January 24, 2008

Made in China, Sold in China

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The influence of American culture in China can be found anywhere from conversations about the popular television show Prison Break to the plethora of KFCs and pizza restaurants. As many people in China have embraced a more consumer culture, American-style malls have cropped up in cities.
In Beijing and Shanghai large malls have been opened with American, European and Chinese stores. The prices are generally lower than the same item would be at the same store in the U.S., but much more expensive than goods outside the malls.
The Silk Market in Beijing, which largely caters to tourists, is filled with floor after floor of vendors selling knock-off goods — from $4 “Polo” shirts to $10 “silk” dresses. Getting a good deal requires bargaining, as vendors quote prices anywhere from two to five times what they would accept for the item. While speaking Chinese might be an advantage in getting a better deal, bargaining is largely done by the vendor and shopper showing each other different prices on a calculator — so neither party needs to know numbers in the other’s language.[img_assist|nid=26825|title=|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Sales methods at Silk Market and by vendors hawking goods to tourists differ from those generally used in the U.S. If a shopper walks away while bargaining or refuses to pay attention to a particular vendor, he or she may be yelled at, chased after or have their armed grabbed. One Silk Market vendor pointed at a tourist’s jeans and told him he had “ugly jeans” and should buy another pair from her.
Most vendors in China bargain prices with customers, but malls and some stores, which place price tags on goods, do not negotiate prices.
Buying from vendors on the street or at small stores specializing in one product, like tea sets or clothing, is common. There are also large markets where many vendors share space. Like the Silk Market, these markets sell a very wide variety of goods: cooking stoves, stuffed animals, furnishings, candy, notebooks and more.
Unlike the Silk Market, shoppers at these stores are not tourists; tourists that do venture there must speak Chinese or have a translator. There are no fake Prada labels to be seen, although American symbols like Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop are not uncommon. The vendors are also generally not as aggressive; no one yelled or grabbed us.
At a large market called Jin Sheng in Nanjing, less expensive items were sold on the bottom floor, while the top floor had larger, more expensive goods. Other merchants were selling things from mopeds and bicycles to balloons and whole vegetables outside the market. On one day in early January, many of the vendors were busy putting together the goods they were selling or wrapping them up in small packages. A few booths were also deep frying meat on sticks and making hot bubble tea.
These types of food and drink are also available in more touristy areas, where many people walk around trying to sell random goods. In Beijing, many vendors hawked 2008 Olympic paraphernalia. When one visitor to Tiananmen Square agreed to buy some Olympic souvenirs, four other vendors immediately ran over to try to sell her more.
Like many aspects of Chinese culture, shopping is changing rapidly; a few retail behemoths have even made their way into China in the past few years — including IKEA and Wal-Mart.