixed one like the west.

In China the tradition of new year is celebrated with the exchange of money in red envelopes, exchanging gifts with the family, firework displays and much more. This tradition has been happening in China for generations, a time to gather with the family. Generations have celebrated the new year in different ways, as each generation is raised it seems that the customs of a Chinese new year are dwindling. Not that far in the past Chinese new year was hugely celebrated, the older generations in China would still remember them to this day, grand fireworks displays, 15 days of celebration to bring in the new year. During new years lantern processions would take place in the streets, as people welcome another year. The modern Chinese new year consists of a 7 day holiday from work, of which all socializing is mainly done through the internet or use of mobile phones and even ordering in food from a restaurant instead of cooking themselves. The family still gathers though and younger people travel in from there place of work to spend this special time with family.

The Chinese new year festivity’s have changed through generational jumps, still being revered by the elderly but the younger generation not embracing all of the older customs, not enough time, having a work place to go back to. This generational gap of technology and longer working days/working away from home shortens the festivity’s and some of the older customs. Here we see things such as the lantern processions dying, cooking the day before new year is also a dying tradition, as there is more money it is easier and more relaxing to let a restaurant cater for the big day. This being said the Chinese new year is still celebrated and embraced by all generations even if the tradition is slowly getting smaller in size.

Traditional Chinese medicine is also a generational tradition, the Chinese believe in their medicine and the role it plays. To the west this could be seen as alternative  medicine but in China it is used in some of the health care delivered. As generations pass the knowledge and willingness to use traditional medicine changes, the practice is still in use and taught. A survey was carried out by the Prince of Wales hospital in Hong Kong on the attitude of 91 students who study medicine towards traditional Chinese medicine. The survey showed that 40% were positive, 59% neutral and only 1% was negative. This shows that the youth of china are picking up the tradition from the older generation, where the use of traditional medicine may be changing in china, the generational gap is a lot smaller than to be expected.

China, known for many traditions, has born 1 tradition that won the west over, took over the big screen and bought about a new era of movie hero’s.  Kung Fu has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, but as the modern era approaches China this may be a tradition that is due to die off or fade into the background. While watching a documentary for a previous report i made note of the attitude of a kung fu master and his students. The film crew focused on his top student, along with his attitude towards learning kung fu, the message was clear; he did not want to learn kung fu, he would rather go to the city, get a job and lead a rich life in the new China. The master was also interviewed about this, and he seemed sad that the art was dying out, but wishes his student a good life, as long as the master had passed on the lessons he only hoped they would be continued as such a tradition had been alive for so long. This shows a decline in the quest for knowledge, rather the yearning for a life outside of the school where a job can be gained. This is kind of sad in a way, the traditions of old masters may be dying out, people who put their  lives into the advancement of kung fu and only wish to pass on this knowledge. Who knows we may see a day that kung fu is only taught the way it is here, in weekly lessons or even just become a memory.

There is a lot to talk about on this subject of tradition, as China is rich in its cultural heritage but i hope i have portrayed some of the better sides to the generations as traditions are passed on, old customs live on in the hope that people remember where they came from and more importantly why the customs exist in the first place. Things change as time goes by, each generation will drop parts of traditions due to time or even not believing in them anymore.

Generation Gaps towards Consumer Behaviours

Whenever one is trying to talk about the consuming ability of Chinese people, the capability of Chinese expenditure should be familiarized by most of the world. If you try to go to Paris, Milan and step into any luxurious shops, it is of high chance that you can see Chinese people around you.

Due to the immature market environment, the Chinese consumer behaviors are sometimes being criticized as it shows a certain special characteristics. However, the side that we always see about this group of consumers does not represent the whole population of Chinese. Indeed, the traditional Chinese culture has formed its unique consumer characteristics, and the distinctions between different generations show big differences between these gaps.

When it comes to consumer behavior, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is always being mentioned. These hierarchies of five different levels of demand are the minimum to meet their basic physiological needs, followed by the security needs, social needs, esteem needs, and lastly self-realization.

Reflected in this hierarchy of needs theory is a universal condition, but in the actual market behavior, especially in the Chinese market, the environment is quite complex, and different phenomena under this model varies between generations. The consuming behaviors, life styles and habits between different generations show an obvious distinction.

Chinese towards expenditure are usually divided into four generations and distinct by the general level of economic development during their growth stage, which shape their primary characteristic.

  • 1st : Born on or before 1945, which have come along with the war
  • 2nd : Born between 1946 to 1965, which is the generation of baby bomb
  • 3rd : Born between 1966 to 1980, the Generation X
  • 4th : Born after 1981, includes the Post-80s and Post-90s

The 4th generation always represents the most developed consumer groups, while the 1st generation is often on behalf of the least developed consumers. These different groups of consumers are grown in different environment in specific period of times. The economic status and the development of consumer market surrounding shapes different specific behaviors of them.

The 1st generation grows in more or less a poor environment as they have experienced war in their lifetime. Basic physiological need is the core value of their consuming behavior. They tends to have a strong family values and the value of money expenditure tends to be more pence-pinching. They will usually compare prices before making a purchase and the preference goes to the cheaper product. Only necessities and essential products would be on their list of purchase. Luxurious products would not attract this group of consumers.

The 2nd generation is the generation of the baby bombers. The consumer market in China expands a lot in the growth stage of this group of people, in order to suit the dramatically expanding market of consumption. Upon the stable growth of post-war economy, there are more choices and varieties of products available in the market. Thus, this group of people tends to pay more attention to product safety and reliability from the varieties. They will conduct careful planning and research before buying any products.

The 3rd generation is what we called “Generation X”. This generation follows the powerful baby bomber generation. “X” described the lack of identity that members of Generation X felt — they didn’t know where they belonged, but knew for sure that they weren’t a part of the overbearing generation of Baby Boomers. With the shocking growth of the economic status during Baby bombers stage, the parents of Generation X would be able to provide better environment for their child. The identification problem together with the better economy has created the starts of needs for self-esteem and self-actualization. The concept of luxury products starts to grow in this stage, as different products seems to be able to provide this group of people different identity. Fashion trends and brand-name goods start to be an important concern of this group of peoples’ buying behavior.

The 4th generation is called Post-80s and Post-90s in China. Post-80s and 90s are colloquial terms which refer to the generation whose members were born after 1980 in Mainland China, after the introduction of the One-child policy. This generation currently aged below 32, making up a major portion of China’s young adult and teenager demography. In this generation, the One-Child-Policy started to launch and the effects of this policy is significant. With the fastest-ever growing of Chinese economy and the restriction of child in family, they are sometimes being referred as “Little Emperors” at home. In many Chinese families the 4-2-1 format, 4 grandparents, 2 parents, one child, takes place, resulting with a child which receives love and attention and has no siblings to compete with. The spending habits and buying behavior of this generation is very significant as their parents tends to encourage them on spending if this makes them feel happier. The concept of luxurious products is very important to this generation and they are willing to spend a lot on buying expensive products to treat themselves.

I have conducted a skype interview towards different family members of mine who live in China, including my grandma, uncle, auntie and their daughter, my cousin, to understand their consuming behavior. To make the interview easier, I have picked up an example of product: Mobile Phone, as they all have one and it’s easier to analyses their behavior.

Grandma /71 years old / Retired person/ Nokia 8310

Uncle /48 years old/ Logistic Manager/ Blackberry 8520

Auntie /39 years old/ Housewife/ iPhone 3GS

Cousin/16 years old/ Student/ iPhone 4S

Question 1: Why do you think you will need a mobile phone?

Grandma: Indeed I do not need a mobile phone, but my son is not living with me currently. They buy me a phone so that they can find me anytime even I am not at home.

Uncle: I need a mobile phone to contact my family as well as use this in working purposes.

Auntie: Obviously everyone needs a mobile phone in this generation. I need to contact my friends and family. There’s no reason for not having a mobile phone for everyone live in town in China now.

Cousin: I need the phone to contact my friends and play games. I also need it for listening music and watch movies.

Question 2: Why did you choose your current phone?

Grandma: My son wants me to have a phone but I really don’t need one. So I just take his old phone to use.

Uncle: Blackberry is good for organizing my stuffs at work. It facilitates my working process. It is very useful.

Auntie: iPhone is very trendy and popular now. The shape and the functions of it are perfect. I feel good for using iPhone that it gives me a luxurious feeling. But my phone is out of fashion now, I am going to ask your uncle to change a new iPhone4S for me soon.

Cousin: This is nonsense of asking why people use iPhone! Everyone knows that iPhone is the best. You are going to use iPhone to do everything. The best thing is that people jealous when you are holding it!

Question 3: How do you find the price of your phone?

Grandma: I don’t know the price of it, but I am sure that it must be high. My son needs to get a new phone for work so give this old one to me. However, it can still function well and I think it’s kind of waste to give it to me. I try to give it to my granddaughter but she refused to use this.

Uncle: I think it is reasonable. The price matches the functions and it eases my workload in certain extents.

Auntie: I think the price is high but It is still reasonable. The price is a bit high as compare to other phones. But as long as it is trendy people are willing to give money to them.

Cousin: The price is not expensive at all. This gives every functions that you can use and it worth more that it cost.

Question 4: Will you get a new mobile phone in the coming period?

Grandma: No. I am happy with this one.

Uncle: Not in this period until it’s not functioning. This one matches all my need of a mobile phone.

Auntie: Yes. I want to get an iPhone 4S. But maybe my daughter is going to get a new phone soon. So I may get hers if she is getting a new one.

Cousin: Probably. I heard that the new iPhone 5 is launching soon and I want to get that one. It would be the trendiest and people would envy about it. I think mobile phone should always be changing due to current trends.

I hope the results would give you more clues on the difference between generations in consumer behaviors. These gaps in a single family actually represent majority of these groups in China. And I believe this is worth to understand.

One Child Policy in China- Past, Present and Future

“Even if China’s population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production. Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.”

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, made this statement in 1949 soon after the People’s Republic of China was formed. During this time, China experienced a massive increase in population, which at the time was considered a positive direction for China to go in. The mentality of people during this time was that population growth meant economic growth. After centuries of generations suffering from political unrest and epidemics, high population rates were not considered damaging to the Chinese people. This generation wanted to create new lives in a positive time in Chinese history.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the government introduced a birth control campaign that supported abortion in an effort to control the population growth. After a series of natural disasters and poor government planning a reported 20-30 million people in China starved to death between 1958 and 1961. The need to regulate the population started to become a serious issue.

It was in 1978 that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping established the one child policy that limited the number of children people could have to only one. If a family did not comply with this law and produced a second child, there would be substantial fines. At a 2007 press conferences with Chinese officials, Zhang Weiqing was eager to exemplify the success of the one child policy, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” This policy has created an enormous debate on whether it is hindering the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. Zhang Hui, mother of one little girl, believes that one child is enough and she would want one no matter the government regulations and fines. “I’m too busy at work to have any more,” stated Beijing native Zhao Hui. She also went on to say she is not alone in thinking this way. Many of her friends feel the same. A 2008 Pew Research poll three-in-four Chinese people (76%) approve of the policy. Professor Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, confessed that because of the one child policy the Chinese citizen’s attitudes have evolved since the policy was instated in 1978.  “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” said Wang. Over the years, the Chinese people have adapted to the childbearing regulations. For past generations, when it was typical to have many children in family, this policy would have seemed unrealistic.

For many in China there has been an acceptance of the one child policy but in some cases people are against it. Mother of two, Liu Shuling, escaped the traumas of a forced abortion when she decided to pay fines, amounting to four times her annual income, in order to have a second child. Liu Shuling and her husband were pleased to have a second son even if it was at the risk of loosing all financial stability. Liu Shuling’s husband admitted in an interview that a son was really what they wanted in order to help them when they reached an older age. Liu Shuling added, “To have a girl doesn’t work.”

Liu Shuling

Because of the one child policy, sex discrimination has become a huge repercussion. Most people prefer sons to daughters and will go to drastic lengths to have their one and only child be a boy. Abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide have become consequence of the one child policy. Everyday in China, 20,000 babies are born, but for every 100 girls there are 120 boys. The future generation of China will have to deal with the vast number of single men unable to find brides. There is also a fear that with such a high number of single men in China’s future society, there will a drastic increase in crime and violence. Jo Ming, a school principal with a belief that there needs to be a cultural balance between men and women, states in reference to the one child policy, “Once born, we are all equal, and we are all human beings. We need to respect each other. I think, even though some older people don’t agree, it should be eliminated.” The mentality that females are not as preferable as males is not a new attitude in China but only one that has worsened with the one child policy.

The one child policy was created to regulate the population and avoid poverty; however, there are still 600 million people living in China who earn less then $2 a day. Multiple generations will feel the effects of the policy. Because of the one child regulations, generational dynamics within a family have altered. In past generations, the parents were able to rely on their children in old age. For the present and future, a single child must take care of his or her parents and four grandparents. The one child policy has effected generations differently but all people in China are interconnected. A solution made during one generation seems to inevitably make way for an entirely new problem for the next generation. The one child policy was meant be a temporary solution and only last a generation. In 2010, after 30 years of the policy being enacted, the government shows no sign of stopping the regulations.

More Chins than a Chinese Phonebook

It’s an old joke, but for the Chinese it is no laughing matter.  In the past 30 years not only has there been an explosion in the Chinese economy, there has been an explosion in the ever-increasing size of the collective Chinese waistline.  There are now more overweight or obese people in China than ever before.  British economist Paul French and author of “Fat China” explains;  “In the last 30 years they’ve gone from famine to feast in just two generations”.  There are now around 200 million people in china that can be classified as being overweight.  Around half of those are regarded as being obese.

It is not simply the vast number of overweight or obese people in China that is concerning, it is the speed at which the problem has developed.  Obesity and the resulting health problems are now becoming more common in children.  The Chinese government now faces the real possibility of a major health crisis in the coming years if this issue is not tackled.  It is hard to believe that in the 1960’s, China had one of the worst famines in its history.  Between 1959 and 1961, millions of Chinese died through starvation.  This disaster has been attributed to a combination of drought, poor weather conditions and political policy at the time.  The exact number of those who died has been debated over the years with conservative estimates at around 15 million while others believe the figure to be as high as 43 million.  The truth is that it is now impossible to calculate.  Even death in China is on an incredible scale.

What are the reasons for this increasing obesity problem and how have the attitudes towards food changed through the generations to arrive at this point?  Like any major social and health problem, there is no single reason, but rather a combination of factors.

Social Divide and Employment

Despite the economic boom, many people in China still find it hard to make a living and feeding and clothing themselves is a daily struggle.  For many in the big cities however, this is not such a problem.  There is a huge financial divide between people in the cities and people in rural farming communities.

China was once an extremely lean society.   Even since the mid 1970’s the vast majority of people still scraped a living off the land, working long, backbreaking hours to barely be able to feed themselves.  Since the country began to allow free trade there has been a huge shift in employment opportunities.

The numbers of Chinese people working in agriculture has decreased since 1950 and there has been a sharp decline since 1970, with more people working in Manufacturing and Services.  This has been due to the changing ideology of the Chinese hierarchy and the reconstruction of the country.  More people are now working in factories, construction sites and offices in the cities.  This shift from agricultural work has meant higher wages and on average less physically demanding jobs.  That’s not to say that the Chinese don’t work long and physically demanding hours however.  Many people travel many hundreds of miles to find work and send much of their earnings back home for their families.  On average the standard of living has improved sharply though the generations and people now enjoy the benefits of a better economy and the perks that come with it.  The perks are higher earnings allowing people to eat whatever, whenever they want.  A developing middle class in China has meant that many people have a much more disposable income than ever before.

The emergence of this middle class has meant more people spend much more on commodities and luxuries than they could hope to dream of 30 years ago.  People in China can now shop, where and when they want.  There is no real surprise that a more westernised outlook to business and free trade has brought a more westernised style of living.  Mass produced food products and the emergence of supermarkets and a 24 hour lifestyle has meant the Chinese diet is of a much poorer standard than previous generations.

Fast Food

The arrival of the Americanised fast food industry in China certainly hasn’t helped.  McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell are now commonplace throughout the big cities in China.  The Chinese knack for copying has meant that replicas of these types of fast food restaurants are appearing all the time.  There is now a copy of Starbucks called Bucksstar, a rip off version of Pizza Hut called Pizza Huh and a knockoff McDonald’s called McDnoald’s?  Although none of these can rival KFC, which is the most popular fast food restaurant in China.

Higher income has meant bigger portions too.  Bigger portions and less physical exercise will inevitably lead too a bigger waistline.  China is well on track to emulate the Americans in this respect.  Children and young adults are the ones most likely to frequent these fast food establishments shunning more traditional foods for the quick, sugar rich alternatives.  Sweets, which were typically an uncommon treat, only a generation ago, are now a common daily snack among young people.

The One Child Policy

Interestingly one of the more bizarre reasons attributed to the rise of obesity has been the Chinese “one child policy”.

Many have argued that this results in parents overindulging their children.  Parents with comfortable incomes will lavish their children with snacks and big portions.  This may not be the case if there were more mouths to feed.  It is the younger generations that are suffering the most with a large increase of diabetes in children across China.

Parallels

It seems that many of the reasons for the increase of obesity in China are very familiar to us.  There are many parallels with us in that respect.  Too many calories consumed and not enough burned off is the simple explanation.  However the psychology of over-eating is the difficult part to explain.  It seems that the Chinese problem is in that in trying to emulate the success that the west, they forgot to drop the parts that have been our undoing.  The younger generations in China are eating more, doing less exercise and as a result are getting unhealthier.  People have higher wages and an improved lifestyle, so they eat more and more often.  The introduction of Americanised fast food restaurants and their Chinese copycats has meant more choice but at a price.  China only has to look at the West to see where this current path will lead.  To their credit, China has invested Billions of Dollars into a new national health service, but they risk jeopardising that investment with the burden of an overweight population if they cannot halt what has already been set in motion.

Nature Conservation

Traditionally, Chinese arts have had a massive influence from nature. Many artifacts from ancient china depict both real and mythical creatures and they tell of magical powers that the creatures possess. In fact a lot of aspects of Chinese living stems from nature. Chinese legend speaks of men wandering into the mountains seeking immortality and purifying their spirit.  But with china developing at such a rapid rate and industry taking over the land, natural habitats are quickly disappearing. Many animals in china are now becoming endangered, hunted for their great value. Pollution is effecting air quality and poisoning waterways. With China becoming so industrialized conservation seems to be getting brushed aside. Like most aspects of life there are people that are keen on conservation and others that care more about economic growth. This variation of opinion can be seen across many different generations.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses nature in its remedies. In Chinese medicine, bones command a very handsome price as a kidney enhancer and remedy for arthritis. Endangered animals such as the snow leopard are hunted for this reason. There is a large lucrative market in china for endangered animals. This causes a negative and often destructive attitude towards conservation. Hunting is quite common and threatens a number of species in china. But the threat doesn’t come just from the demand for medicine. Primarily animals are seen in China as things to eat. There is a wide range and variation of meats eaten in China. Some of witch would have people’s stomachs turning in the west.

There are groups in China that are trying to stop poaching and conserve natural habitats. These conservation groups are built up of people of all ages. However it is more common for people from “Boomers” (approximate ages 40-60) and “Post-Career” (60+) generations to make up the majority of the group. This could be because they know more and care more about the environment. It could also be that older generations were brought up in a time were the power to control all industry was in the hands of the government. Most people had very little money and industry was producing virtually no consumer goods. The environmental benefits of this kind of anti-consumerism are obvious. This meant that there was never a major concern about conservation in China. Younger generations are growing up in a time were economic growth is everything and this is were the biggest threat to China’s Eco-system comes from, industry. China has become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet. With goods being shipped across the world and with Chinese consumers (who can afford it) wanting bigger cars, bigger houses, the latest electrical goods, with seemingly no conscious of the environmental impact it brings.

There seems to be a strong opinion that most businesses in china don’t care about the environment. This could be due to the constant pressure to increase production, making environmental concerns unaffordable. With China’s economy developing at such a rapid rate businesses claim not to have the necessary means to deal with pollution, nor do they have the regulatory agencies to watch over it. The government in Beijing no longer has the will nor the power to force businesses to deal with these problems. As a result, much of China is beyond environmental salvation. The Yangtze River is a great example of what effect the industrial boom in China is having to natural habitats. There is thought to be at least three species in the Yangtze that are critically endangered. In 2006 the Baiji, (Chinese river Dolphin) “Goddess of the Yangtze” was declared functionally extinct. However there have been unofficial sightings since. This devastation of aquatic species has come about with commercial use of the river coupled with tourism and pollution.

There are some cases however were businesses in China are being “green”. The company “Broad Air-conditioning” has made environmental protection one of there top priorities and China is in fact a world leader in solar power. Seven of the top ten leading solar company’s in the world are Chinese. China is also the largest producer of wind energy producing a new wind turbine every hour. But to get to this level China has had to burn a lot of coal and produce a lot of pollution. The Chinese government is aiming to be the first “Green super power”. Experts predict that China’s emissions will double before they start to decline. Many natural habitats are being taken over by new large-scale factories and workers accommodation. China is growing and its city’s are expanding making natural habitats vanish.

It is key then that China looks to its young entrepreneurs to change the way that China’s economy is growing to an eco-friendly approach. It seems however that the number one goal is to get rich first and then approach the problem of conservation. Some have called this the “me generation” aspiring to have the latest goods and top brands “Looking out for number one”. The president for China’s Energy conservation, Mr. Yang Xincheng is 67 and The other Key Executives for China Energy Conservation are also all from the time were Chinese industry was at a kind of underdeveloped “half-throttle” stage were very few consumer goods were produced for Chinese people. The government has set up some environmental protection commissions. There are also more and more articles in newspapers in China and across the world, discussing what must be done to save China’s ecology. There are also some animal sanctuaries set up to help endangered species. But it still seems that China’s natural habitats are declining at an alarming rate.

China is stuck with a dilemma between production and environmental protection. Like with almost all aspects of life there is a large variation of opinions. The main opinion though suggests that there are more important things to worry about than “being green”. Things like continuing the economic growth and becoming world-leading innovators. Whether China can reach these goals wile still having concerns about the environment remains to be seen.