Are Chinese people materialistic?
If they are, are they more so than non-Chinese?
If so, more so than what nationalities?
What exactly makes them more materialistic than so and so?
Is it too much of something or is it not enough of another thing?
Is it because some members of Chinese society go to great lengths for material wealth? But aren’t there people like that in every country, with plenty of well-known examples?
Is it the absence of religion and spirituality, the “opiate of the masses” commonly attributed to Marx? So simply not having those things automatically makes a people materialistic, and more so than those who do have such things?
Really, what is it exactly?
I’m not saying that materialism as a bonafide concept isn’t arguably observed in modern Chinese society. I’m just not sure its a meaningful or unique observation. Frankly, anything with statistically significant pervasiveness that could be attributed to materialism in Chinese society I can see with similar statistically significant pervasiveness in many other societies.
Gold-digging women? Check.
Lying, cheating, and defrauding. Check.
Pursuit of and showing off of material possessions? Check.
Discrimination against those of a lower socio-economic strata? Check.
And so on.
Sure, its just an observation. Just because it is arguably just as applicable to other countries and people doesn’t mean we can’t criticize China and Chinese people with or for it. Hell, Chinese people themselves routinely bemoan the materialism of their own modern society and times as well.1
But, what do you do with it? I mean, what society doesn’t treat the acquisition and possession of “things” as both symbols and proxies for happiness and success?
We can argue that at least in other countries, for example, money is less emphasized when it comes to dating, relationships, and marriage. With that, we can say, “see, that’s what makes Chinese people materialistic!” But can we really?
Or is that us failing to take into account the context of the Chinese existence, of the history and persistent realities of life in China where poverty is neither that distant in the past nor that distant of a modern possibility? It’s easy to be preoccupied with money and material wealth in this backdrop. Who doesn’t want financial security? Who doesn’t seek a better life? Who doesn’t want shortcuts to either? There are few — if any — attitudes commonly associated with being materialistic amongst Chinese people that I don’t see in poor people (and nouveau riche) elsewhere.
What is Chinese materialism? What exactly defines Chinese society as a materialistic society?
- Note: The grotesque piggy thing surrounded by little piggies you see here was a piece of artwork by Chinese artist Chen Wenling. More information about both can be found here. [↩]