China’s “Comfort Class” | The Bling Dynasty, National Geographic Magazine

Never in the course of human history has a larger number of people gained more wealth in such a short time.” — The Tank Man, A Frontline Documentary

The market potential in China is unsurpassed, and China has one of the most impressive cultural traditions in the world. Together this means potentially one of the most significant cultural changes in the history of the world.” A Consumer Ethnography by Context-Based Research Group

The Bling Dynasty

Their parents toiled on collective farms, but young, urban Chinese drink Starbucks, watch flat screen TVs, hire maids, and blog obsessively. They are self-interested and apolitical. “On their wish list,” says Hong Huang, a publisher of lifestyle magazines, “a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of democracy.”

The Communist …

China’s “Comfort Class” | The Bling Dynasty, National Geographic Magazine

Never in the course of human history has a larger number of people gained more wealth in such a short time.” — The Tank Man, A Frontline Documentary

The market potential in China is unsurpassed, and China has one of the most impressive cultural traditions in the world. Together this means potentially one of the most significant cultural changes in the history of the world.” A Consumer Ethnography by Context-Based Research Group

The Bling Dynasty

Their parents toiled on collective farms, but young, urban Chinese drink Starbucks, watch flat screen TVs, hire maids, and blog obsessively. They are self-interested and apolitical. “On their wish list,” says Hong Huang, a publisher of lifestyle magazines, “a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of democracy.”

The Communist Party’s catastrophic twentieth-century social experiments were abandoned when Deng Xiaoping wrested control from rivals after Mao’s death in 1976. “To get rich is glorious,” he said. His changes to economic policies set the stage for today’s incongruous system of socialized capitalism, where the unapologetically authoritarian regime maintains repressive control over the rural poor while providing the means for explosive growth in the personal wealth of the burgeoning middle class.

Now China has the fastest growing economy in the world, fueled in part by the young, urban “Little Capitalist” of the “Comfort Class,” many of whom are “Little Emperors,” members of the world’s first only-child generation resulting from the One Child Policy instituted in 1979. According to a recent survey, incomes of 20- to 29-year-olds have grown 34% in just the past three years. In Beijing, newly prosperous residents are snapping up automobiles at a rate of 1,000 a day. China’s Comfort Class reached the size the U.S. Middle Class by 2010 and will double by 2015. By then, the number of Chinese adults under 30 is expected to swell 61%, to 500 million, equivalent to the current population of the entire European Union.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and even Tiananmen Square, are ancient history to China’s young elites. They have known little but peace and an ever-increasing economic boom. For China’s leaders, placating this Me Generation is seen as critical to ensuring the Communist Party’s survival. Premier Wen Jiabao stressed that economic growth should take precedence over democratic reforms for the foreseeable future; a period that he appeared to indicate could stretch to 100 years.

As discordant as this may seem to outsiders, even more surprising is the resulting tendency that among this class the idea is that money is more important than love. One’s prospects (financial status and earning ability) take precedence. The reasons behind this are complex but may be in part due to abnormally accelerated rates of social and economic change. The changes the Chinese have experienced during just the last 10 years took 50 years to occur in the U.S. What will the next 10 years bring? These photographs are of China’s coming of age and the changes, set on fast forward, to infrastructure, housing, factories, service industries, and lifestyle, and the stress and affluence it brings to China’s Comfort Class.

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