I come from a Chinese family, grew up in America, and I think it’s necessary to speak out about China and its need of minimalism. I’ve been trying to bring in conversations regarding the joy of owning less with Chinese residence, especially from my parents’ generation, and so far, it has been difficult for them to grasp.
China has a long history, rich in culture, and its people are intelligent and innovative. With mass production and economic boom, more electricity and technology have been reaching more people. Many rural families got rich fast and had more money than they know what to do with. Even though people of China now have more money in their pockets, why are they still not happy? The statistics proves it with surveys showing results along the lines of 6% very happy versus 48% certainly unhappy. I think they are realizing that money can’t buy happiness after all.
China is one of the biggest brand consumers in the world. I went to China just a few months ago. My parents and I dragged back 6 huge luggages of consumer products from America, spending $6000+. I asked other people if they do the same, and sure enough, their answers just go up higher and higher. I was at Costco and I hear a person speaking in Chinese saying, “No more...can’t stuff anymore in my luggage...no more.” And they kept stuffing their carts. Many mall outlets have mandarin advertisements here in California, knowing that Chinese tourists are a major target audience. When I ask my parents why they buy all that stuff? They say that spending money is the way to show their loved ones they care, that their loved ones’ happiness is worth more than money. I get that, I respect their love, but my question is: how is my aunt going to use 12 containers of face cream in a year? Or how is my uncle going to eat 20 jars of q10? They do this every time they go back, and when they do see them again, most of the stuff they brought them before have gone bad, or just put away unused in a box somewhere--taking up space, wasting all the hours of my parents’ lives, grinding away to make that money. I think China has sort of lost its way.. it has lost its roots, its culture, selling mass production knockoffs of its pride, copying whoever is making more money than they are, diluting honey with syrup.. There’s a lack of trust in its people and lack of authenticity in its businesses. It’s heartbreaking to witness young people in China wearing knockoff brand names just to appear rich, or giving useless objects to people they want favors from just to show its price tags. Women won’t marry men without these three things: House, car, and high income. These are the current situations in the cities.
On the other hand, China’s people in provinces actually don’t own that many things. Every object is likely a diy project. Photographer, Huang Qingjun took photos of people and their belongings in province homes, and they are just as minimal as we strive to be on this platform. Yet the culture is shifting to something unstoppable, towards landfills, towards insincerity, towards superficiality. A lot of gorgeous landscapes are being destroyed. In fact, my father is from the minority province of Shuang. Now there’s no more rice fields, and my grandmother is shopping at places that looks like forever 21! There are good and bad things that come with progress. But as of now, we need to realize that too much expectations and judgement in its culture is never a good sign. People are loving objects too much and losing their love for one another.
The west has been introducing consumerism to the east, and we here are trying to become more mindful. However, the ripple effects have reached quite far. I hope to start more conversation with people from my place of origin, in fact most of the mass productions come from China in the first place. Maybe it’s time to tackle environmental problems at one of its roots, where all the throwaways are made.
I want to wake more people up to what’s really going to bring them happiness—their life passions, their life experiences. I’m starting from where I stand now though. Small steps—one at a time. One conversation at a time.
Huang Qingjiu's photography of China's worldly belongings