Individualism for the masses? Coffee consumption and the Chinese middle class’ search for authenticity
ABSTRACT Through the lens of consumption at Chinese Starbucks, this paper examines the lifestyle and attitudes of parts of the mainland Chinese urban middle class, especially of the so-called xiaozi. Based on interviews with and guestbook entries by customers I analyze how the foreign brand and the multitude of meanings associated with it are consumed. I argue that consumption may be viewed as a particular search for authenticity that enables consumers to construct their self-images in the context of the vast changes occurring in contemporary in China. A foreign brand promises to be especially valuable as it promises the authenticity of an 'other' on which one’s own desires may be projected.
Keywords: Consumption, authenticity, urban Chinese middle class, Starbucks, individualism
Lena Henningsen is assistant professor for Institute of Chinese Studies at the University of Freiburg. She received her PhD in 2008 from Heidelberg University. Her research focuses on 20th and 21st century consumer culture, popular culture and literature from the Chinese mainland. Her recent publications include: 'Coffee, fast food and the desire for romantic love in contemporary China: branding and marketing trends in popular contemporary Chinese-language literature' (Transcultural Studies, 2011/2); Copyright Matters: Imitation, Creativity and Authenticity in Contemporary Chinese Literature (Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2010); 'Harry Potter with Chinese characteristics: plagiarism between orientalism and occidentalism' (China Information 20/2, 2006).