The soulful mystery at the heart of China’s economic growth


heysee In the last few decades, the small, industrial city of Zibo has been most famous for its petrochemical production. In recent months, however, it has become the center of a national barbecue craze and social-media phenomenon the likes of which China has never seen before. Tourists have flocked to the city in the central province of Shandong, hoping to eat the legendary kebabs, post videos on Douyin, the local version of TikTok, and then leave. Arenas have been converted into temporary dining halls to deal with the huge crowds. To ease constraints on the supply of meat and grills, local banks have begun handing out specially designed low-interest loans to merchants in barbecue-related industries.

Listen to this story.
Enjoy more audios and podcasts iOS Or Android,

your browser <ऑडियो> Does not support element.

During the recent May Day holiday, one of the most important weeks of the year for domestic shopping and entertainment spending, the Chemistry Center was listed as a top tourist destination along with other popular sites such as the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors Was. A widely shared internet meme jokes that the last time so many people appeared in the city was during the Siege of Qi, a famous battle that took place in the area in 284.B.C,

This frenetic activity in Zibo should help China recover from its disastrous zero-Covid era. Analysts have highlighted consumption as a bright spot in the Chinese economy this year amid a dismal outlook for construction and manufacturing. In fact, at first glance activity appears to be strong during the most recent holiday. The recovery in tourism has been amazing. A record 274 million people traveled, 19% more than before the pandemic. Just a few short months ago, a small laugh could land you in a quarantine camp for weeks.

Yet other data reveal a more modest improvement – ​​only to levels seen in 2019, before Covid-19, and not beyond them. Although more people traveled this year, per capita spending was down more than 10% from 2019, hsbc, a beach. As a result, domestic tourism revenue grew by just 0.7% over four years ago. “Chinese consumers are not normal,” warned the boss of an asset-management firm. They say they focus on food and fun, not big-ticket items like cars. Auto sales in the first four months of 2023 were down 1.4% year over year.

Young people are going out of their way to spend less. Since the end of zero-Covid, many tourists have described themselves as “special-ops” travelers. It connotes dropping in on one location, spending as little time and money as possible, and then moving on to the next – as much as an elite military organization might pass through a location. The activity has become a game, where young people visit a list of popular places and check them out by posting pictures on social media. Zeebo’s Kebabs have been one of the top items to take off from the list.

However, it is not just youth frugality that is behind the weak consumption figures. In the first three months of the year, at least by Chinese standards, urban disposable income barely grew, only 2.7% higher in real terms than the same period a year earlier, noted Raymond Yeung. anz, a beach. He said a fifth of young people are now out of work, double the rate in April 2019.

Zibo Kebab is the perfect treat for a budget traveller. They are consumed on low tables with a small stove heated by coals. When the fat renders off, the meat is scraped into a thin pancake and dipped first in garlic and chili paste and then in a salty mixture of sesame and peanuts. A bottle of the city’s local beer, called Lulansha, costs less than three yuan ($0.40). For less than 350 yuan, four people can eat and drink for hours. Craze is much more than simple food. A man who has operated a shop in the city’s Linzi district for many years points out barbecue parts that anyone can sell chuan’r, as the dish is called locally. It is the hospitality of Shandong with a big heart that people from all over the country are finding in Zibo.

Yet the cheap eats have sparked controversy among social commentators. Wu Xiaobo, a popular author, recently wrote that viral Internet trends running on the streets of cities like Zibo are evidence of a strong free market economy operating in China. However, his article generated such a backlash that it was censored.

Others are less serious. A widely circulated article by Liu Yadong, a professor, claims the trend is evidence of social decay in China, with young people fixated on online fads that hold little cultural value. Another article by think-tank researcher Wang Mingyuan suggests that the barbecue promotion signals the end of a decades-long economic cycle. The smaller cities that make up the majority of China’s population have been left out of the more standard drivers of growth; The demographic dividend is running short, as the country’s population is ageing. Thus local authorities must jump at whatever internet craze comes their way. Mr. Wang asks, how long can the barbecue party last?

Sign up for more expert analysis of the biggest stories in economics, finance and the markets money TalksOur weekly subscriber-only newsletter.

Source link