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Beijing and Hong Kong thus make excellent test cases since they are the dual epicenters of China's haute cuisine with apologies to Hunan, Sichuan, and Shanghai loyalists. If McDonald's can make inroads in these two markets, it must surely be an unstoppable force that levels cultures. But the truth of this parable of globalization is subtler than that. How did a hamburger chain become so prominent in a cultural zone dominated by rice, noodles, fish, and pork? In China, adult consumers often report that they find the taste of fried beef patties strange and unappealing.
Why, then, do they come back to McDonald's? And more to the point, why do they encourage their children to eat there?
The history of McDonald's in Hong Kong offers good clues about the mystery of the company's worldwide appeal. When Daniel Ng, an American-trained engineer, opened Hong Kong's first McDonald's in , his local food-industry competitors dismissed the venture as a nonstarter: You must be joking!
Autry, president of Meredith Corp. Discussion Boards. Today, many Cantonese and Taiwanese lament the old refugees' retirement and complain that no one has carried on their culinary traditions; the chefs' own children, of course, have become brokers, lawyers, and professors. Mary C. The key to this process of localization is China's changing family system and the emergence of a "singleton" only-child subculture. The children of visiting colleagues from Taiwan and South Korea were overjoyed when they saw a McDonald's near their temporary homes in the Boston suburbs:
During the early years of his franchise, Ng promoted McDonald's as an outpost of American culture, offering authentic hamburgers to "with-it" young people eager to forget that they lived in a tiny colony on the rim of Maoist China. Those who experienced what passed for hamburgers in British Hong Kong during the s and s will appreciate the innovation.
Ng made the fateful decision not to compete with Chinese-style fast-food chains that had started a few years earlier the largest of which, Cafe de Coral, was established in The signs outside his first restaurants were in English; the Chinese characters for McDonald's Cantonese Mak-Bong-lou, Mandarin Mai-dang-lao did not appear until the business was safely established. Over a period of 20 years, McDonald's gradually became a mainstay of Hong Kong's middle-class culture. Today the restaurants are packed wall-to-wall with busy commuters, students, and retirees who treat them as homes away from home.
A survey I conducted among Hong Kong university students revealed that few were even aware of the company's American origins. For Hong Kong youth, McDonald's is a familiar institution that offers comfort foods that they have eaten since early childhood. McDonald's there is still a pricey venue that most Chinese treat as a tourist stop: Yan also discovered that working-class Beijing residents save up to take their kids to McDonald's and hover over them as they munch. Later the adults eat in a cheaper, Chinese-style restaurant.
Parents told Yan that they wanted their children to "connect" with the world outside China. Yan has since discovered that local yuppies are beginning to eat Big Macs regularly. In 20 years, he predicts, young people in Beijing like their counterparts in Hong Kong today will not even care about the foreign origin of McDonald's, which will be serving ordinary food to people more interested in getting a quick meal than in having a cultural experience.
The key to this process of localization is China's changing family system and the emergence of a "singleton" only-child subculture. Rising incomes are dramatically changing lifestyles, especially among younger couples in China's major cities. Decisions about jobs and purchases no longer require consultations with an extended network of parents, grandparents, adult siblings, and other kin.
More married women in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai work outside the home, which in turn affects child-rearing practices, residence patterns, and gender relations.
At least in the larger cities, men no longer rule the roost. One of China's most popular television shows features a search for the "ideal husband," a man who does the shopping, washes the dishes, and changes the baby's diapers--behavior inconceivable in Mao's heyday. Most Chinese newlyweds are choosing to create their own homes, thereby separating themselves from parents and in-laws. The traditional system of living with the groom's parents is dying out fast, even in the Chinese countryside.
Recent research in Shanghai and Dalian and Taipei shows that professional couples prefer to live near the wife's mother, often in the same apartment complex. The crucial consideration is household labor--child care, cooking, shopping, washing, and cleaning. With both husband and wife working full time, someone has to do it, and the wife's mother is considered more reliable and less trouble than the husband's mother, who would expect her daughter-in-law to be subservient.
In response to these social and economic changes, a new Chinese family system is emerging that focuses on the needs and aspirations of the married couple--the conjugal unit. Conjugality brings with it a package of attitudes and practices that undermine traditional Chinese views regarding filial piety and Confucianism.
Should younger couples strive, irrespective of personal cost, to promote the welfare of the larger kin group and support their aging parents? Or should they concentrate on building a comfortable life for themselves and their offspring? Increasingly, the balance is shifting toward conjugality and away from the Confucian norms that guided earlier generations.
The shift also coincides with a dramatic decline in China's birth rate and a rise in the amount of money and attention lavished on children.
Jul 13, A photograph shows a jar of Gerber brand "Big Mac and Fries" baby food. Older consumers might be excused for being a little confused, though, given that handful of McDonald’s outlets did try offering (standard) Gerber baby food as a menu item back in the late s. Jul 14, A photograph is circulating online in which a jar of Gerber brand of baby food entitled ‘Big Mac and Fries’. We have seen this post on Facebook and this story says that Gerber is introducing a new flavor for baby food named ‘Big Mac and Fries’. It is said that McDonald’s.
The Communist Party's single-child family policy has helped produce a generation of "little emperors and empresses," each commanding the undivided affection and economic support of two parents and if lucky four grandparents. The Chinese press is awash with articles bemoaning the rise of singletons who are selfish, maladjusted, and spoiled beyond repair--although psychologists working on China's singletons find them little different from their American or European counterparts.
McDonald's opened in Beijing in , a time when changes in family values were matched by a sustained economic boom. The startup date also coincided with a public "fever" for all things American--sports, clothing, films, food, and so on. American-style birthday parties became key to the company's expansion strategy. Prior to the arrival of McDonald's, festivities marking youngsters' specific birth dates were unknown in most of East Asia.
In Hong Kong, for instance, lunar-calendar dates of birth were recorded for use in later life--to help match prospective marriage partners' horoscopes or choose an auspicious burial date. Until the late s and early s, most people paid little attention to their calendar birth date if they remembered it at all. McDonald's and its rivals now promote the birthday party complete with cake, candles, and silly hats--in television advertising aimed directly at kids. McDonald's also introduced other localized innovations that appeal to younger customers.
In Beijing, Ronald McDonald a. Uncle McDonald is paired with an Aunt McDonald whose job is to entertain children and help flustered parents. All over East Asia, McDonald's offers a party package that includes food, cake, gifts, toys, and the exclusive use of a children's enclosure sometimes known as the Ronald Room. Birthday parties are all the rage for upwardly mobile youngsters in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai. Given that most people in these cities live in tiny, overcrowded flats, the local Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald's is a convenient and welcoming place for family celebrations.
For the first time in Chinese history, children matter not simply as future providers but as full-scale consumers who command respect in today's economy. Until the s, kids rarely ate outside the home. When they did, they were expected to eat what was put in front of them. The idea that children might actually order their own food would have shocked most adults; only foreign youngsters were permitted to make their opinions known in public, which scandalized everyone within earshot.
Today children have money in their pockets, most of which they spend on snacks. New industries and a specialized service sector have emerged to feed this category of consumers, as the anthropologist Jun Jing has noted in his new book, Feeding China's Little Emperors. In effect, the fast-food industry helped start a consumer revolution by encouraging children as young as three or four to march up to the counter, slap down their money, and choose their own food. In Hong Kong, McDonald's has become so popular that parents use visits to their neighborhood outlet as a reward for good behavior or academic achievement.
An old friend told me that withholding McDonald's visits was the only threat that registered with his wayward son. McDonald's could not have succeeded in East Asia without appealing to new generations of consumers--children from 3 to 13 and their harried, stressed-out parents. No amount of stealth advertising or brilliant promotions could have done the trick alone. The fast-food industry did not create a market where none existed; it responded to an opportunity presented by the collapse of an outdated Confucian family system.
There is no great mystery here, unless one is predisposed to seeing imperialist plots behind every successful business. In August French farmers dumped tons of manure and rotting apricots in front of their local McDonald's to protest U. During the past five years, McDonald's restaurants have been the targets of violent protests--including bombings--in over 50 countries, in cities including Rome, Macao, Rio de Janeiro, Prague, London, and Jakarta.
Why McDonald's? Other transnationals--notably Coca-Cola, Disney, and Pepsi--also draw the ire of anti-American demonstrators, but no other company can compete with the "Golden Arches. McDonald's is more than a purveyor of food; it is a saturated symbol for everything that environmentalists, protectionists, and anticapitalist activists find objectionable about American culture.
McDonald's even stands out in the physical landscape, marked by its distinctive double-arched logo and characteristic design. Despite the symbolic load it carries, McDonald's can hardly be held responsible for the wholesale subversion of local cuisines, as its many critics claim.
In China's larger cities, traditional specialties are supported by middle-class connoisseurs who treat eating out as a hobby and a diversion. Beijing's food scene today is a gourmet's paradise compared to the grim days of Maoist egalitarianism, when China's public canteens gave real meaning to the term "industrialized food. During the s, refugee chefs kept microregional specialties alive in the back streets of Hong Kong and Taipei, where Panyu-style seafood, Shandong noodles, and Shunde vegetarian delights could be had at less than a dollar a head.
Today, many Cantonese and Taiwanese lament the old refugees' retirement and complain that no one has carried on their culinary traditions; the chefs' own children, of course, have become brokers, lawyers, and professors. Meanwhile, there has been an explosion of exotic new cuisines in China's cities: Chinese-style restaurants must now compete with these "ethnic" newcomers in a vast smorgasbord. The arrival of fast food is only one dimension of a much larger Chinese trend toward the culinary adventurism associated with rising affluence.
McDonald's has not been entirely passive, as demonstrated by its successful promotion of American-style birthday parties.
Some try to tag McDonald's as a polluter and exploiter, but most Chinese consumers see the company as a force for the improvement of urban life. Clean toilets were a welcome development in cities where, until recently, a visit to a public restroom could be harrowing.
The chain's preoccupation with cleanliness has raised consumer expectations and forced competitors to provide equally clean facilities. Ray Kroc, the legendary founder of McDonald's, was once asked if he had actually scrubbed out toilets during the early years of his franchise: After an ineffectual first try, one new employee was ordered to clean the restrooms again.
The startled worker replied that the toilets were already cleaner than the collective facilities he used at home. Ng told him that standards at McDonald's were higher and ordered him to do it again. Another innovation is the line, a social institution that is seldom appreciated until it collapses. When McDonald's opened in Hong Kong, customers clumped around the cash registers, pushing their money over the heads of the people ahead of them--standard procedure in local train stations, banks, and cinemas. McDonald's management appointed an employee usually a young woman to act as queue monitor, and within a few months, regular consumers began to enforce the system themselves by glaring at newcomers who had the effrontery to jump ahead.
Today the line is an accepted feature of Hong Kong's middle-class culture, and it is making headway in Beijing and Shanghai. Whether or not McDonald's deserves the credit for this particular innovation, many East Asian consumers associate the "Golden Arches" with public civility. But James Cantalupo, the president of McDonald's Corporation, maintains that his strategy is to become as much a part of local culture as possible and protests when people call McDonald's a multinational or a transnational.
McDonald's goes out of its way to find local suppliers whenever it enters a new market. In China, for instance, the company nurtures its own network of russet-potato growers to provide french fries of the requisite length. McDonald's has also learned to rely on self-starters like Daniel Ng to run its foreign franchises--with minimal interference from Oak Brook.
Another winning strategy, evident everywhere in East Asia, is promoting promising young "crew" behind-the-counter workers into management's ranks. Surprisingly few managers are dispatched from the Illinois headquarters. Critics of the fast-food industry assume that corporations always call the shots and that consumers have little choice but to accept what is presented to them.