It has become a cliché, at least in the West, to view China as the new economic Shangri-La, a place of almost mythical savings ratios populated by willing workaholics who are now in a position not merely to fund American consumption but purchase (and in doing so, sustain) prime European infrastructure. But the PRC is far from being the home of a billion Asian automatons that many popular representations would have one believe; despite a 2011 GDP per capita of a little over US$5,000.00 and life in a vast, largely undeveloped countryside still qualifying as the lot of the ‘average’ Chinese citizen, China has already become in no small way a leisure society.
Arguably, this phenomenon can be perceived no more clearly than in the lives of those getting their education in the world’s most populous country. The must-read 2010 Boston Consulting Group (‘BCG’) report – China’s Digital Generations 2.0: Digital Media and Commerce Go Mainstream (authors: David C. Michael and Yvonne Zhou) – amply illustrates this reality. China as a nation spent more than one billion hours online per day in 2009, a figure which was more than double the equivalent for the United States, but this is just the beginning of things to come: 2015 should see the PRC transcend the two billion hours per day threshold.
And while there is more than a sprig of the traditional Confucian stress on education behind the purchases of mobile telephones and particularly PCs which make this Internet usage possible – computers are perceived, quite correctly in some respects, as a pivotal learning tool – there are plenty of similarities in how Chinese students and their counterparts elsewhere in the world: 87% of China’s digital consumers utilise the Internet for IM, with messaging services like Weixin and QQ much in favour amongst the PRC’s youth; online music (83%) and online gaming (55%) are also activities which are popular with young Chinese, with only social networking (33%) evincing relatively little cachet compared to both other emerging markets such as Brazil (nearly 70%) and more established major economies.
What ultimate significance does this have? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana believe that we have spotted at least two key developments emerging from the transmogrification of China into a land of digital leisure:
1. The Possible Erosion of the Chinese Work Ethic. With so many cheap entertainment opportunities afforded by the new technologies, it is hard to believe that this will not on some level lead to an erosion of the formidable Chinese work ethic; for every addict of a Happy Farm clone, slumped over their chair in a Tianjin Internet café, furtively stealing virtual cabbages, there are tens if not hundreds of millions of similar, more casual players who nevertheless have the expectation of entertainment wired into their psyches.
2. The Harmonisation of Global Digital Leisure Norms. This has particular relevance to Chinese students, whose sharing in and shaping of the global digital leisure culture will mean increased competition for Western students when it comes to the development of the products and services which constitute this domain. At the same time, if Chinese students become transfixed by this culture to the detriment of their grades, they risk becoming less valuable in the world’s labour marketplace.