Articles By: Fred Badlissi
McDonald’s has been a fixture of China’s fast-food scene since 1990. Like many of its competitors, the burger chain has adapted some items to local tastes, like chicken McWings with spicy garlic sauce. But its flagship sandwich, the Big Mac, tastes the same in Beijing as it does in Boston, down to the two meat patties, special sauce and sesame seed bun.
Forty years ago, entertainment took a distant back seat to political rhetoric, as television was just one of many mediums used by the Communist Party to perpetuate ideas like “class struggle” and resistance to “Western imperialism” to galvanize generations of Chinese. Today, the Party’s line is economic improvement, a furnace of productivity that can burn through labor as fast as it does money and the environment.
Call of Duty: Black Ops set a one-day sales record of $360 million in the United States, and today has sold more than 13.7 million copies there. But if you’re in Beijing, you can buy a bootlegged copy for just 9 RMB ($1.38).
With a cigarette in one hand, Tao Lei navigated a playlist on his laptop with the other. Sporting black jeans and a T-shirt with the logo of the Finnish metal band HIM, the 20s-something shop owner sat surrounded by guitars in his 9 by 15 foot slice of Beijing’s Xinjieko musical instrument district.
All great countries are exceptional in their own ways and China, as it gathers expanded global power, is no exception. That much was clear during the month I spent in China recently, though it was also remarkable the degree to which China’s story, now in its early stages, tracks America’s long rise.