Spreading Global Consumerism:
Effects of Mass Media and Advertising
on Consumerist Values in China
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Department of Communication Arts
University of Wisconsin-Madison
This study aims to demonstrate that advertisements and the types of media content re-
lated to consumption and/or originated from the West play a significant role in shap-
ing consumerist orientations among China’s urban residents. More specifically, it
examines how the acceptance of 2 newly emerged consumerist values—quality con-
sumption and innovative consumption—is related to exposure to advertisements and
media. By analyzing data from large-scale consumer surveys conducted in the 3 most
economically advanced cities in China, this study finds that exposure to consump-
tion-related and West-originated media contents and advertisements contributes to a
more ready acceptance of the 2 consumerist values. Such exposure also contributes
to the development of more positive attitudes toward advertising that are found to po-
tentially mediate and moderate the effects of exposure to consumption- and mar-
ket-related media content on consumerist values. Implications of the findings and di-
rections for future studies are discussed.
In the age of globalization, many have argued that transnational sharing of media
representations constitute shared cultural experiences (e.g., Featherstone, Lash, &
Robertson, 1995; Robertson, 1992; Tomlinson, 1999). This argument suggests that
the global reach of consumer products and the various forms of media content pro-
moting them are responsible for the emergence of a global consumer culture that
MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2004, 7(4), 491–515
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envisions “quality of life” and cultural identity in materialistic terms (Beabout,
2000; Tomlinson, 1999). Though there is no shortage of far-reaching theories on
the relationships between media and cultural experiences, demonstrating such re-
lationships in terms of exposure to consumption messages and values as well as be-
havior at the individual level remains empirically challenging.
This article takes up this challenge in a small way. It examines the rise of
consumerist values in the People’s Republic of China (China, hereafter) as the
country develops rapidly into one of the largest consumer markets in the world
(Cui & Liu, 2000). More specifically, the article reports results from large-scale
consumer behavior surveys in the three largest Chinese cities to demonstrate how
the increasing prominence of consumption-related media messages plays a role in
shaping the consumer orientations among China’s urban residents.
China represents a theoretically significant case for investigating the relation-
ship between media and consumerist culture. First, as global marketers salivate
over the enormous China market, the emergence of a consumerist culture in China
no doubt represents one of the most significant changes in globalization. China,
therefore, is an important case for understanding how a consumer society may de-
velop under a communist regime and how globalization takes on multiple paths
and meanings (Berger & Huntington, 2002). Second, while developing a mar-
ket-based consumer economy, China has maintained her communist political sys-
tem (Fan, 2000). The tensions between the two are reflected in the media (Y. Zhao,
1998), making media effects on consumerist values difficult to pin down. What we
have learned from the previous research is that, as the market economy develops,
Chinese consumers are acquiring a more positive attitude toward the quintessential
capitalist message form—advertisements (Pollay, Tse, & Wang, 1990; Wei &
Stephens, 2002; X. Zhao & Shen, 1995; Zhou, Zhang, & Vertinsky, 2002). Evi-
dence on how this attitude mediates or moderates media effects on consumerist
values will help us understand how advertisements, as a form of media messages
promoting consumer products, function as a cultural force. Third, as we will argue
more fully in later sections, there has been a trajectory of expansion in the kinds of
consumption-related values adopted by Chinese consumers during the reforms.
Because most of these values were not crystallized in or even indigenous to the
Confucius or communist value systems (Pan, Chaffee, Chu, & Ju, 1994), evidence
from China provides a more solid basis for us to draw causal inferences on media
impact on consumerist values.
CHINA: AN EMERGING CONSUMER SOCIETY
Because the Chinese Communist Party adopted the economic reform policies in
1978, China has been liberalizing its economy by allowing private businesses to de-
velop, attracting foreign investment, and, in recent years, privatizing state-owned
492 PAEK AND PAN
enterprises. By 1997, the Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP) tripled that of
1978 (Fan, 2000). With this rapid economic growth came the development of a con-
sumer market and changes in people’slifestyles. The Chinese, who were once indoc-
trinated with the idea that “consumption” is a manifestation of decadent bourgeois
influences, now find themselves not only in the midst of an increasing abundance of
consumer goods and services, but also in a sea of promotional messages and activi-
ties (Li, 1998).
Advertising has functioned as a vanguard of the emerging consumer society in
China. The timid initial step toward resurrecting advertisements as a form of media
messages in 1979 was soon followed by a rapid growth of the advertising industry,
as the economic reforms were bringing tangible results to stores across the country
and media began to look for advertising support in order to survive (Pan, 2000a; Y.
Zhao, 1998). After the former paramount leader, Deng Xiao-ping, called for
“bolder and faster” strides toward developing a market economy in 1992, consum-
erism swept the country like a tidal wave. Industry statistics show that, between
1992 and 1994, the advertising industry soared with a 93% 97% annual growth
rate. In 1990, the advertising industry was worth 25 billion yuan (roughly $2.9 bil-
lion). By 2001, it had undergone a threefold increase, reaching 79.4 billion yuan
(nearly $10 billion) and involving 78,000 organizational entities that employed
more than 709,000 people. During this period, practically all of the world’s top ad
agencies set up shop in China. Today, among the top 10 ad agencies (in terms of an-
nual revenues) in China, seven are global agencies. Topping the list are Saatchi &
Saatchi, McCann Erickson, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, and Leo Bur-
nett.1The coupling of the rise of the consumer market with Western influences is
not just a theoretical conjecture; rather, it is reality in China’s economic reforms.
Industry statistics only capture a small part of the significant social changes.
Field studies (e.g., Davis, 2000; Wu, 1999) and surveys (e.g., Wei & Pan, 1999)
have shown that consumption is becoming an increasingly significant part of peo-
ple’s everyday lives, awakening consumerist orientations and causing a wide-
spread craze for foreign and name brands (Chen & Huang, 2002). These dramatic
changes in the cultural fabric of urban China, characterized by many as a “con-
sumer revolution” (Davis, 2000; Li, 1998; Wu, 1999), contrast sharply with the tra-
ditional characterization of China as having a rigid political system, a backward
economy, and a cultural tradition of frugality. In this tidal wave of consumerism,
empirical researchers show that China’s consumers are developing not only
consumerist values and attitudes (e.g., Wei & Pan, 1999), but also increasing so-
phistication in consumption. Such consumerist orientation is evident in people’s
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 493
1Unless noted otherwise, all industry data (in both Chinese and English) are compiled by
Mediachina. This data was retrieved on November 10, 2002, from http://marketinfor.mediachina.net.
The conversion between Chinese and U.S. currencies was made based on the exchange rates in each
specific year under consideration.
purchase behavior, product preferences, and consumption practices in areas of
child rearing, domestic space configuration, fashion choices, food selection, and
leisure time activities (Davis, 2000; Pan, 2000b; B. Zhao & Murdock, 1996). By
the end of the 20th century, consumers in urban China had been found to display
well-developed individualistic tastes and a willingness to embrace Western life-
styles (Cui & Liu, 2000; Wei, 1997; Wei & Pan, 1999; Wei & Stephens, 2002; X.
Zhao & Shen, 1995). There was little doubt that a consumer society had arrived in
Media changes are an integral part of the insurgence of a consumer society.
The initial changes in the early 1980s were incremental and tentative, consisting
of mostly the introduction of advertising as a source of supplementary revenue
for media organizations and the import of a limited amount of entertainment
products from the West. However, even with the relatively limited liberalization
of media operations and content, by the latter half of the 1980s, frequent expo-
sure to Western media content was found to be related to increased hedonistic
pursuits and individualistic values among urban Chinese, especially among the
young (Chaffee, Pan, & Chu, 1997). Since 1992, the speed of establishing a me-
dia market has accelerated. First, commercial interests began to play an increas-
ingly crucial role in the operation of media organizations (J. M. Chan, 1993; Y.
Zhao, 1998). Second, foreign media began to penetrate further into the Chinese
market, and Chinese media were moving into the global market (J. M. Chan,
1996). Today, practically all media outlets, although nominally state owned, are
de facto commercial entities. They rely primarily—and, for many, exclu-
sively—on their advertising earnings and financial interests in the market (Sun
& Liu, 2002). For media outlets across the country, commercials and product in-
formation are welcome. So are imported cultural products such as TV shows,
blockbuster movies, magazines, and pop music from the West, Japan, Taiwan,
and Hong Kong. Rupert Murdock is leading the pack of the global media ty-
coons making aggressive advances toward the Chinese market. His joint venture
with China-backed investors, Phoenix TV in Hong Kong, now boasts access to
41 million households and more than 100 million viewers in China.2
Almost all of these changes occurred over the past decade and were concen-
trated in urban areas. Given this relatively quick and uneven change, consumerist
culture in China is still in the process of being built, providing a suitable context for
causal inferences on media effects. In this article, we set out to show that media, in
addition to contributing to individualistic and hedonistic consumption values (Wei
& Pan, 1999), facilitate both the development of consumerist values that empha-
size symbolic and status distinctions and an increasingly coherent consumerist
494 PAEK AND PAN
2Phoenix TV company statistic reported at www.phoenixtv.com.cn/home/phoenixtv/
shoushigk.html (retrieved on September 4, 2003).
MASS MEDIA AND CONSUMPTION VALUES
How mass media representations influence people’s values is an important area
of media effects research (e.g., Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976; Ball-Rokeach,
Rokeach, & Grube, 1984). Values refer to shared standards of judgments or be-
liefs about desired goals and how to reach these goals. Values are slow to change
and are constantly reinforced by society, institutions, groups, and individuals
(Ball-Rokeach, 1985; Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976; Ball-Rokeach et al., 1984;
Inglehart, 1990, 1997). They are more general and abstract than attitudes, which
refer to individuals’ evaluations of specific objects or of some of their aspects in
a positive or negative manner (Katz, 1960). Thus, attitudes are evaluations de-
rived from general values and both are constituents of a hierarchical belief sys-
tem (Ball-Rokeach et al., 1984; Katz, 1960).
Mass media play a significant role in shaping people’s values and value orienta-
tion in contemporary society. Media content may articulate a value, demonstrate
its applications, and foster a cultural environment for its adoption as a preferred
standard for social comparison (Ball-Rokeach et al., 1984; Inglehart, 1990; Pan et
al., 1994; Wei & Pan, 1999). Further, following the logic of the media dependency
theory (Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976), the broad availability of consumerist val-
ues in the media may induce acceptance of such values among individuals who
rely on the media to detect societal shifts in value configurations and to adjust their
own choices accordingly.
To date, empirical studies on media impact on values have been limited. In their
field experiment, Ball-Rokeach et al. (1984) demonstrated that television can be an
effective instrument with which to induce a wider acceptance of desired values. In
their study on the changing cultural values in China, Chaffee and his colleagues
(1997) detected evidence of ready acceptance of individualistic values in associa-
tion with exposure to imported Western films and TV programs. In a different
study analyzing survey data from China, Wei and Pan (1999) found that exposure
to advertisements and consumer magazines was related to acceptance of the values
of conspicuous consumption, self-fulfillment, individual indulgence, and worship-
ping of Western lifestyles. In a longitudinal study of television advertising effects
in the United States, Moschis and Moore (1982) found that exposure to advertising
encouraged the development of materialistic values.
These studies are based on the assumption that advertisements, in addition to
conveying information about products and services, articulate and promote
consumerist values. A number of content-analytic studies of Chinese advertising
confirm that advertisements in China indeed endorse materialistic values (K. Chan
& Cheng, 2002; Cheng & Schweitzer, 1996; Lin, 2001; Tse, Belk, & Zhou, 1989)
that are generally considered foreign to the Confucius tradition. For example, com-
paring print ads from Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, Tse et al. (1989) found that
the Chinese ads, in terms of a consumption theme, focused more on the promise of
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 495
a better life and on more “pleasant” states of being. Lin (2001) found that Chinese
commercials prominently display the youth modernity and the status appeals,
which somewhat contradict indigenous Confucian and Communist values empha-
sizing the veneration of elders and social equality. The commercials for imported
products (often adapted for the Chinese market by global ad agencies as part of
their clients’ global marketing strategy) are singled out as “the pacesetter for west-
ern cultural values” (Cheng & Schweitzer, 1996, p. 27).
Building on this literature, this study focuses on the values for innovative and
quality consumption. These values are different from the ones examined in an ear-
lier analysis of the data gathered in the mid 1990s (Wei & Pan, 1999). Though
those values examined in Wei and Pan’s study (1999) represent more rudimentary
ideas of consumerism that reflect the awakening of individuality and the legitima-
tion of individual choice in consumption, the values examined in this study repre-
sent deeper psychological underpinnings of the consumerist culture: namely, prod-
uct preferences and purchases in accordance with and based on individual identity
and distinction. The acceptance of the rudimentary ideas of consumerism have in-
dicated Chinese society breaking away from the monolithic orientation of Maoist
communism (Pan, 2000b). Then innovativeness in consumption and in quality of
life may reflect an individual’s increased confidence as a consumer and a further
congealment of the consumerist ideology in China’s “consumer revolution” (Chen
& Huang, 2002; Davis, 2000). In the Chinese context, the key concern in the devel-
opment of a consumer society at the turn of the century is no longer whether con-
sumers recognize their sovereignty but how they seek for distinction in the
Though these arguments lead to a general expectation of positive associations
between media exposure and the consumerist values, in light of the coexistence of
Party propaganda and representations of consumption values on media, we must
formulate hypotheses related to specific media contents. Based on research evi-
dence about Chinese media (Chaffee et al., 1997; Wei & Pan, 1999; X. Zhao &
Shen, 1995; Y. Zhao, 1998), we expect endorsing consumerist values to be related
more directly to exposure to media content regarding consumer markets and prod-
ucts and to foreign content in media rather than to sheer quantity of media expo-
sure. This argument leads to the following set of hypotheses on the effects of con-
tent-specific media exposure on consumerist values:
H1a: Exposure to market-related content in media is positively related to
acceptance of quality and innovative consumption values.
H1b: Exposure to foreign content in media is positively related to accep-
tance of quality and innovative consumption values.
H1c: Exposure to advertisements is positively related to acceptance of
quality and innovative consumption values.
496 PAEK AND PAN
In a transitional society such as China, advertisements are a newly distin-
guished form of media messages to most people. In the early 1980s, Chinese media
practitioners had to learn how to produce and place ads. For a long time, Chinese
consumers went through a learning process to recognize the features and functions
of advertisements and to differentiate them from other types of media messages
(Huang, 1997). Consequently, both frequent exposure to advertisements and the
resulting positive attitudes toward ads indicate significant social changes, and de-
veloping a positive attitude toward advertising should be a more immediate out-
come of exposure to the aforementioned three types of media content (X. Zhao &
Shen, 1995). Based on this argument, we set up the following set of hypotheses on
the effects of content-specific media exposure on attitudes toward advertisements:
H2a: More frequent exposure to market-related content in media is related
to more positive attitudes toward advertisements.
H2b: More frequent exposure to foreign content in media is related to more
positive attitudes toward advertisements.
H2c: More frequent exposure to advertisements is related to more positive
attitudes toward advertisements.
Attitudes toward advertising may affect the relationships between media expo-
sure and the consumerist values in various ways. One is to have a direct impact on
the consumerist values, and such an effect occurs above and beyond the media ex-
posure predictors. This argument leads to the following hypothesis:
H3: A positive attitude toward advertising is positively related to accep-
tance of quality and innovative consumption values.
Together, these hypotheses imply a causal system with attitudes toward adver-
tising (AAD, hereafter) as a mediator of media effects on consumerist values.
However, given the exploratory nature of this analysis, we do not have a strong
enough theoretical ground to test such a mediating role formally through structural
equation modeling. What we can do in this study is to go as far as we can in obtain-
ing empirical indications of plausibility of the mediating thesis.
In addition, AAD may contribute to the adoption of consumerist values in other
ways. In this study, we also explore some other conceptually plausible roles of
AAD. One possibility is that AAD may function as a moderator of media effects.
In particular, AAD may moderate the effects of exposure to media advertisements.
First, following the logic of the classic input–output model of persuasion
(McGuire, 1985), those who are more receptive to the rhetorical disposition of ad-
vertisements as a message form are more likely to accept the substantive content
articulated in such messages. Second, exposure to commercials on TV and print
media is usually a more conscious activity than exposure to outdoor ads. There-
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 497
fore, AAD may strengthen the force of media advertisements to which audiences
There is still another way to conceptualize the role of AAD. That is, both posi-
tive attitudes toward advertising and consumerist values are components of the
consumerist ideology (Chen & Huang, 2002). Though exposure to media adver-
tisements may affect the levels of acceptance of each and interact with AAD in in-
ducing consumerist values, it may also function to strengthen mental associations
between AAD and consumerist values. In other words, in addition to effects on lev-
els of positive AAD and levels of acceptance of each consumerist value, exposure
to media advertisements may also affect the internal cohesiveness of the overall
consumerist orientation. These arguments lead to the following research question
to be explored with our data:
RQ1: What are the roles of attitudes toward advertising in the relationship
between exposure to advertisements via media and the acceptance
of the consumerist values?
This study is a secondary analysis of the data collected in 2000 as part of annual
consumer behavior and lifestyle surveys. A marketing research agency in Beijing
named the Institute for Marketing Information (IMI) designed and administered
the surveys. The second author served as a long-time consultant for the IMI annual
surveys. We chose to analyze the data from three cities—Beijing, Shanghai, and
Guangzhou—because of their economic and political significance in the country
and each city’s unique cultural and geographic characteristics (Cui & Liu, 2000).
By examining these diverse cities together, we hope to achieve a greater degree of
In each city, approximately 1,000 urban residents aged between 16 and 60 were
randomly selected through multistage stratified probability sampling. Question-
naires were administered in face-to-face interviews by trained interviewers. Be-
cause each questionnaire would take more than 2 hours to complete, each inter-
view was completed in multiple installments in order to minimize the impact of
respondent and interviewer fatigue. From the three cities, a total of 3,092 question-
naires were completed, with 1,068 from Beijing, 995 from Shanghai, and 1,029
from Guangzhou. The pooled sample had a roughly even distribution of females
(51.6%) and males (48.4%) with a mean age of 35.3. Nearly 63% of the respon-
dents were married. The median annual household income was 23,787 yuan (ap-
proximately $2,973) and the average level of education was slightly above senior
498 PAEK AND PAN
high school graduation. The three cities vary slightly on these demographic vari-
ables (see Appendix A).
In all three cities, the same questionnaire was used, although some modifica-
tions (e.g., TV programs, newspaper names) were made to reflect the specific situ-
ation of a city. The questionnaire contains a long list of value and attitudinal state-
ments using the 5-point Likert scale. The dependent variables investigated in this
study are based on selected items from this battery.
Two consumerist values (quality consumption and innovative consumption) are
identified from these measures. They are considered values because they represent
distinct orientations in selecting consumer goods and ways of engaging in the con-
sumption activities. At the core of each is a distinguishable general criterion or
standard. Quality consumption refers to both consumers’ preference for high qual-
ity and an orientation toward brand names. Innovative consumption indicates con-
sumers’ orientation toward risk-taking and trend-setting purchase behavior. An-
other subset of the items selected from this large battery was recognized as being
measures of attitudes toward advertisements because, in each item, advertising is
mentioned explicitly as an object of evaluation. Exploratory factor analysis
showed a very distinct and clear-cut structure of the three factors. It forms an em-
pirical basis for us to create the three separate indexes.
The quality consumption and innovative consumption value scales were con-
structed by taking a mean score across the four items for each and the attitude to-
ward the advertising scale was created averaging across five items. The exact
wording of the items is shown in Appendix B. Cronbach’s αranges from .61 in in-
novative consumption value to .65 in both quality consumption values and atti-
tudes toward advertising, showing acceptable internal consistency for each index.
The most important independent variables are overall media exposure, con-
tent-specific media exposure, and exposure to advertising.
Overall media exposure.
Based on the responses to a series of time-sched-
uling questions on TV viewing, the average hours of TV viewing were computed.
Newspaper exposure was developed based on a question asking the respondents
the time interval in days between two newspaper reading acts. The answers to the
question were first subtracted from 30 and then recoded into an ordinal scale rang-
ing from 0 (never read)to5(read a newspaper 6 days a week or more). For maga-
zine reading, the question was asked in a similar way and an ordinal scale ranging
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 499
from 0 (never read)to3(read at least once a week) was created by taking a similar
approach. Based on the answers to the question of “How often do you go to a
movie each year?” movie exposure was scaled as 0 (never go to movies)to7(more
than once a week).
Content-specific media exposure.
These variables were created as binary
scales on whether respondents were exposed to some specific contents. The mar-
ket-content TV exposure variable was created based on whether people watched
the five most-favored TV programs out of a list of 22 choices. Those who chose
economic and financial information, TV sales, consumption guide, and commer-
cials were given 1 and the rest were given 0.
In a similar fashion, market-content newspaper reading was a binary scale of 1
(yes)and0(no) to represent those who reported having paid attention to economic
and financial information, reports on stock market, fashion and cosmetic informa-
tion, leisure and travel information, consumption guide, and advertisements (out of
a list of 21 categories).
The same logic was used to construct the variable of “foreign-content TV view-
ing” (TV dramas and movies from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Western countries, and
For foreign movie exposure, respondents were asked to choose their two favor-
ite types of movies out of five choices (domestic, American, other Western, Hong
Kong movies, or other). Those who chose the American, other Western, or Hong
Kong movies would receive 1 for the variable of foreign movie watching and the
others would receive 0 on this variable.
Exposure to advertising.
Respondents were asked to evaluate the fre-
quency of contact with different types of advertisements using a 5-point Likert
scale ranging from 1 (least frequently)to5(most frequently). Exploratory factor
analysis reveals two distinct dimensions of advertising exposure, which are named
(a) exposure to media ads and (b) exposure to outdoor ads. Media ads refer to the
ads shown on TV and radio, in newspapers and magazines, as well as direct-mail
commercials; outdoor ads are those shown on public transportation vehicles, bill-
boards at bus or train stations, and neon lights on streets. Cronbach’s αreliability
coefficients for the two measures are at the acceptable level, which are .77 and .85,
Demographic variables are included in all the re-
gression analyses. They include gender, age, levels of education (1 = primary
school or below and 6 = graduate studies or above), average annual household in-
come, marital status, and area of residence. Of those, gender (1 = male,0=female),
marital status (1 = married,0=other), and area of residence (Shanghai =1,others
= 0; Guangzhou = 1, others = 0) are dichotomous variables.
500 PAEK AND PAN
Sources of the Consumerist Values
A series of hierarchical multiple regression models were estimated to examine the
impact of both media use and advertising exposure on both the consumerist values
and attitudes toward advertising. Three variables serve as dependent variables in
these regression equations: attitudes toward advertising and the two consumerist
values. In each equation, effects of general media exposure, content-specific me-
dia exposure, and exposure to advertising were estimated after controlling for the
demographic variables. In the consumerist value equations, AAD was entered in
the final bloc. Given the large sample size (n= 3,092), we adopt the more stringent
significance criterion of pvalue at .01. The results are shown in Table 1.
Before discussing the results pertinent to our hypotheses, we start with the ef-
fects of the demographic variables on the two consumerist values to depict the so-
cietal patterns of adopting these values and to assess further the construct validity
of the value measures. The table shows that both education and income have posi-
tive effects on endorsing the “quality consumption” value (QC, hereafter) and their
effects remain highly significant even with successive additions of media vari-
ables. Such results indicate that media could only be one of many sources from
which this consumerist value develops. There is also a persistent between-city dif-
ference in that Beijing respondents revealed a significantly higher level of accep-
tance of QC. This effect cannot be accounted for by other individual-level differ-
ences in demographic attributes and media use behavior.
The picture is somewhat different for the innovative consumption value (IC,
hereafter). First, there is no difference in levels of acceptance of this value across
the three cities. Second, age is the most significant demographic predictor of indi-
viduals’ acceptance of this value. Younger respondents show higher acceptance of
this value. Income is also a significant and positive predictor of one’s acceptance of
These results strengthen our confidence in the construct validity of the two
consumerist value indexes. They confirm our common sense that to consume ei-
ther quality–brand name (QC) or trendiness (IC) requires financial resources. En-
dorsing such values occurs in tandem with possession of financial resources. The
results are also consistent with our observations that, in China, an emphasis on
“classiness” or “brand names” is more prevalent among the educated segment of
urban residents whereas an emphasis on “trendiness,” as is the case in other con-
sumer societies, is more visible among the young.
The evidence for the first set of hypotheses on the direct effect of content-spe-
cific media exposure and the two consumerist values is mixed. Hypothesis 1a,
which predicts that exposure to market-related content in media is related to a
more ready acceptance of consumerist values, is not supported. Although, at the
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 501
bivariate level, reading market-related newspaper articles and watching market-re-
lated TV shows correlate with QC and IC significantly (see correlation coefficients
shown in Appendix C), after controlling the general media use variables, exposure
to market-related content in newspapers or on TV no longer predicts QC or IC.
Hypothesis 1b, which predicts a positive relationship between exposure to for-
eign content in media and the two consumerist values, is not supported either. At
the bivariate level (see Appendix C), watching foreign movies is positively corre-
502 PAEK AND PAN
Predicting Consumerist Values and Attitudes toward Advertisinga
(Hierarchical Regression Analysis)
Sex (male) .034 .014 –.023
Age .001 –.152** –.073*
Education .087** .046 .013
Income .090** .073** .036
Marital status (married) .002 .036 –.011
Shanghaib–.103** –.010 .053*
Guangzhoub–.143** –.020 .016
Incremental Rb.074** .076** .030**
General media use
TV viewing time .024 –.004 .027
Newspaper reading frequencies .067** –.005 –.028
Magazine reading frequencies .092** .011 .006
Movie going frequencies .040 .043 .044
Incremental Rb.024** .008** .006
Content-specific media use
Newspaper info on market .021 .009 .086**
TV programs on market .042 .029 –.003
Foreign movies .033 .004 –.019
Foreign shows on TV .004 .005 .042
Incremental Rb.005* .005* .011**
Media advertisements -.030 .125** .154**
Outdoor advertisements –.029 .005 .051
Incremental Rb.000 .032** .031**
Positive attitudes toward ads .276** .346**
Incremental Rb.070** .110**
Total R2.174** .232** .078**
Note. aNumbers in the cells are standardized betas from the final equation. Incremental R2for
each bloc of predictors is taken at the stage of that bloc’s entry. n= 3,092. bBeijing serves as the refer-
lated with QC (r= .148, p< .001) and IC (r= .158, p< .001). Watching imported
foreign shows on TV is also positively correlated with IC (r= .057, p< .001). How-
ever, none of these coefficients remain significant after controlling for demograph-
ics and general media uses.
Hypothesis 1c predicts a positive relationship between exposure to advertising
and the two consumerist values. This hypothesis is partially supported. Exposure
to media advertising remains a significant predictor of IC (β= .125, p< .001) after
the stringent controls. However, the evidence of insignificant beta weight for expo-
sure to outdoor ads in the final model may not be sufficient for us to accept the null
hypothesis. The reason is that the two ad exposure variables are correlated signifi-
cantly (r= .52, p< .001) and each of them has a significant bivariate correlation
with IC. Together, the two variables account for 3.2% of the variance in IC.
The results also show that overall frequencies of reading newspaper and maga-
zine remain strong predictors of QC (β= .067 and .092, respectively, both at p<
.001) after controlling for all the content-specific exposure variables. It is possible
that exposure to print media contributes to a greater emphasis on consuming qual-
ity and brand-name products not through the narrowly defined market and product
content, but through the sheer act of reading them regularly as part of a more stable
and literary-oriented lifestyle.
Effects of Media on Attitudes Toward Advertising
We adopted the same analytical strategy to examine media effects on AAD. As Ta-
ble 1 shows, there are significant differences across the three cities in people’s
AAD. Shanghai respondents display more positive AAD than those from the other
two cities. Younger respondents have more positive AAD than their older compa-
triots. Such evidence, coupled with the assumption that residents in the economi-
cally more developed areas and younger people were more likely to appreciate the
practices—including advertisements as a type of information—of a consumer
economy, helps to strengthen our confidence in interpreting the correlational data
in causal terms. The results also show quite clearly that frequencies and amounts of
media uses have no significant contribution to fostering positive AAD. After the
demographics, the four general media use variables together account for no addi-
Content-specific media exposure, however, plays an important role in fostering
positive AAD. Hypothesis 2a predicts that exposure to market-content media is re-
lated to more positive AAD. The evidence lends a partial support for this hypothe-
sis. Exposure to market-content in newspapers shows a significant positive rela-
tionship with AAD after the controls (β= .102, p< .001). This relationship
remains significant even after the additional control of the two advertising expo-
sure variables (β= .086, p< .001). However, exposure to market-related content on
TV shows no relationship with AAD.
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 503
Hypothesis 2b, which predicts a positive relationship between exposure to for-
eign content in media and AAD, is not supported. Although, at the bivariate level,
both exposure to foreign movies and exposure to imported TV programs are posi-
tively related to AAD (r= .096 and .090, respectively, p< .001), they do not remain
significant in the multiple regression models.
The evidence supports Hypothesis 2c, which predicts positive associations be-
tween exposure to advertising and AAD. At the bivariate level, more frequent ex-
posure to media advertisements and outdoor advertisements both correlate signifi-
cantly with more positive AAD. Exposure to media ads remains a significant
predictor of AAD in the final equation (β= .154, p< .001), whereas the relation-
ship between exposure to outdoor ads and AAD is reduced to an insignificant level.
Due to the correlation between the two ad exposure variables, the latter piece of ev-
idence cannot be the basis on which to conclude that exposure to outdoor ads is un-
related to AAD. When these two variables are assessed individually, exposure to
outdoor ads is a significant predictor of AAD (β= .127, p< .001). In addition, the
two advertising exposure variables, together, accounted for 3.1% of variance in
AAD, or nearly 40% of the variance accounted for by the complete model.
Exploring the Roles of Attitudes Toward Advertising
To explore the roles of AAD in the rise of consumerist orientations, we conducted
four types of analyses to examine the interrelationships among three sets of vari-
ables: AAD, content-specific media exposure, and the two consumerist values.
The first two types of analyses are related and, therefore, are discussed together.
The first analysis involved obtaining evidence for testing Hypothesis 3, which
posits a direct positive effect of AAD on each of the consumerist values. This pro-
cess involved entering AAD as an additional predictor to the final regression mod-
els shown in Table 1. The second analysis involved extracting the beta weights ob-
tained from the regression models and plugging them into a highly simplified
three-variable model as depicted in Figure 1.3
Following the procedure outlined in Duncan (1975) and others (Allison, 1995;
Baron & Kenny, 1986; Sobel, 1987), for each content-specific media exposure
variable we computed the product of β1and β2as an estimate of its effect mediated
by AAD. The results from these analyses are shown in Table 2.
The results lend strong support for Hypothesis 3. AAD is found to have signifi-
cant positive effects on QC (β= .276, p< .001) and IC (β= .346, p< .001).
504 PAEK AND PAN
3The procedure falls far short of a formal path analysis via structural equation modeling (SEM),
which would provide a formal test of the fitness of the overall model. What we have done here is to ex-
amine how the three sets of variables might be interrelated in the statistically controlled condition spec-
ified by the regression models predicting QC, IQ, and AAD. The numbers should not be taken as pa-
rameter estimates of a formal causal model via SEM.
Compared with the other predictors of the two consumerist values shown in Table
1, AAD is clearly the strongest predictor, accounting for an additional 7% of vari-
ance in QC and 11% of variance in IC.
The results in Table 2 indicate that AAD could have mediated effects of expo-
sure to market content on newspaper and exposure to media advertising on each
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 505
FIGURE 1 A conceptual illustration of the mediating role of attitude toward advertising.
Indirect Effects of Content-Specific Media and Advertising Exposure
Variables Mediated by Attitudes Toward Advertising
Quality Consumption Innovative Consumption
Predictors BetaaT ValuebBetaaT Valueb
Newspaper info on market .024* 2.79 .030* 3.41
TV programs on market –.001 –.13 –.001 –2.03
Foreign movies –.005 –.49 –.007 –.55
Foreign shows on TV .012 1.79 .015 1.81
Media advertisements .043** 7.82 .053** 8.28
Outdoor advertisements .009 2.43 .011 2.39
Note. aThe beta coefficients (standardized regression coefficients) show indirect effects, calcu-
lated by multiplying aand bin Figure 1.
bThe significance test for each indirect effect was performed with Sobel’s method (Allison, 1995;
Baron & Kenny, 1986; Sobel, 1987). That is, each indirect effect coefficient is divided by its standard
error, which is calculated through the following equation (notations are those used in Figure 1):
For instance, for the significance test of the indirect effect of exposure to newspaper information on
market on the quality consumption value, the computations are as follows:
Standard error: ()()()()()()
.. .. ...276 025 086 019 025 019 0086
22 22 22
×+ ×+ × =
Significance test: .024/.0086=2.79 (following tdistribution, p< .01)
consumerist value. Both exposure to market content in newspapers and to media
ads have significant indirect effects on QC (β= .024, t= 2.79, p< .01; β= .043, t=
7.82, p< .001, respectively) and on IC (β= .030, t= 3.41, p< .001; β= .053, t=
8.28, p< .001, respectively). AAD mediates nearly 35% of total effects of expo-
sure to newspaper market content on QC and more than 43% on IC. Following the
same procedure, we find that the total effects of exposure to media advertising
could reach .221 on QC and .207 on IC. AAD mediates more than 19% of that on
QC and more than 25% of that on IC. The mediating function of AAD, however, is
limited because of two factors. First, most of the content-specific media exposure
variables have insignificant relationships with QC or IC after controlling for the
demographic and general media use variables. Second, none of the general media
use variables predicted AAD (as shown in Table 1).
The third analysis was carried out to explore the moderating role of AAD in the
effect of each content-specific media exposure variable on the two consumerist
values. For this purpose, a series of multiplicative regression models were exam-
ined. The results show no evidence of linear moderating effect of AAD on me-
Finally, we consider AAD to be a constituting element of the consumerist
ideology. The idea is that even though AAD is an evaluative disposition toward
advertisements, it resides together with consumerist values in individuals’ cogni-
tive domain. The magnitude and nature of the interrelationships between AAD
and the two consumerist values may be affected by exposure to certain media
contents. To simplify the exploratory task, we focused on exposure to media ad-
vertising. We divided the sample into three groups based on the levels of expo-
sure to media advertising: high, medium, and low, with each approximately one
third of the total sample. We then estimated the multiple regression models pre-
dicting QC and IC (in Table 1) to the high and low groups, respectively. The in-
cremental R2contributed by AAD from the high and low groups can be com-
pared to see how strongly AAD and each of the two values are related in the two
groups. The results are shown in Table 3.
The results show that, though AAD adds 11.8% of variance accounted for in the
model predicting QC for the high media ad exposure group, it adds only 3.8% in
the model for the low media ad exposure group. The same pattern is found for the
IC models. AAD adds more than 15% of variance in the model for the high media
506 PAEK AND PAN
4Because we know very little of the empirical properties of AAD in the study population, no statisti-
cal pattern of such a moderating effect can be specified a priori (see Baron & Kenny, 1986). For simplic-
ity, we explored the possible effect of each content-specific exposure variable as a linear function of
AAD (Aiken & West, 1991). A series of interaction terms was created by multiplying AAD and each of
the content-specific exposure variables. Each multiplicative term was assessed individually as an addi-
tional predictor of QC and IC, respectively. Incremental R2associated with each term was assessed for
ad exposure group, but less than 10% for the low media ad exposure group. These
results thus provide preliminary evidence that frequent exposure to media ads
could strengthen the mental coherence of the consumerist orientation by making
AAD and consumerist values more closely associated with each other.5
DISCUSSIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
This study explores the relationships between consumerist values and media and
advertising exposure in China. These results are consistent with the previous find-
ings from China (Wei & Pan, 1999) in two ways. The first is that, among the gen-
eral media use variables, exposure to consumer magazines is a more robust predic-
tor of accepting consumerist values. The other is that exposure to advertising is
related to accepting consumerist values, even though, in this study, the evidence is
limited to the effect of exposure to media advertising on accepting the innovative
This study also adds new evidence to the literature. Whereas the previous stud-
ies showed evidence of media bolstering the values based on individualism and he-
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 507
2From Hierarchical Regression Modelsa
(Lowest One-Third and the Highest One-Third in Media
Quality Consumption Innovative Consumption
Blocs of Predictors Low High Low High
Bloc 1: Demographics .094** .064** .098** .067**
Bloc 2: General media exposure .033** .030** .003 .009
Bloc 3: Content-specific exposure .006 .008 .003 .007
Bloc 4: Advertising exposure .003 .007 .001 .019**
Bloc 5: Attitudes toward ads .038** .118** .099** .152**
Total .171** .227** .204** .254**
aThe same hierarchical regression models were fitted separately to the two subsamples defined by
frequencies of exposure to media advertisements. The sample of the lowest one third has a size of 1,017
and the sample of the highest one third has a size of 1,056.
5One potential alternative explanation for the results is that those with higher levels of exposure to
media advertising were able to provide more reliable data. The incremental R2from each of the blocs
entered before AAD in the models predicting QC and IC, respectively, provides some indication of this
tendency. If the predictors in blocs one through four consistently yielded a higher R2for the high media
ad exposure group, there would be an indication of this possibility. As the results show, there is no con-
sistent pattern of a higher R2for each bloc of predictors among the high media ad exposure group.
Therefore, the alternative explanation is judged implausible.
donism (Chaffee et al., 1997; Wei & Pan, 1999), this study shows that media could
do the same to the consumption values that are based on cultural distinction and so-
cial status. The cumulative evidence thus depicts a broad impact of the increas-
ingly commercialized and globally oriented media on the emergence of a con-
sumer culture in China.
Going beyond the previous studies, this study shows significant linkages be-
tween positive attitudes toward advertising and the acceptance of consumerist val-
ues. It also shows that positive attitudes toward advertising seem to arise more
from exposure to market information in newspapers and exposure to media adver-
tising. Such evidence calls for a more careful conceptualization of the role that atti-
tudes toward advertising play in the emergence of a consumerist culture in China
(Chen & Huang, 2002). The preliminary evidence presented in this study offers
some suggestions. First, it is plausible that positive attitudes toward advertising
mediate the relationship between media and consumerist values. Second, the rela-
tionships between positive attitudes toward advertising and consumerist values
may get strengthened by higher levels of exposure to media advertising. Overall,
the evidence suggests that a receptive disposition toward advertisements not only
is fostered by market-oriented media content but also makes it more likely for such
media content to cultivate consumerist values. These results lend empirical cre-
dence to the thesis that mass media, along with advertising as their “intimate part-
ners,” act as a conduit for the global consumer culture.
These findings were obtained with rigorous controls in our analyses to isolate
each theoretically meaningful effect. We also explored the causal direction be-
tween attitudes toward advertising and consumerist values on the one hand, and
exposure to media and attitudes toward advertising on the other. However, recog-
nizing the limitations of the data and the lack of theoretical precision in this area,
we resist the temptation of formal causal modeling.6We pushed as far as we could
with the data to explore the roles of attitudes toward advertising.
508 PAEK AND PAN
6Structural equation modeling should be used with care. In our study, we recognize that, with
cross-sectional data, establishing causality empirically requires theoretical foundations with high de-
grees of precision and specificity. This is what we do not have. With a less than sufficient theoretical
foundation, estimating a causal model is likely an exercise of self-fulfilling prophecy. In addition, the
data analyzed are less than desirable for giving a theoretically meaningful causal model a fair test.
First, each content-specific exposure variable is a dichotomous measure based on multiple responses
to content selection questions regarding each medium. Such a measure does not capture sufficient
variance in the amount or frequency of exposure to a specified category of content. This measure-
ment deficiency, in our judgment, is largely responsible for the lack of support for Hypothesis 1a
through Hypothesis 1c. Second, with such weak measures and insufficient theoretical and empirical
knowledge of their properties, we do not have a solid basis to determine whether our data violate the
multivariate normality assumption. The lack of such knowledge would have made it difficult to inter-
pret the model fitness statistics.
Understanding such roles has both theoretical and practical significance. It
could contribute to developing a more refined theory of media changes and the rise
of a consumerist culture. It could also contribute to the knowledge base for those
who use advertisements as a form of persuasive communication in business prac-
tices. Future research needs to investigate these roles systematically with more
carefully explicated and measured attitudinal variables.
This study also finds that the rise of consumerist values and the development of
a positive attitude toward advertising are more apparent among the young, the well
educated, and those who possess necessary financial means. These findings are
consistent with the observation that holding the values for quality and innovative
consumption and having a more positive attitude toward advertisements tend to be
attributes of the “modern” “generation Xers” (Wei, 1997). More importantly, these
findings are consistent with two broad theses in the globalization literature. First,
the spread of global consumerism follows a general pattern of diffusion (Rogers,
1995). The most receptive segment of the population in a transitional society con-
sists of those who possess a cultural disposition that has been broadly labeled “cos-
mopolitanism” (Tomlinson, 1999). Second, adopting consumerist values is inte-
grated into one’s life world. It is rooted in the realistic conditions of each person at
a specific stage of his or her life cycle and is consistent with one’s life goals at that
particular stage. The effects of media and advertising, though significant, do not
lift individuals out of their life world. Rather, media are immersed in people’s ev-
eryday lives. More broadly, this reading of the findings is consistent with the thesis
that the spread of global consumerism, in particular, and global culture, in general,
is not simply a process of cultural transplantation by external forces, which is com-
monly depicted as what is being done by global media conglomerates and their al-
lies in globalization, global advertisers, and advertising agencies. Rather, the rise
of consumer culture in a transitional society inevitably involves interactive forces
from within and without (Braman, 1996; Pieterse, 1995).
This study leaves open several research questions for future research. First, it
will be useful to see how consumerist values espoused in media content and in ad-
vertisements interact with individual characteristics. In particular, four such char-
acteristics need to be examined to understand the sociological process of the
spread of consumer culture in a transitional society: age, education, gender, and in-
come. The findings from this article support those in the literature showing that
these are the most active predictors of value and attitude changes related to major
social and cultural shifts (Chaffee et al., 1997; Pan et al., 1994).
Second, given that consumerist values are just emerging in China, it will be par-
ticularly worthwhile to investigate how the emerging consumerist values interact
with the traditional Confucian values, as well as with the Communist values. There
are two intertwined issues, as China is striving toward a unique cohabitation of
capitalist economic practices and a Communist political system. One is whether
and how the socialist values of “egalitarianism, collectivism, self-sacrifice and sol-
CONSUMERIST VALUES IN CHINA 509
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rial-oriented consumerist values. The other is whether and how Confucian values
of frugality, moderation, filial pity, and harmony are being revived, adapted, and/or
changed. Understanding these issues will help not only social scientists to develop
a better theoretical grasp of social changes, but also global advertisers to act more
effectively in such a unique transitional society.
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512 PAEK AND PAN
Pooled Sample and Within-City Mean Scores and Standard Deviation of the Independent Variables
Pooled (n = 3,092) Beijing (n = 1,068) Shanghai (n = 995) Guangzhou (n = 1,029)
Variables M SD M SD M SD M SD
Sex .48 .50 .48 .50 .49 .50 .49 .50
Age 35.29 11.98 35.31 11.84 35.90 12.12 34.67 11.98
Levels of education 3.19 1.00 3.40 1.07 3.04 .94 3.13 .95
Annual household Income (U.S. dollars) 2973.36 1844.40 3096.60 1878.24 2724.48 1764.12 3086.04 1789.68
Married .63 .48 .66 .47 .65 48 .57 .50
Hours of TV watching on average 3.54 2.42 3.63 2.62 3.31 2.25 3.67 2.34
Frequency of newspaper readinga4.05 1.66 4.13 1.51 3.82 1.87 4.20 1.57
Frequency of magazine readingb1.21 1.37 1.44 1.37 1.15 1.37 1.02 1.32
Frequency of movie watchingc2.12 1.52 2.21 1.51 2.09 1.50 2.07 1.55
Market information on newspaperd.35 .48 .38 .49 .35 .48 .30 .46
Market information in TV programsd.19 .39 .22 .42 .21 .41 .13 .34
Watching foreign films in the theaterd.37 .48 .40 .49 .36 .48 .35 .48
Watching foreign TV programsd.61 .49 .50 .50 .58 .49 .75 .43
Exposure to advertising on major mediae2.44 .77 2.33 .75 2.55 .81 2.46 .74
Exposure to outdoor advertisinge2.42 .98 2.33 1.02 2.37 .97 2.56 .94
aMeasured on a 6-point scale ranging from 0 (never read)to5(read very often).
bMeasured on a 4-point scale ranging from 0 (never read)to3(read very often).
cMeasured on a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (never going)to7(go more than once a week).
dEach is a binary variable with 1 (yes)and0(no) on whether respondents favored the specified content.
eMeasured on 5-point scale as 1 (little)and5(very much).
Mean Scores of Consumerist Values and Attitude Toward Ad Itemsa
Variables M SD
Quality consumption (.65)b3.62 .67
I think brand-named products have better qualities. 3.71 .96
I’d rather spend a little more in order to get a good quality product. 3.94 .88
I prefer buying brand-named products even if they are more expensive. 3.28 1.02
If I want something, I’d buy it even if it were a bit expensive. 3.56 .98
Innovative consumption (.61)b3.21 .62
I like to try new brands and new products. 3.30 .93
I often purchase things that have a unique style. 3.15 .98
I normally purchase a new product or get a new service earlier than others. 3.02 .88
When a product or a service becomes widely talked about, I’ll give it a try. 3.37 .86
Attitude toward advertising (.65)b3.13 .61
I feel close to the products that have been advertised on TV. 3.20 .97
I pay attention to ads in order to keep up with the fashion and trend. 3.13 1.04
Information in ads plays a very big role in my purchasing decisions. 3.19 .94
A product of an advertised brand is more dependable. 3.32 .89
Advertisements can be trusted. 2.80 .91
Note.aAll items are measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) and 5
bNumbers in parentheses are Cronbach’s αreliability coefficients.
Correlation Between the Independent Variables and the Three Dependent
Sex (male) .029 .001 –.041
Age –.084** –.232** –.141**
Education .205** .164** .069**
Income .183** .149** .065**
Marital status (married) –.052* –.137** –.100**
Shanghai –.045 .016 .053*
Guangzhou –.112** –.016 .003
General media use
TV viewing time .025 .005 .036
Newspaper-reading frequencies .115** .040 .017
Magazine-reading frequencies .166** .101** .069**
Movie-going frequencies .156** .168** .106**
Content-specific media use
Newspaper information on market .121** .106** .121**
TV programs on market .091** .049* .023
Foreign movies .148** .158** .096**
Foreign shows on TV –.001 .057* .090**
Media advertisements .061** .241** .217**
Outdoor advertisements .024 .164** .160**