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May 22, 2012

Tom Doctoroff in WSJ on China now: Increasingly international--but distinctly Chinese.

If you missed it three days ago when it appeared in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal, see author-consultant Tom Doctoroff's authoritative, insightful and often surprising snapshot of China in "What the Chinese Want". The article helps roll out the carpet for Doctoroff's new book on China, being released today. Three excerpts from the article:

China is a Confucian society, a quixotic combination of top-down patriarchy and bottom-up social mobility. Citizens are driven by an ever-present conflict between standing out and fitting in, between ambition and regimentation. In Chinese society, individuals have no identity apart from obligations to, and acknowledgment by, others. The clan and nation are the eternal pillars of identity. Western individualism—the idea of defining oneself independent of society—doesn't exist.

The speed with which China's citizens have embraced all things digital is one sign that things are in motion in the country. But e-commerce, which has changed the balance of power between retailers and consumers, didn't take off until the Chinese need for reassurance was satisfied. Even when transactions are arranged online, most purchases are completed in person, with shoppers examining the product and handing over their cash offline.

Chinese at all socioeconomic levels try to "win"—that is, climb the ladder of success—while working within the system, not against it. In Chinese consumer culture, there is a constant tension between self-protection and displaying status. This struggle explains the existence of two seemingly conflicting lines of development. On the one hand, we see stratospheric savings rates, extreme price sensitivity and aversion to credit-card interest payments. On the other, there is the Chinese fixation with luxury goods and a willingness to pay as much as 120% of one's yearly income for a car.

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Posted by JD Hull at May 22, 2012 02:20 AM

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