Fast food restaurants have long been a staple in American culture, and for approximately the last thirty years, these restaurants have been branching out to different areas of the world. China is a mecca for fast food restaurants, which is changing a culture that has traditionally filled dinner tables with an assortment of noodles, and various meat and vegetable dishes. This is taking something away from the traditional culture of China, and replacing it with non-nutritious, fattening foods. Fast food restaurants have helped cause a pandemic of obesity in the United States, and now that trend is making its way into China. This essay will focus on the cultural implications of having fast food restaurants opening in China. These restaurants are detrimental to the Chinese culture due to health implications, but they are widely accepted by the nation’s people.
Western fast food chains began to penetrate and develop the Chinese market. For example, “On Nov. 12, 1987, the first KFC opened in Beijing, and three years later, the first McDonald’s opened in Shenzhen, a major city in South China,” (China, 2008). By 2005, KFC had 1,200 locations in the mainland of China and there were another 600 McDonald’s locations in the same year, (China licking, 2005).
This transformation has taken place in the most populace country in the world, one that is rich with indigenous food that is eaten throughout the world. The cuisine is now in a continual alteration because of the growing influence from U.S. fast food companies. In fact, while it has only been in the last thirty years that fast food restaurants have opened in China, the industry is becoming more of a consumer of fast food than those who live in America. “It has come to this: China’s cuisine is increasingly being altered by the growing consumption of fast food, with the Chinese now more likely than Americans to eat takeout meals, according to a survey released last week by ACNielsen Corp., the market research firm,” (Goodman, 2004). However, the research didn’t point out what type of takeout Chinese people are eating. After all, they could very well be eating Chinese takeout. But according to the research, of the 14,000 adults polled in 28 countries, 41 per cent of those who responded from mainland China eat at a fast food restaurant at least once per cent. That compares to 35 per cent of Americans who eat at a fast food restaurant at least once per week, (Goodman, 2004).
Western fast food chains are modified form their U.S. counterparts to better fit Chinese tastes. There is a different menu. There is a lot of the Chinese pop culture and language also included in the Chinese market, which markets to Chinese people and attempts to appeal to them. (Goodman, 2004). Some of the menu items at Chinese KFCs include bamboo shoots and lotus roots. This fusion of American fast food and Chinese tastes have created a symbol in the country, where Col. Harland Sanders is now a symbol of the U.S. The blend of these nations’ foods has been a real hit. Profits in China were higher than $200 million in 2004. That represents over half of the company’s international profits. “And the pace of 275 locations opened in the country last year is expected to be matched this year,” (China licking, 2005).
The type of fast food restaurant that is successful in China is a sign of what the culture demand. KFC has outsold McDonald’s. KFC has had the widest response in the nation, and now the country boasts 15 per cent of KFC’s overall sales in 2004, and that number was expected to increase. Pizza Huts are also opening up in China, and there are now 146 locations, (China licking, 2005). But China has a rich history of having its own foods. “In a nation that has taken pride in the delicacy and diversity of a cuisine which dates back thousands of years, it is astonishing that foreign fast food chains like Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s have dominated the fast food industry in China,” (Competition, 2008). But, interestingly, KFC actually failed to be successful in Hong Kong when it tried to open a restaurant there in 1975. What changed? “KFC brought the idea of ‘fast food’ to China nine years after China embraced the opening-up and reform policy in 1978, when Chinese curiosity about the West was at a peak,” (Competition, 2008). This was strategic timing, and was at a much different period than in 1975. This enthusiasm could be a sign that China, in the last 1980s, was ready to embrace America, and it wasn’t long before many more KFC’s would start opening in the nation. Three years later, the first McDonald’s opened in China.
The addition of fast food restaurants in China has certainly provided a new element to the culture there. Whether this addition is an erosion to the culture depends on how dominant the fast food restaurants are in the nation. Chinese people have certainly embraced the restaurants, making the addition of the fast food chains not overwhelmingly invasive. Just as North America embraced Chinese restaurants into the culture here, China is now doing the same thing with American restaurants. The addition of the Chinese restaurants hasn’t eroded the culture here, but has instead added an element that makes life more interesting, as there is a greater variety of options from which to choose when dining. That same impact is now being felt in China, and there is no reason to think that the addition is causing a cultural malaise, but is instead adding to the vibrancy and worldliness of ideas and flavour that make China what it is today.
“China licking its fingers.” (2005, Jan. 14). The Washington Post.
“Competition gearing up in China’s fast food industry.” (2008, July 30). China Daily.
Goodman, P. (2004, Dec. 26). Fast Food Takes a Bite Out of Chinese Culture. The Washington