China's Ownership Society, Where Success Means Having Stuff

Photograph by Imaginechina via AP Photo

Chinese friends are often puzzled that I chose to come to Beijing as a journalist. It’s not that they aren’t patriotic or enthusiastic about China’s future prospects—mostly they are. But many wonder why anyone with a coveted U.S. university degree would voluntarily embark upon an exciting, if potentially unstable, career path; surely there are quicker paths to riches than journalism. And any successful career woman ought to tote a Prada bag, not a simple rucksack, right?

Recently the global market-research company Ipsos polled people in 20 countries about their attitudes toward wealth and success. Those in China were the most likely to equate success with material possessions, with 71 percent agreeing with the statement “I measure my success by the things I own.”

The next three countries were also large emerging markets, suggesting that people’s views may be shaped not only by culture, but by stage of national development: 58 percent of respondents in India agreed with the same statement, while 57 percent in Turkey and 48 percent in Brazil did. (Twenty-one percent of Americans did.)

People in China were also the most likely to say “I feel under a lot of pressure to be successful and make money,” with 68 percent agreeing. (A separate global poll last year by U.K.-based office-space company Regus found that Chinese workers were also the most likely to report increasing stress levels over the past year.)

Meanwhile, people in India were the most likely to be hopeful about their country as a whole over the next year, with 53 percent expressing optimism. Forty-six percent of people in China expressed optimism—considerably above the global average of 32 percent. And the most pessimistic? Those living in Spain, Italy, and France.

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