Home / China / Opinion Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read | Comment
Don't mix up consumption and patriotism
Adjust font size:

The ongoing economic crisis has not stopped the Chinese from showing their love to their sweethearts on Valentine's Day, although most have spent less on flowers, gifts and meals this year.

Even white-collar workers in their twenties and thirties, who are believed to be the biggest spenders on Valentine's Day have decided to hold their purse strings tight. For example, the number of roses purchased by individuals decreased from 99 to 3. They also are cooking homemade dishes and baking cakes this year rather than buying high-priced, multiple-course, set dinners in restaurants. Young couples have printed coupons from the Internet to save some money on chocolates or other gifts.

In short, "romantic but cheap" is the hallmark of lovers' day this year. Actually, "cheaper" has been a key word since last year.

In 2008, a campaign called "100 yuan (US$14.60) a week" attracted thousands of Chinese netizens. Participants limited their living expenses to only 100 yuan per week and wrote down their payment lists online to help reduce their spending. In addition, they and other web-users all over the country enthusiastically shared "cost-control" experiences in forums. With the financial crisis still lingering, it is easy to understand why the campaign continues to be popular in China.

The belt-tightening trend is so vigorous that scholars have not ignored it, and some of them have been very troubled by the matter. Then there are those who have raised the argument that "consuming to be patriotic" is reason enough why the Chinese should not hesitate to spend money.

Scholars have written articles in magazines and newspapers, calling on consumers to shop more and spend money. They argue that spending money equals being patriotic, and that patriotism is more than mere faith. Patriots should take action immediately, they say, because now is the time to consume. Their words reflect the government's policy, which urges the Chinese to spend more money to fend off the ill affects of the global financial crisis.

The scholars' call was echoed by others in different countries, including the United States and Spain: "Buying houses is a patriotic act" and "Shopping can be patriotic." Statements like these are regularly seen in newspapers and on blogs.

They make sense. If people are unwilling to consume, all government efforts to expand domestic demand and stimulate the economy are doomed to fail.

But slogans alone will not work, because "it really depends on how much money one has in his pocket." Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao made this statement in an interview with Britain's Financial Times newspaper. During the interview on February 1, Wen emphasized that consumer spending was vital to economic development, but he said it should not be boosted by simply sloganizing that "consumer spending is patriotic."

Yes, you cannot expect a rational consumer to spend all his earnings in response to the so-called "patriotic shopping" movement, just like we cannot boost our economy by shouting slogans.

Before China builds up a more comprehensive social welfare system, most families have to save as much money as possible to pay for their children's education, medical treatments and life expenses after retirement.

Now, thanks to Premier Wen's wisdom and words, the Chinese will not feel guilty when they deposit money in banks.

When we combine the two terms "consumption" and "patriotism," we are confronted by the risk of blurring the boundary between priceless affection and market behavior. Patriotism is devotion. People devote their fortunes, health and even lives to their motherland because of their love for their country. Consumption is a kind of exchange. People pay money to get the articles they want as well as some intangible items such as joy and satisfaction. Patriots dare to sacrifice and ask for no rewards, while consumers always want to exchange things at equal value.

In that sense, a beggar who starves himself to donate a few dozen yuan to the victims of the May earthquake in Sichuan Province deserves more respect than a rich merchant who buys a million-yuan apartment because "buying a house is a patriotic act."

This comparison prompts us to rethink the case we mentioned at the beginning- that spending less does not mean the love has gone, and that, similarly, buying less does not mean that we do not love our country.

By the way, when someone plans to buy something he is crazy about but unable to afford, you can stop him by saying, "Don't overspend in the name of patriotism." Consumption and patriotism are totally unrelated. So please do not mix them up.

(CRI February 16, 2009)

Tools: Save | Print | E-mail | Most Read
Pet Name
China Archives
Related >>
- China describes spending to develop rural distribution, urban services
- Civil servants in Hangzhou to be paid in coupons
- China continues to boost consumption