Welcome to China’s “consumption downgrade” culture, a potentially worrisome development for Beijing and the world.
For years, the conversation in China was about “consumption upgrades.” As the economy took off, China’s middle class — now more than 400 million strong and still growing — decided to spend those bigger paychecks. It traded up from local brands to Nikes, from cheap phones to iPhones, from tea to $5 Starbucks lattes.
Today, China’s economy is slowing, and shopping has slowed with it. The stock market is slumping. China’s currency has lost some of its value. The trade war with President Trump has left many Chinese feeling pessimistic.
China’s consumer culture has by no means ground to a halt. But in the streets and on the Chinese internet, the talk is about cutting back in ways big and small.
Quit avocado. Ride bikes instead of taxis. Drink beer instead of cocktails — and make sure that beer isn’t craft. Order a medium-size milk tea instead of a large. Give up the gym, and take up dancing in public squares like a grandmother. Some people joke about eating meat instead of tofu, as American tariffs have made imported soybeans more expensive. Perhaps most worrisome for China’s leaders, many young Chinese are increasingly reluctant to have children.
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