Economists often remark on China’s high savings rate. But if incomes are growing rapidly, as they are in China, high savings do not imply low consumption. With an anthropologist’s eye and training, Yu examines how the consumption habits of young urban Chinese have changed during the past two decades and how consumption both reflects and helps define individuality in China. A century ago, the economist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to characterize the materialism of newly well-to-do Americans. Yu prefers the term “conspicuous accomplishment” for China’s young nouveaux riches, who typically work hard and want to establish their social status not only through what they wear but also through what they do. Wealthy young Chinese tend to purchase luxury goods abroad, where they can find reliably authentic wares at lower prices. Such high-end acquisitions typically take place at a much younger age in China than in the West, since many wealthy young Chinese are unmarried and have no siblings (thanks to China’s one-child policy); many still live with their frugal parents and thus have little else on which to spend their money.
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