xin xin renlei

08 Aug 2006|LiAnne Yu

Under Mao, individuals gained status by adhering to socialist doctrine. Displaying Mao’s image at home and carrying around his Little Red Book were signs of correct thinking. Those symbols are largely irrelevant to today’s young urban Chinese except as kitschy fashion statements; other icons are gaining power in their place. As young Chinese come to view what they buy as symbols of their growing prosperity and engagement in modern lifestyles, products, brands and celebrities have become the newest signs of correct thinking.

China calls this generation of status-seekers the “xin xin renlei,” meaning the “new” new generation. The label describes those young adults whose lifestyles include designer clothing, the latest technology, cars, pampering through spas and a host of other luxury goods and experiences. No longer limited to buying generic goods from state-owned department stores and markets, these status conscious consumers can shop in some of the largest and most elaborate stores in the world, choosing from an expansive selection of domestic and foreign products. Although still a relatively small percentage of the population, these high-end consumers are very visible and influence a wide swath of followers who emulate them with “knock-offs.” A foreigner strolling down one of Shanghai’s downtown streets could leave with the impression that most of the city’s population can afford Chanel sunglasses, Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton handbags. In most cases, it would take an expert to tell that these aren’t the real thing.

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