China Syndrome – A tale of increasing wealth and disappearing youth

29Nov07

What is it about China that let’s it overshadow India in the minds of so many Western journalists and marketing commentators at present?

I recently took a look at some of the socio-economic trends in China, here are some of the findings:

Today China’s children are born into a country that is radically different to the China of just 25 years ago. The economy has undergone reform and is enjoying a sustained period of significant growth. It’s also fair to say that China’s politicians and business leaders are more outward-looking and starting to participate on the international stage in with more confidence in what they are able to achieve.

In the major cities, where only a decade or two ago most commuters still used a bicycle to get to work; commuters now drive their own motorbike or car, or use very efficient mass transit systems.

The economic benefits for the Chinese themselves are visible in the growing cities. China is no longer creating manufacturing hubs that just export goods. The home markets for cars, mobile phones, white goods, computers and fashion are all expanding at double digit levels. There are now massive shopping malls, many with brands commonly encountered in the luxury malls of America or Dubai.

The Chinese tourist is becoming a more common sight. For Chinese children, their country is advancing and exploring other historic boundaries – such as putting a man in space and hosting the Olympics. Chinese children must feel that the new century holds great promise and is all about them and their country.

There were, in 2006, about 312 million Chinese under the age of 15. But, while the rest of the population of China grew by about 7.5% since 2000, the 0-14 age group only grew by about 1%. China’s children are therefore entering an ageing population. This is a profound break with history and in stark contrast with other, more youthful, developing Asian nations, such as India and Vietnam.

As China develops into one of the world’s largest economies, and its consumer market grows in world significance, so the Chinese consumer of tomorrow has become the focus of huge amounts of product and brand marketing expenditure. If the children of today can be made loyal to a brand now, what potential for sales in the future, in a country where the economy continues to grow at over 9% a year?

China’s children are bombarded with media messages from all angles, all the time – advertising is all-pervasive in the urban centres. All of this is having an effect, and some of it detrimental. Childhood obesity rates are soaring and behaviour-related problems amongst school-age children are increasingly discussed.

At the more extreme end of child health issues, the rates of depression and mental health problems are also increasing. These symptoms are more common in Western cultures, where modern pressures and lifestlye contribute to such issues.

Yet, this new generation has a world view that their parents’ generation never dreamed of, has access to better healthcare, better education, more and better toys and electronic gadgets and not only a wider choice of careers to aspire to – they are enjoying far more freedom of choice. Not only can they aspire to own a home and a car, many are likely to have these provided for them by their doting parents.

While the One Child Policy has seen reform, the well documented “little emperor” syndrome is very real and present. A child is still usually the sole heir, doted upon by two parents and up to four grandparents, plus various aunts and uncles.

The lone children of a society where the hopes and expectations of a whole family are placed upon them are expected to perform and behave differently. The pressure to be successful and accomplished across diverse areas – particularly in languages, sport and music, in addition to areas of traditional academic performance, are being placed upon them.

All of this is affecting how these children see themselves within their society, and affects their behaviour as both people and consumers. The future is increasingly wealthy and bright, but will also be incredibly demanding for the disappearing youth of China.

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