As China Goes, So Goes the World How Chinese Consumers Are Transforming Everything

Karl Gerth

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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In this revelatory examination of the most overlooked force that is changing the face of China, the Oxford historian and scholar of modern Asia Karl Gerth shows that as the Chinese consumer goes, so goes the world. While Americans and Europeans have become increasingly worried about China's competition for manufacturing jobs and energy resources, they have overlooked an even bigger story: China's rapid development of an American-style consumer culture, which is revolutionizing the lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese and has the potential to reshape the world.

This change is already well under way. China has become the world's largest consumer of everything from automobiles to beer and has begun to adopt such consumer habits as living in large single-occupancy homes, shopping in gigantic malls, and eating meat-based diets served in fast-food outlets. Even rural Chinese, long the laggards of consumerism, have been buying refrigerators, televisions, mobile phones, and larger houses in unprecedented numbers. As China Goes, So Goes the World reveals why we should all care about the everyday choices made by ordinary Chinese. Taken together, these seemingly small changes are deeper and more profound than the headline-grabbing stories on military budgets, carbon emissions, or trade disputes.


Praise for As China Goes, So Goes the World

"Although there has been a recent outpouring of publications on the growing economic and political importance of China, the dynamic role of the Chinese consumer has received relatively little attention. Gerth author of China Made: Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation, does much to redress the imbalance and to point out the potential influence of Chinese consumerism, not only on China but on the rest of the world. The book is both informative and entertaining. Although supported by input from published sources, the text is largely the result of insightful observations of the author, who lived, studied, and traveled extensively in China. The book draws parallels between expanding consumerism in China and corresponding developments in other countries such as the US. However, Gerth is careful in identifying unique aspects of China's embrace of domestic consumption. The book contains extensive source notes, readings, and websites for further investigation. The writing style is reader friendly and can be appreciated by a broad spectrum of readers who have even a passing interest in understanding the growing importance of China as a world power."—W. C. Struning, emeritus, Seton Hall University, Choice

"Due to the very nature of China—huge, complicated, full of historical nuance— picking up a book that attempts to explain even a fragment of it can be downright daunting, even to the China enthusiast. But in this shrinking world, China is a country worth understanding and Gerth provides a wealth of information in a digestible, provocative format . . . As China Goes, So Goes the World is an important read."—Jenna Fisher, The Christian Science Monitor

"As China Goes, So Goes the World offers a vivid portrait of contemporary China."—Richard McGregor, The Nation

"A worthy introduction to key facets of Chinese consumer culture. It should prove beneficial to readers from executives looking to break into the China market to sociologists keen to understand how consumerism is changing China."—Andrew Peaple, The Wall Street Journal Asia

"As University of Oxford academic Karl Gerth makes clear in this crisply written and accessible overview, the world has yet to get used to what the rise of the Chinese consumer means."—Kerry Brown, The Times Higher Education (London)

"As China Goes, So Goes the World is an exhilarating read, deeply researched and thoroughly entertaining."—Christina Larson, Washington Monthly

"A groundbreaking—and hair-raising—account of what it means for life on the planet as China re-shapes itself as a consumer society."—Isabel Hilton, editor, China Dialogue

"The global economy of the last several decades has been underpinned by two simple principles: the frugal Chinese will make everything, and the spendthrift Americans will buy anything. But what happens when Chinese consumers begin to lead the world and to define global tastes? We're not there yet, but Karl Gerth's new book guides us through China's consumer revolution to a future modeled in part on America—a future of cars and conspicuous consumption; of the selling of land, labor, and sex; of growing inequality and interlocking elites of business and politics; of wanton environmental degradation. This engaging and provocative book captures with skill and wit the changes that define Chinese markets today and that may, in time, transform the world. Read it before your next trip to China."—William Kirby, Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

"A highly entertaining and incisive description and analysis of the rise of China's consumerism, and the enormous forces it is driving around the world today."—Graham Earnshaw, author of The Life and Death of a Dotcom in China

"China not only makes most of the world's stuff but increasingly its billion citizens are consuming it with Western-style appetites for everything from bottled water to BMWs. As China Goes, So Goes the World holds lessons for everyone concerned about managing the increasing footprint of human consumption on our fragile planet."—Thomas F. Thornton, Director, MSc Environmental Change & Management & Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

"An entertaining read with real—but often alarming—substance packed quietly in every line."—Mark Elvin, author, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China

"Many books have appeared about China's social, economic and political systems but little is reported about the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese consumers. Karl Gerth provides valuable information and insights about consumer choices in China and their implications for Chinese and Western businesses operating in China."—Philip Kotler, S.C. Johnson Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

"Nuanced, balanced and accessible—essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of China today."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

China Creates a Car Culture and Economy
Today's China sounds different. Back when I arrived in Nanjing for my junior year in college in 1986, one of the first things that struck me was the absence of car noise, signaling, of...

Read the full excerpt


  • Karl Gerth

  • Karl Gerth teaches modern Chinese history at Oxford University.