Course Code


Course Name

Consumer Culture in Contemporary China


Tuesdays 10:30-12:15




Dr. Lynn Sun

Teaching Assistant

Kelvin Wu

Liu Songyu

Course Description

This course offers an overview of China’s consumer culture. Since embarking on its reform and opening-up policy in 1978, China has transformed from a command economy to a market-oriented system and achieved over three decades of rapid growth. Chinese society has also undergone an allencompassing socio-cultural change, from a proletarian culture in the Mao era to a burgeoning consumer culture today. This course will address both the historical processes of cultural changes and major consumer issues in contemporary China. It aims to provide a roadmap for students to develop a critical perspective on China’s consumer culture. In essence, the class explores what it means to belong to a consumer society with “Chinese characteristics”. We will start by introducing core concerns, arguments, and approaches related to consumer culture in China. After the introductory sessions, we will focus, week by week, on common (and oftentimes controversial) consumer issues we encounter in our daily lives. We will read works covering various consumption experiences while paying special attention to how consumer culture, embedded in the specific economic, political and socio-cultural milieu of contemporary China constructs our ways of “being-in-the-world”. We will also look into the
detrimental aspects of consumer culture, including its psychological and ethical impacts, class and gender exploitation, and environmental degradation. Students are encouraged to examine their own consumer values and behaviors, join in conversation with the existing critics of China’s consumer culture, and offer their own reflections.

Course Outline

WEEK 1 (6 Sep): “The Social Life of Things”: Course Introduction and Overview

WEEK 2 (13 Sep): China’s Market Reform and the Emergence of Consumer

WEEK 3 (20 Sep): Shopping and Self-Identity

WEEK 4 (27 Sep): Food and “Taste”

WEEK 5 (4 Oct): NO CLASS (Chung Yeung Festival)

WEEK 6 (11 Oct): Housing and Lifestyle

WEEK 7 (18 Oct): Internet, Media, and Entertainment

WEEK 8 (25 Oct): Presentation Day

WEEK 9 (1 Nov): Class and Consumer Culture

WEEK 10 (8 Nov): Gender, Consumer Culture and Nationalism

WEEK 11 (15 Nov): Copycat, Consumer Culture and Globalization

WEEK 12 (22 Nov): The Emerging New Consumer Culture in China

WEEK 13 (29 Nov): Course Wrap Up


Assessment & Assignments

Attendance and Participation 15%
Pop Quizzes 15%
Discussion Facilitation 20%
Individual Presentation 20%
Final Take-home Examination 30%

Honesty in Academic Work

Attention is drawn to University policy and regulations on honesty in academic work, and to the disciplinary guidelines and procedures applicable to breaches of such policy and regulations. Details may be found at With each assignment, students will be required to submit a signed declaration that they are aware of the policies, regulations and procedures