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Economic downturn dampens Children’s Day 2009

By 5 June 2009 One Comment

For Chinese families, June 1, International Children’s Day, is normally one of the happiest days on the calendar, something like Christmas and Fourth of July rolled into one.

This year, a reporter visiting Beijing’s scenic Houhai Lake district found herself in the midst of a typically festive scene, with student volunteers wearing the bright red neck scarves, a traditional symbol of childhood, and parents on their way to neighborhood toy stores to buy presents for their children.

She stopped to chat with a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ging, who happened to be delivering their three-year-old son to a public dance performance. That may explain why he was wearing bright red lipstick and pink blush on his cheeks, and was dressed in an elaborate multicolored dragon costume.

“We are so proud,” said Mr. Ging.”This is our first year participating, but our family hopes to continue this tradition until [our son] is no longer a child.”

This year, however, the global economic crisis, which has hit China’s economy hard, poses a dilemma for an increasing number of financially challenged Chinese. While the holiday features public performances, parent-children activities and a day off from school for children 14 and under, for the kids, the high point is the new toys and gifts their parents give to them. But in a time when particularly lower-income families are having enough trouble paying for their daily necessities, the added burden of purchasing toys to meet their offspring’s expectations make money matters all the more difficult.

The view from Ge Long Yue’s toy and magic shop, ”The Dream of Dragon,” is particularly poignant. “Some come hoping for compassion from a visiting tourist,” said Yue. “Others come in to buy the cheapest, smallest things available, and even that is too much [for them.] There have already been twenty to thirty penniless people walk in today, and it is only the afternoon.”

Near the crowded stores on East Dianmen Street, a young woman watched over her two sons in a dusty hutong. Sitting on an old orange stool while one son blew bubbles out of a piece of plastic, the woman said she had no intentions of buying toys for either of her sons. Her situation is one example of this socioeconomic dilemma.

“It is not unusual to meet people who travel long distances around China just to buy children’s gifts from Beijing on this day,” said Wang Gui Ling, a sales clerk for a Dianmen East Street toy store. “I see a mix of classes and ages spending any where from 10 to 100 yuan on toys from this store, mainly stuffed rabbits and dogs.”

According to Wang, there are financially well-off Chinese citizens and tourists spending money at the store, but the profits  Children’s Day bring are not enough to sustain the family business.

“If every parent in Beijing spent money on [Children’s Day], things might be different,” said Wang. “We would still have to [give up our busienss] but at least we would know if we can open again somewhere else. Things are uncertain.”

One Comment »

  • Osvaldo Romero said:

    Interesting perspective on how the economy affects the working class of China. Also, the idea that although “things are uncertain” but they can start again elsewhere illuminates hope. It’s good to read that it exists everywhere.

    Osvaldo Romero

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