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'Having Face'

'Having Face'

It seems that it is always the middle class in a society that ends ups a great deal of stress. In China this is no exception. Since China opened to the WTO over 30 years ago the rise of the middle class here has constantly been in the news. Millions of Chinese citizens have risen out of poverty and formed the largest middle class in the world.

But with this prosperity comes more difficulties. As salaries rise so does the price of everything a person wants to buy. Unfortunately, salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. House prices here in Shenzhen have been rising at the fastest rate in the world. If you want to rent an apartment it will cost you much of your salary. And there is no form of rent control. You might have a 1 or 2 year lease but after that expires the price can triple. Then there is the cost of basic necessities like food and clothing. These have also been rapidly increasing in price.

The middle class Chinese must find ways to cope. Most people are now borrowing heavily to make home and car purchases, which brings along added debt and large monthly payments. In turn, many people are looking for second incomes. This is why Taobao, QQ and Amazon has become so popular in China. Anyone can sell on these platforms and many are using these sites to make extra money.

This whole process mimics the growth of the Western middle class and the problems that eventually arise. However, there is an important difference in China.

In China there is something called ‘mian zi’, which means ‘having face’. This is an important part of Chinese society. It refers to a person’s prestige or status in the society. This can be obtained through what job you have, how much money you have, what type of car you drive, where you live, what personal connections you have, etc.

This sense of ‘face’ is so strong that one must prove to others that he or she is better off than someone else. When times are tough and it is more difficult to stay ahead in society some wrong decisions will be made. One wrong decision being made is that you will see famous brands being copied in China. It is considered a fast and easy way to make money and thereby ‘have face’. It takes many years and a lot of money to build a successful brand. Instead, someone can just make a cheap copy and sell it as an original. If you sell enough of these copies you can make a very good living. This can be the path to rising in the middle class while gaining the respect from others.

Everyone in the West knows that famous brands are copied in China but people must understand the underlying cause of why this is happening. We must look deeper into this issue. Just to tell people ‘it is wrong to copy’ and ‘don’t do it’ is not going to work. It is not just about making money but what that money represents in this society. Only when we have a better understanding of Chinese culture can we look for solutions to this problem.


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