Western food in Shanghai. Chinese consumption patterns and globalization in China

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014

57 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


II List of Figures

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Background

3 Conceptual Design
3.1 Sampling and Conduction
3.2 Evaluation approach

4 Description of the Findings
4.1 Description of the Closed Questions
4.2 Description of the Categories
4.2.1 Category 1: Western food
4.2.2 Category 2: Restaurant Environment
4.2.3 Category 3: Development
4.2.4 Category 4: Personal characteristics
4.2.5 Category 5: Generation gap
4.2.6 Category 6: Eating habits
4.2.7 Category 7: Offer
4.2.8 Category 8: Demand
4.2.9 Category 9: Company
4.2.10 Category 10: Food and restaurant preferences
4.2.11 Category 11: Price
4.2.12 Category 12: Food as a part of culture
4.2.13 Category 13: Status
4.2.14 Category 14: Consumption location
4.2.15 Category 15: Term Western food

5 Interpretation of the Empirical Results

6 Implications and Limitations of the Results

7 Conclusion

III References

IV Appendix

Appendix 1: Interview Guideline

Appendix 2: Categorization

Category 1: Western food

Category 2: Restaurant Environment

Category 3: Development

Category 4: Personal Characteristics

Category 5: Generation

Category 6: Eating Habits

Category 7: Offer

Category 8: Demand

Category 9: Company

Category 10: Restaurant Preference

Category 11: Price

Category 12: Food as Part of Culture

Category 13: Status

Category 14: Consumption Location

Category 15: Term Western food

V Research paper: Western Food in Shanghai


Eating is a basic need for human life and the variety of offered food worldwide is huge. In China, the fast developing nation with an increasing number of habitants and a booming economy, the offer of foreign cuisines grows steadily. The variety includes Western dishes, too, which are slowly establishing in China. Existing differences between Chinese and West- ern restaurants and dishes are obvious. Thus, this paper investigates which factors influence the consumption patterns of the Chinese regarding Western food, taking the current offer in Shanghai as an example. Exploring this question a qualitative analysis with Chinese partici- pants was conducted. For the analysis, 15 categories were developed based on 7 interviews, which provided detailed information about the participant’s attitude, opinion and consumption behavior regarding Western food. The Chinese consciously chose Western restaurants because of the environment there, the different taste of the food or to learn more about a foreign cul- ture. Due to the Opening-up policy and an ongoing globalization process, the younger genera- tion becomes more open-minded and interested in experiencing something new and demands an increased offer with high quality. Implications and limitations are discussed. This research paper reveals the need to question the consumption patterns of the Chinese in order to learn about their wants and figuring out what they like and dislike regarding Western food.

II List of Figures

Figure 1: Inductive Category Development according to Mayring (2000)

Figure 2: Closed Questions with lines in brackets

Figure 3: Consumption frequency in Western restaurants and fast food chains per month

1 Introduction

Food is one of the most fundamental aspects of human life not only as a human necessity to survive but also with respect to its cultural value as a mean of socialization. In spite of food’s enormous importance, the academic interest as a research subject was for a long time extremely remote due to the enormously extensive scope. Today’s rising academic attention is not only related to health concerns and food safety but also is “a surging fervor about food as entertainment” (Chen 2010: p. 298). New trends and driving forces are twist- ing the world’s food system. Whereas some years ago, food was only seen as a human need, it is now shifting to be a leisure activity, too. People get together and consume food with the purpose to have a relaxed atmosphere. Various driving forces such as income growth, climate changes or globalization lead to a transformation in regard to these con- sumption patterns all over the world. This process is additionally enhanced through the influence of the private sector, especially as the leverage of food retailers is also rapidly increasing. Changes in food availability, choice and rising commodity prices have crucial implications for the livelihoods of people (von Braun 2007: p. 1).

The People’s Republic of China is currently going through a transformation process, as the country is undergoing enormous cultural and economic changes for the last three decades (Child & Tse 2001: p. 5). Food as a central element of the Chinese culture is also affected by transformation approaches (Gale & Huang 2007: p. 3). Chinese households spend roughly half of their available monthly budget on food, but as the average incomes rises, Chinese consumers are changing their diets and demanding greater quality, convenience and safety in their food, especially in urban areas, where the dependency on grain is not as common as in rural areas (von Braun 2007: p. 2). Food expenditures grow faster than quantities purchased as income rises, suggesting that consumers with higher incomes pur- chase more expensive food. The demand for quality by high-income households has fueled recent growth in modern food retail and sales of premium-priced food and beverage prod- ucts. Strongly related to the changing demands of Chinese consumers is the appearance of Western food especially in China’s urban areas.

This empirical social research paper deals with the relevance of Western food for Chinese people living in Shanghai as consumption patterns change. Due to the fact that Shanghai is seen as the most Western city in China, it will be in the center of attention in the research. Western food comes to the fore and traditional food consumption transforms as many fo-reigner settle down in the multinational city and introduce new ways of living, new food styles and new habits.

The principal aim of the paper at hand is to investigate the relevance of Western food in the Chinese population and the factors which influence the consumption patterns of the Chi- nese. Possibilities to increase the Western food consumption, based on the findings, will be identified during this research. Therefore, the interviewee’s experiences and opinions will be taken into consideration and evaluated. This paper tries to draw attention to a research area which has so far been rather neglected although the outcome may lead to fruitful im- plications regarding the food consumption of the Shanghainese as a symbol of China’s socio-economic development in the era of Opening-up and globalization. In order to obtain reliable and representative results this paper is empirically based on qualitative interviews.

The necessary general theoretical framework for the research paper will be introduced in the second chapter. It will build the fundament for the qualitative interview and gives a relevant reviews of previous researches needed for the research in hand regarding the de- velopment of Western food in China. In the third chapter, a detailed insight into the con- ceptual design of the applied empirical method and the sample will be given. The follow- ing chapter will deal with the results of the qualitative interviews by describing the inter- viewee’s responses in detail before they will be interpreted in chapter five. The qualitative results will then lead to the implications and limitations in chapter six. These will give an overview about direct implications based on the results, further research and possible fac- tors which limited the current results. This research paper ends with an overall conclusion in chapter seven.

My personal motivation for this topic developed during my semester abroad in Shanghai, when I noticed that especially in Western restaurants you can find Western people and less Chinese. Thus, I wanted to find out the motives of the Chinese why and if they actually eat less frequently in Western restaurants. Moreover, I was very interested in getting to know the Chinese’s interests and see in how far it accords with my personal attitude towards Chinese food in Germany.

2 Theoretical Background

The paper at hand aims at exploring the underlying determinants and motives why Chinese choose - out of a great variety of cuisines - the Western cuisine, under which circumstances people tend to consume Western food and how they perceive and differentiate it from their typical Chinese food. In the following, a literature review of existing findings, which are relevant for the current paper, will be given.

One striking aspect is that it can be assumed that there is a relation between socioeconomic development of a culture and food globalization that involves“the multiple modes of interaction […] of the economic, political, social and cultural dimensions of globalization […] as these affect food-related matters, and as the latter in turn come to affect the former, in a series of ongoing dialectical relations characte- rized by the constant generation of forms of complexity.” (Inglis & Gimlin 2009: p. 9).

Gallegos (2009) acknowledges that “foods as commodities and cultural object have been making an impact on the world stage” (p. 197) for centuries and underlines the complexity of the relationship between food globalization and culture (ibid.). Picking up the thought of food globalization, the conducted research especially concentrates on Western food. The term Western food is typically used by East Asians for the cuisines of countries located in Western Europe, Latin America or North America (Leung 2007: p. 76). Easier transporta- tion possibilities facilitate the import of Western food to Asian countries. It became possi- ble to import fresh products and thus introduce them to foreign markets (Goody 2013: p. 72f.). This way, the Western dishes could establish themselves in China and became more popular within the time.

Having a look on the food consumption patterns, especially China’s urban areas are subject to notable changes which arise from income growth, consumer preference shifts, a conti- nuously progressing economic surrounding and other factors (Ma, Huang, Fuller & Rozelle 2006: p. 101). Since the year 1978, the Chinese government has implemented a compre- hensive and strategic Opening-up policy which involved permitting increasing Foreign Direct Investments and global trade to ensure a progressive economic development. This way not only the high economic growth rates are maintained but China and its population also actively participate in globalization and the accompanying sub-processes which pre- sumably will have a considerable impact on the country’s socio-economic development (Branstetter & Lardy 2006: p. 3f.).

A survey conducted by Ma et al. (2006) focuses on the changing consumption patterns and refers to Engel’s law, which is based on the observation that the share of household ex- penditures spent on food decreases as the total income of a household grows (Hamilton 2001: p.619). In China, the share of household budget spent on food was more than 50 % until the 1980s, “reflecting both the central importance of food in the Chinese culture and the historic vulnerability of the Chinese population to food insecurity” (Gale & Huang 2007: p. 3). Since then the Opening-Up policy facilitated economic development and pro- voked societal transformations resulting in a current value that has declined to less than 40%. This reflects the transformations with regard to food consumption in China which were influenced by the continuous economic growth of the country and rising income of its population (ibid: p. 1ff.).

The income growth, consumer preference shifts and a continuously progressing economic surrounding cause a transition not only with regard to the average expenditures on food but also with respect to the way money is spent on food. Chinese are found to spend more money on eating away from home (Ma et al. 2006: p. 102). This is a further factor which might increase the probability of Western food consumption. Moreover, it is not only the frequency of consuming Western food which is of interest in the survey at hand, but also the underlying motives and values of Chinese people living in Shanghai. In this regard, several studies focused on the factual meaning of Western food in China and found that it is not the taste of the food itself that plays the decisive role in Western food consumption but rather its contribution for the formation or alteration of the social identity of the con- sumer (Chee 2000; Gillette 2000; Guo 2000; Yan 1997).

Another aspect in literatures focuses on marketing expenditures and the modernization process of the country. Based on the history, China is striving to modernize, as this seemed to be the only way to stay competitive in the world, especially after the first Sino-Japanese War (Jähnig 1993: p. 27). Due to the fact that it is still an ongoing process, the food con- sumption patterns are still changing. Jähnig (ibid.) also describes the marketing expendi- tures as a factor, influencing the socio-economic development, which again influences the food supply and demand (ibid.: p. 64). Part of this includes the communication process via personal exchange or advertisements, which can create new behavioral norms and personal preferences (ibid: p.141). Thus, if China wants to establish itself as a modernized country, using effective marketing channels, the food consumption might change. As an example, fast food became very popular due to movies and novels and changed the way of eating habits because in China it used to be common to eat slowly as a sign of elegance and health (Yan 2013: p. 451). But within a century of rush and breakups, fast food became more popular. In this regard, the term does not only focus in eating fast, but also on the eating experience, which differs from the traditional Chinese way. Eating with chopsticks, sitting together on a huge round table and chat aloud is another experience than being served fast and by happy staff, having bright lights and “modern” furniture (ibid.). The Western interior environments and eating habits constitute something new and exciting.

A further aspect to be investigated in our survey is a potential relationship between the age of the respondents and their frequency of Western food consumption or attraction to West- ern food. The 90s in China were a decade in which the socio-economic development of the Chinese people was affected by transformations on several levels. One of these transforma- tions is the so-called “commercial revolution” which describes the development from a population affected by its country’s market socialism to a generation which grew up in a “commodified environment deeply engaged with the products and advertising of global capitalism” (Davis & Sensenbrenner 2000: p. 54). China’s economic reorganization led to a so far unknown for-profit orientation which even intensified this process of commerciali- zation and hence might have influenced the motives and values of the generation growing up in the last decade of the 20th century (ibid: p. 55). Another reason why especially the younger generations are of particular importance when it comes to the frequency of West- ern food consumption is the significant difference of lifestyle compared to the generation which was troubled with poor living circumstances occurring alongside the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The parents of the younger generations lived a life of “material shortages and political suffering” (ibid.: p. 57) and have the wish to be able to afford a better life for their children by increased expenditures on their children’s consump- tion (ibid.: p. 62).

Besides the age of the consumers, it can be assumed that Chinese who already travelled abroad and encountered different cultures and eating habits are more likely to consume Western food on a regular basis than those who did not see another country than China. Furthermore, it might be of relevance if the consumers have persons from abroad in their circle of friends. In this context, a study of Thomlison (1991) examined the impact of in- tercultural contact on university students by investigating the effects of overseas study- abroad programs. It was found that substantial changes were reported with regard to atti- tudes, specific knowledge levels, beliefs, values, behaviors, open-mindedness, personal growth, and general appreciation of other cultures. Especially the impact on open- mindedness and an enhanced general appreciation of other cultures play an important role for the basic ideas of the paper at hand as this might be a reasonable cause for an increased frequency of Western food consumption.

3 Conceptual Design

In order to work on the research I decided to conduct qualitative interviews which enabled me to communicate with people and find out about their perception towards Western food rather than just receiving numeral results (Bortz & Döring 2006: p. 308). The qualitative research aimed to gather multiple participants’ opinions about the chosen topic by focusing on detailed, comprehensive and open answers. Furthermore, the chosen problem-centered interview technique provided the opportunity to learn about their desires concerning the existing offer. With the help of the chosen methodology I intended to get the interviewees to actually think about the topic of Western food instead of just quickly ticking answers. Another reason for the chosen technique of qualitative interviews is the intention to find out about the motives to spend money on Western food as well as the reasons why respon- dents like or do not like to consume it. In addition to these aspects, I added some general questions about the gender, age, origin, occupation, income, travel experiences and average spending on food. With these characteristics I wanted to find out if the listed aspects con- tribute to the interviewees’ willingness to spend money on Western food and the fact whether they like or do not like to consume it.

Attached in appendix one (see p. III) you may find the guideline which was used to con- duct the in-depth interviews. This interview guideline was used as an aid to memory to ensure comparability between the interviews and to make sure, that most of the relevant topics and ideas were discussed (Witzel 2000). The discussions were based on half- structured interviews. Although I intentionally put the questions into a specific order, the technique of an interview allowed me to pose questions according to what the interviewees responded. Through this open conversation style it was possible to create a harmonic at- mosphere during the interviews in which respondents seemed to feel comfortable about stating their opinion even if they struggled with the language barrier. Moreover, the chosen technique enabled me to ask further questions and dig deeper into the train of thoughts of the participants. Concerning the order of questions I tried to pose the main questions first to raise the respondent’s interest for the topic (Bortz & Döring 2006: p. 238).

Nevertheless, closed questions were also asked and enabled me to gather basic information about the other persons.

3.1 Sampling and Conduction

Part of the sampling includes the selection of interviewees. To receive meaningful data, the participants were chosen randomly and on a voluntary basis. A variety of people was ad-mired, due to the fact to receive different opinions and consumption patterns. The partici- pants were contacted directly on campus of the Tongji University of Shanghai. As not eve- ryone was able to speak English, and I was not able to speak Chinese, I focused on people, which could speak English. In fact, the research is based on a sample of 7 individuals of which 2 are male and 5 are female. The gender and age of them was randomly chosen, but concerning the age of interviewees I decided to focus on those who were older than 18 years as for these people there was a higher probability that they have moved out of their parents’ home and had to think about and look after food matters by themselves.

In advance I made appointments with the participants in 4 out of 7 cases and told them that they do not need to prepare for the interview, as I would only ask them simple questions about their everyday life regarding Western food. The other three people were interviewed directly after their agreement on participation and informed that the interview will take around 15 minutes. The interviews took place around campus: Either in a cafeteria or in quiet class or meeting rooms to ensure a relaxed feeling without much disturbance. Before the interview, I already introduced them to the topic and myself to create a pleasant atmos- phere. Moreover, I ensured that I will not publish any of the information given and let them know, that I could send them my findings after the evaluation, if they were interested.

The interviews were conducted between December 12 and 24 in 2013. Due to the time lag between the meetings, it was possible to embed findings into the later interviews. The duration of an interview ranged from 11 to 25 minutes. They were recorded with the help of a smart-phone and transliterated afterwards.

3.2 Evaluation approach

To evaluate the results of the qualitative interviews I used the Qualitative Content Analysis designed by Philipp Mayring. This is an approach of systematic, rule-guided qualitative text analysis which tries to preserve some methodological strengths of quantitative content analysis and widen them to a concept of qualitative procedure (Mayring 2010: p. 602). The complexity of the interviews will be covered and the diversity maintained. According to Bortz & Döring the evaluation concept of Mayring involves three main steps (2006: p. 332):

a. Summarized Content Analysis
b. Explicit Content Analysis
c. Structured Content Analysis

With regard to the data at hand, step a is the main aspect of the analysis. The aim of this step is to reduce the interviews to a short version, including only the most relevant content. Therefore, small text components, which contain information for the chosen topic, will be paraphrased one by one to get an overview about the said information. In the next step, the components will be reduced by generalizing them on a general level of abstraction. Repeti- tions can be left out for the ongoing analysis. Then, categories for the identified generaliza- tions must be identified to complete the step. These categories will be needed for the inter- pretation. The complete step needs to be done more often as the phrases and categories need to be revised more often to actually achieve the most reliable and valid results for the analysis. It is important to check if the developed categories reflect the main statements of the interviews. If not, the step needs to be conducted again until each meaningful statement is related to a category. (Mayring 2000: p. 59 ff.)

In this analysis, categories were identified inductively. Inductive approaches indicate a category development based directly on the text instead of theories (ibid.: p. 75) but the guideline questions already gave a framework to the expected categories. It is possible that one main category consists of different characteristics. In Appendix 2 the Excel output for the generalization process is provided and shows the different categories of answers used for the analysis. The used process of the inductive category development is illustrated in Figure 1:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Inductive Category Development according to Mayring (2000)

The explicit content analysis (step b) could be left out, because the used text components were all clear and did not need additional materials for further explications. Instead, step c (structured content analysis) was done afterwards. The short version of the interviews was structured with respect to the research question. Therefore, a category scheme needed to be created. The applied method implies that the categories will be defined, classic examples from the text will be given, and coding rules will be established (Mayring 2000: p. 85). Thus, the different text parts of the interviewees could be categorized and compared and will be used for the following analysis. The structured analysis can be found in Appendix 2.

Moreover, I entered the closed questions into an Excel sheet to gather basic information about the respondents and to get a fast overview about them. It also aimed at learning about their personal backgrounds and eating habits, e.g. how often they eat Western food or how much money they usually spend on food per week.

4 Description of the Findings

In this section, the findings of the analysis will be described. In the first part, I will show the results of the closed questions and in the second part I will give detailed information about the different developed categories by separately focusing on the answers of the seven interviewees. I will use the initials of the interviewed persons as described in Figure 2 for the research.

4.1 Description of the Closed Questions

An overview about the respective answers of the closed questions is provided in Figure 2. The shortcuts for the names of the interviewees will be used in the analysis.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Closed Questions with lines in brackets

As it can be seen in Figure 2, none of the interviewees originally come from Shanghai. They all moved to Shanghai due to working at the Tongji University or being a student there. The ages of them vary between 19 to 35 years and it is noticeable that those, who are aged 35, had a later first contact with Western food than the younger participants. None of them had their first contact after the age of around 16 years.

Moreover, the elderly persons had experiences abroad whereas the asked students have not been abroad yet. Those who have visited another country also saw some parts of Europe or the United States, indicating that they are used to the Western countries and its dishes. The average spending on food varies among the ages and cannot be ascribed to the age or oc- cupation. As an example, even though P (Professor Zhang) has a fixed income due to his occupation as a teacher and lawyer, his average spending on food per week (100 RMB) is less than the spending of the students S (Sophie), L (Liudi) and Va (Valin), who spend be- tween 200 and 500 RMB1.

The price differences between Chinese and Western main dishes also vary a lot among the given answers. Some answers indicated that Western main courses are more expensive than Chinese dishes (e.g. P, S and L) and others said the different cuisines cost the same (e.g. Ve (Vera) and J (Julia)). This variation of answers is also expressed for the frequency of consuming Western food in restaurants and fast food chains.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3: Consumption frequency in Western restaurants and fast food chains per month

As the number of visits is sometimes not specific enough (see Figure 2), the results of Fig- ure 3 need to be considered carefully. Nevertheless, they express that there is a tendency of the consumption behavior of the participants. The frequency of visiting fast food chains is either more frequent than visiting Western restaurants or the same but not less.

The interviewees named the most famous Western dishes, such as pizza, pasta, steak and chips as their favorite Western food. J (Julia) indicated that salad is her favorite Western food.

4.2 Description of the Categories

This sections aims at providing the results of the qualitative content analysis. Therefore, the 15 different established categories will be described one by one with the help of the short forms of the participants’ statements and answers. The related tables can be found in the Appendix.

4.2.1 Category 1: Western food

This category summarizes the main answers regarding the Western food itself with the subcategories taste, quality and way of preparation and is supposed to indicate the differences among the local and Western food. A classic example from this category is provided by L, who says that “Western food is very different from Chinese food” (148). Appendix 3 shows the detailed construction of the first category.

The first aspect which could be noticed is that each of the interviewees notices differences among the different cuisines. None of them has the opinion that there is no difference among the taste, quality or preparation style. Every participant expresses that he or she likes Western food. The only exception comes from J, who says that “Western food in Chi- na is only so so” (252). She added that the food is too oily and sweet (253). C (Christina) answers that she likes the crunchy taste of some Western food as well as the ingredient cheese, which is used in many Western dishes (115/116). Va asserts that Western food is sweet, salty and not spicy but very delicious even though he does not call himself to be addicted to Western food (175, 176). J thinks that Chinese food offers a bigger variety of tastes, e.g. sweet, salty and spicy food and is therefore more diverse (263/264).

The food quality is partly seen as cleaner and safer as Chinese food (6). But most of them answer that Western food, especially fast food is unhealthier than their local food (114/201). C indicates that Western food contains a high amount fat and a lot of sugar (113) and Va says it is greasy food even though he thinks that in Western food must also be healthy choices in order to be able to live healthy (204). From Ve’s point of view some Western food is also healthier because it is prepared with less meat and more vegetables


1 During the interview period 8 RMB were equal to approximately 1 €. I will use the Chinese currency RMB in the paper at hand.

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Western food in Shanghai. Chinese consumption patterns and globalization in China
University of Paderborn
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western, shanghai, chinese, china
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Sina Gerdes (Author), 2014, Western food in Shanghai. Chinese consumption patterns and globalization in China, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/276665


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