One of Yinchuan’s gargantuan malls
At the eastern terminus of the Silk Road in old Chang’an (present-day Xian), the capital of Tang Dynasty China (618-907 AD), there were two great markets – the East Market (Dong Shichang) and the West Market (Xi Shichang). The East Market specialised in local luxury goods – jade and silk – while West Market merchants dealt in foreign goods – cockatoos from Indonesia, medicines from India, jewels from Turkey. It was said that between Dong Shichang and Xi Shichang you could buy anything from anywhere in the world.
Thus the origins of the Chinese phrase mai dongxi, which, translated hyper-literally, means “buy east-west.” In everyday usage, it means to buy things, or to go shopping.
Mai dongxi. The Chinese love to go shopping, and with the Chinese economy continuing to boom, more and more people have the wherewithal to go shopping more and more often. You’ve probably seen the numbers, but they are so staggering they bear repeating. China has averaged around 9 percent annual growth since 2000; last year growth was over 10 percent. According to the Economist.com, from 2000 to 2005, per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity (i.e., adjusted to reflect differences in the prices of goods across countries) rose from US$3980 to US$6292. Chinese wallets are more than a bit fatter these days.
Impressive as the statistics are, they don’t quite convey what the boom feels like at the retail level. Shopping in China can seem like a contact sport at times. On weekend afternoons in the major cities, giant pedestrian malls are packed with consumers rushing from one popular Chinese chain store to another – Dancing with Wolves for casual wear, Li Ning for sporting goods and clothing (motto: “Anything Is Possible”), and Hisense for white goods and consumer electronics.
Yinchuan’s main pedestrian mall
The giant shopping malls filled with Western retailers are less crowded, as Western goods come with Western price tags, but the array of brands is amazing. Ground floor: Revlon, L’Oreal, Maybelline, Lancome. First floor: Pierre Cardin, Esprit, Gucci, Nine West. Second floor: Nike, Adidas, Puma, Columbia. And so on, all the way to Floor 6.
Ground floor at Yinchuan’s nicest mall
Assuming you haven’t blown your paycheck on the top six floors, there’s a mega-supermarket in the basement
And that’s not even taking into account the innumerable stalls on the streets or in warehouse-style shopping cities selling cheap knock-off brands and knick-knacks.
The crowds outside Yinchuan Shopping City, where small merchants sell their wares
The Christmas decorations stall in Yinchuan Shopping City
In this frenzied atmosphere, it’s hardly surprising that Chinese merchants are pushing Christmas, and in a big way. So what if the holiday is entirely devoid of religious content here when there’s potential for a huge retail spike every December? Besides, as our Beijing friend John said of China and Christmas: “It’s a perfect match. You can eat and drink all day, give and receive gifts, and everybody gets to wear red!”
Sheng dan lao ren (Old Man Christmas) and his helper