Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sanlitun North and China's bustling luxury goods market

Story in City Weekend.

As I was working on the story, I kept thinking the money quote, which I didn't have room to include, was from Richard of Peking Duck, who wrote about The Place: "As we crash, The Place and many other useless mega-malls like it will serve only as reminders of the excesses of good times that we fooled ourselves into believing would last forever."

The Place, for those who haven't been, is a gaudy, over-the-top (no pun intended, as there's a ginormous LCD screen hanging over the top of a concrete walkway) shopping complex near Ritan Park, which makes me gasp every time I pass it (usually in a cab -- god forbid I find myself on foot near that monstrosity). It must, methinks, one day become a symbol of human depravity and greed in the eyes of our alien overlords.

Sanlitun North, whenever it finally opens, will probably be a success. It's warmer, friendlier, less audacious in design than many of the shopping centers in Beijing and, by extension, the rest of China. It resides in the heart of an incredibly robust entertainment and shopping district in a city with swelling demand (600,000 people moved into Beijing last year), in a country that has 364,000 dollar-millionaires, fourth most in the world, and one that just overtook the U.S. in luxury spending ($8.6 billion last year, behind only Japan). And in case you've forgotten, this is a place where material wealth begets status, leading Caijing to call the Chinese “the people that wear Prada” -- in other words, perfect for luxury retailers.

I suppose that's what's most unsettling: not the prospect of this luxury mall turning into, say, Dongguan Mall in Guangdong Province (the biggest shopping mall in the world and also the emptiest -- read about its massive failure here, here and here), but the prospect of the Chinese people burrowing deeper into a materialistic sinkhole that leaves this society soulless for at least a generation.

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