In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Consumer Society

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Statistics and Other Resources
  • Historical Perspectives
  • Advertising and Consumerism
  • Marketing
  • The New Rich
  • Consumer Cohorts
  • “One-Child” Generation
  • E-consumers
  • Consumer Perceptions
  • Gender Identity
  • Green Consumption
  • Consumer Protection and Credit Risks
  • Modeling Consumer Behavior
  • Comparative Studies

Chinese Studies Consumer Society
Yanrui Wu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0050


Since the economic reforms beginning in 1978 and the “open door” policy that followed, consumer society in China has attracted the attention of academia. Before that, under Maoist socialism, consumerism was ideologically regarded as bourgeois and was generally suppressed. Individuals’ preferences gave way to the state providing subsistence living standards (food rationing, free housing, and so on). Since 1978, under the slogan of “getting rich is glorious,” tens of millions of Chinese households have become affluent. Chinese consumers now wish to satisfy their individual wants and have the means to do so. In addition, with expanded international trade, communications, and tourism, Chinese consumers are well informed and have access not only to local products but also to well-known international brands. As a result, household consumption is booming and consumerism has become fashionable. Within a short period of time a consumer society emerged in the world’s most populous nation, in what is generally regarded as a consumer revolution in China. With the Chinese economy now the second largest in the world, and anticipated to overtake the United States in the near future, China’s consumer society is reshaping the country and has a global influence.

General Overviews

The general concepts and main debates about the consumer society are covered in Baudrillard 1998 and Schor and Holt 2000. For critical writings about the consumer society, one can start with Goodwin, et al. 1997. In the case of China, broad studies of consumer society are reported in Li 1998 (on the general trend of consumption) and Davis 2000 (with a focus on the urban sector). More recently, Garner 2005 examines consumers in eight Chinese cities, Tang 2009 looks at consumer markets in different sectors, and Tian and Dong 2010 investigates Chinese consumers’ attitude toward foreign brands.

  • Baudrillard, Jean. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Translated by Chris Turner. Theory, Culture & Society. London: SAGE, 1998.

    Original French text published in 1970. It is one of the first works focusing on the discussion of mass media culture and the meaning of leisure and anomie in affluent societies. It is still relevant to current debates on consumption and consumerism.

  • Davis, Deborah S., ed. The Consumer Revolution in Urban China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

    Fourteen contributors explore the interpersonal consequences of rapid commercialization. They particularly focus on the changing consumer practices such as luxury housing, discos, greeting cards, McDonald’s, premium cigarettes, white wedding gowns, and so on.

  • Garner, Jonathan. The Rise of the Chinese Consumer: Theory and Evidence. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.

    Written mainly by nonacademic economists who conducted a comprehensive survey of consumer attitudes and preferences, covering twenty-seven hundred persons in eight Chinese cities. The collected information covers sectors such as automobiles, beverages, electronic goods, household and personal care, luxury goods, tobacco, transport and leisure travel, and so on.

  • Goodwin, Neva R., Frank Ackerman, and David Kiron, eds. The Consumer Society. Washington, DC: Island Press, 1997.

    Summarizes critical writings on the environmental, moral, and social implications of a consumer society and consumer lifestyles. Highlights the state of knowledge in each area and indicates where further research is needed.

  • Li, Conghua. China: The Consumer Revolution. Singapore: Wiley, 1998.

    Explores the trends of consumption and draws implications for future development in the consumer market in China.

  • Schor, Juliet B., and Douglas B. Holt, eds. The Consumer Society Reader. New York: New Press, 2000.

    Features a range of works on the nature and evolution of consumer society, from classics on conspicuous consumption and analysis of the affluent societies to papers by leading critics.

  • Tang, Lei. The Chinese Consumer Market: Opportunities and Risks. Cambridge, UK: Chandos, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1533/9781780632209

    This book analyzes China’s changing business environment and examines the evolution of the Chinese consumer market in different sectors. It draws implications for global suppliers.

  • Tian, Kelly, and Lily Dong. Consumer-Citizens of China: The Role of Foreign Brands in the Imagined Future China. London: Routledge, 2010.

    This book examines Chinese consumer behavior, particularly consumers’ attitudes toward foreign brands. The analysis is based on survey responses from and interviews with Chinese consumers both in rural and urban areas.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.