Chinese people will give up their health, time and freedom just to earn the money to buy a big house, an expensive car and the latest phone; all to protect, save and get even more “face” and respect from other people. Western people will not.
This mindset that comes from the Chinese susceptibility to herd mentality is, “I must have what other people have, even I do not really need it”.
Yet, Chinese people sometimes feel uncomfortable with this, as they themselves are aware it is a Catch 22 situation; the more trappings of respectability and prestige a person has, the more they need, and the harder they need work to maintain it, or the disgrace would be too much to bear.
For example, imagine you are still using an older model flip phone. What do you think would be the reaction from the iPhone X elite? They will laugh behind your back, whispering and making jokes about you to one and another. On the surface, they will smile and be very kind and nice, but their giggles and whispered comments make you feel ashamed and helpless. If this happened to you, would you change your phone to cater to other people’s reactions and in order to feel more confident? Very probably, you would. Since you care very much about other people’s disdainful eyes on you, you suffer a lost sense of security and feel you have lost face. You are sad, sorry and uncomfortable.
Chinese people are just like the character in my story because they want to “Keep up with the Jones’” in order to avoid these embarrassing moments whereby they feel substandard or out of fashion, just like that old flip phone. Nowadays, it is not only the Chinese who are like this. After all, it is human nature to seek acceptance and goodwill from our friends, acquaintances and those who surround us. It is understandable to consider the current fashion when buying new things. This trait is found in all societies. However, in China, it may easily be the most important consideration; people believe that they do not have any choice but to buy the most expensive item in the shop, for fear their friends and neighbours will think they are poor or cheap, or even tasteless!
Furthermore, another interesting psychological foible of Chinese people is in the comparison of themselves to others. They desire the envy of others in order to fill the spiritual emptiness in their hearts. Alas, these people do not actually live for themselves; they are living for their face, dignity and respect of other people. In the end, the trappings of wealth and success do not keep a person warm at night, nor do they laugh at their jokes, and they will never love them back, no matter how much they cost.
But for Western people, there is a more pragmatic approach to consumerism than the Chinese, and to me, it seems that they are more in tune with their own desires and living in the way that they want. As westerners to not place such a large value on material goods for the sake of it, this kind of mindless consumerism gains much less traction. In some cases, it can even gain the opposite; contempt.
Traditionally, Chinese people have been afraid of being repelled by society and losing face. Yes, they do value material goods, such as large cars, phones and houses, yet they are depriving themselves of so much on a spiritual level. Blinded by the pursuit of goods and objects, they are losing the way for themselves.