Home » business, international, julie horwitz's travel blog, society & culture

American fast food is a way of life for many Chinese

By 5 June 2009 One Comment

China’s economy has been growing by leaps and bound in recent years, and Western fast food chains such as  Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s have made some impressive strides of their own. The first McDonald’s appeared in Shenzhen in 1990, while the first KFC opened its doors in Beijing in 1987. Today, there are 960 McDonald’s across the country and nearly 2,600 KFC’s.

How did American fast food get so popular so fast?  Do Chinese people really relish the taste all that much? Is it a matter of convenience in an increasingly fast-paced society? Or is downing such fare as American burgers and fries seen by Chinese as status symbol in a country now aggressively linking its fate with the global economy?

The answers to these questions vary a lot depending on to whom you happen to be talking.

Beijing KFC customer Jessie Liu, 26, said that although she does sometimes prefer fast food to traditional Chinese food, the main reason she comes to restaurants like KFC is because they are convenient.

“Sometimes I may need to wait for friends who I plan to eat with, and eating at places like KFC makes this more convenient,” Liu said.

Zhao Liang, 24, was eating at a McDonald’s on Di’Anmen street in central Beijing just because he felt like eating a hamburger. While he generally prefers traditional Chinese food to American fast food, what he eats often depends on his mood.

“Sometimes I want rice, sometimes I want noodles, and other times I might want a hamburger,” Liang said.

Many other Chinese adults who would not otherwise frequent  American fast-food chains are often willing to go for their children. Cheng Tang, mother of four-year-old Chris, said she was dining at KFC solely for her daughter.

“For Chinese food, meals are just eating, but here, she can play on the playground and is always happy to meet new friends,” Tang said.

For many Chinese, fast food restaurants are a place to hang out as well as eat. Just as the experience of eating at a Western-style fast food restrauant can be about more than just eating to a child because of the play structures, it can also be about more than just eating to adults as they also serve as a place to hang out.

In a research paper entitled “McDonald’s and Its Localization in China”, international relations student Hao Ziduan noted that because China is the most populous in the world, it is often very difficult for people to find a decent public space to hang out with friends, study, or conduct business.

Paul Mooney, a freelance reporter who has been living in Beijing since 1994, said he often conducts interviews in American fast food restaurants. “It’s what many of my sources arrange,” said Mooney. “I’ve probably had more than 100 interviews in fast food restaurants over the years.” Mooney said this happens because fast food restaurants are a common meeting place for many Chinese.

Many Chinese businesses are beginning to mimic the business style of American fast food restaurants, as well. “Fast food is definitely a growing business here,” said Mooney. “I often see new Chinese companies that have adopted the model to do shops that are similar to American fast food chains, some selling things like burgers and chicken, but many also offering Chinese fast food items. It’s a good business model and many Chinese are keen to copy it.”

And that impulse may well ensure that fast food will continue to tantalize taste buds in China for a long time to come.

One Comment »

  • mlloyd said:

    Sounds like the Chinese eat fast food for the same reasons as Americans! Interesting post!

Leave your response!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.