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China's 'Moonlight Clan' Indulges in Shopping Spree

Despite having earned a monthly income of around 5,000 (US$605) for more than two years, local journalist Che Li has almost nothing in her bank account.


"I am not the type of person who can save money. I spend whatever I have," she said.


A considerable proportion of her earnings go to dining and entertainment. Clothing, cosmetics, rent and bills are also major areas of spending.


Although many of Che's colleagues, especially the older ones, bring lunch boxes to work or eat in the less expensive workplace cafeteria, Che opts for eating out.


"For me, dining out is one of the few pleasures of life, which is short and unpredictable. If anything at the moment could make me happy, I would not mind splurging on it," she said.


The credit card she received from a local bank has encouraged her to overspend, which has now become a habit. Every month she builds up an overdraft of more than 2,000 yuan (US$242).


Towards the end of last year, after buying an Apple laptop and taking a shopping trip to Hong Kong, Che found herself 5,000 yuan (US$605) in debt to the newspaper she works for. She also ran up other debts on a smaller scale in the course of the past year, to her friends and colleagues.


"To borrow money is embarrassing but it is never hard for me, as I have credit with my friends, the same as I do with my bank," she said.


With little in her bank account, Che is not worried, because she has no dependents. Getting married and raising her own family still seem a long way off.


"My parents have always done fine financially, so subconsciously I know I have them to fall back upon."


Now in the fifth month of the year 2005, Che has paid off her debts and purchased a few top-end luxury products for herself such as a mobile phone and a set of cosmetic products.


"I hope to save some money this year though - for a holiday abroad," she said.


Spendthrift friends


Che said about 70 percent of her friends spend whatever they earn, if not more, just as she does. She and her overspending friends are creating a phenomenon now being discussed widely in the Chinese media.


They have been dubbed "fu weng" (a coined Chinese word for "people in debt," pronounced as the Chinese word for a person of wealth), or "the moonlight clan" (a Chinese pun meaning people who spend all their money by the end of each month).


Chinese traditional values uphold industry and thrift, explained Deng Yuwen, a researcher with the China Society of Economic Reform, so overspending was not seen in China until the late 1990s when the government embarked on encouraging domestic consumption.


Though the exact size of the overspending population is not known, it is believed to be growing, especially in the city of Shanghai where per capita income and per capita consumption spending both rank top in the nation.


Young professionals in their 20s like Che are leading the trend of overspending, with their monthly expenditures estimated at 1,400 yuan (US$169) on average, 40 per cent higher than the average per capita consumption of the city, according to a survey recently conducted by Horizon Research, a Beijing-based professional research company.


The same holds true for other big Chinese cities, the survey reveals, after questioning 3,515 residents aged between 18 and 60 in the nine biggest cities in the country.


Monthly consumption among young professionals in these cities is estimated at 1,180 yuan (US$143) on average, while that for students, older professionals and others come to averages of 669 yuan (US$81), 1,082 yuan (US$131) and 588 yuan (US$71), respectively.


"With strong consumption confidence and a liking for pleasure seeking, young professionals are more likely to move quickly from necessities to luxuries," said Wu Qiong, the lead writer of the survey report.


(Shanghai Star May 26, 2005)

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