chapter  11
Rethinking Chinese consumption
Social palliatives and the rhetorics of transition in postsocialist China
ByKevin Latham
Pages 21

The emergence of a wide range of consumer practices alongside the development of markets and capitalism ‘with Chinese characteristics’ has been one of the most evident markers distinguishing China’s post-Mao social landscape from the one that preceded it. The burgeoning literature on post-Mao China has also paid great attention to China’s so-called ‘consumer revolution’ (Davis 2000b; Chao and Myers 1998; Li Conghua 1998; and cf. Latham (forthcoming A). However, more than twenty years into reform, it is clear that one cannot think of either the post-Mao reform period or of its characteristic consumption and consumer practices as unitary and unchanging. In this chapter I argue that it is time to rethink those understandings of China’s consumerism which have seen it as a social palliative, enabling the Party to retain control despite the ideological void left by the demise of Maoism.