In spite of being called the “world’s manufacturer,” China has been moving toward a consumption-led economy in the past two decades. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen uprising in 1989, the government has worked hard to create a consumer society as a way to divert the attention of the expanding middle class from its rising political demands. The emphasis on consumption, particularly household consumption, has taken on new significance in recent years as the government uses domestic demand to counteract the ongoing global financial crisis. Yet the story of consumption in China also involves foreign tourists, transnational corporations, and consumers elsewhere. In effect, China is now a circuit of global consumption. And the various types of consumer products and information that saturate everyday life, as seen in this online photo essay, are some of the evidence.
Tong Lam is a historian of modern China and a visual artist. He teaches at the University of Toronto and is the author of A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation-State, 1900-1949 (California, 2011).