Trick or Treat...or Duck Meat

Shanghai is a city where many popular Western holidays are celebrated by both its substantial foreigner population and many locals, albeit with some local flavor. Example: This past Halloween we took our son trick-or-treating to the homes of Chinese and Western families in our neighborhood who were celebrating the holiday. After we arrived home, my two year-old ripped off his lion costume and began to dive into all his treats when he pulled out a small tin foil package of duck parts...Halloween with Chinese characteristics. Christmas, though, has had a smoother cross-cultural transition, thanks to its economic impact.

As long as the sole reason for the holiday--the birth of Jesus--is stripped away, China's government sees Christmas as a convenient way to help promote consumerism in a country that is slow to start shopping. Policy-makers in Beijing know that China's economy depends too much on exports and investment-led growth and not enough on consumption, and that this imbalance is helping fuel inflation and contributing to unreasonably high property prices in China's richest cities. After news that exports were at record levels last month, it's expected China's central bank will again raise interest rates before the end of the year, possibly next week.

A billion people shopping would help out, too, and that's why you see Christmas decorations throughout China's major cities. Last week, workers put up a massive holiday display in the lobby downstairs from Marketplace's Shanghai bureau. There are a dozen cardboard cut-outs of Santa, reindeer, two Christmas trees with big gifts underneath them, and, interestingly, a waist-high nativity scene. When I looked inside the manger, though, it was empty.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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