Here in America, we’ve all become used to the annual chaos surrounding Black Friday sales at stores like WalMart and Best Buy. Encouraged to line up hours in advance, there are inevitably a few brawls caught on video as shoppers desperately fight for the best deals.
Tuesday, something very similar happened in Shanghai, China where Costco just opened its first store. So many shoppers went inside that people could barely move and the store had to plead with people to remain rational. Eventually, the store was shut down and police were called:
“The store has been clogged up with crowds,” Costco said in a text message alert to its members in China. “To provide you with better shopping experience, Costco will suspend business in the afternoon. Please don’t come.”
Police were deployed to restore order and manage traffic jams around the store, with law enforcement urging people to remain calm.
“For your safety, we hope citizens who want to go to Costco can maintain a rational attitude about consumption and avoid going out during rush hours. Those who have already gone there, you must follow orders,” the Shanghai police said in a statement on its verified account on Chinese social network Weibo.
But to really appreciate the insanity that took place, you have to see it.
U.S. based retail giant Costco Wholesale opens its first brick-and-mortar store on the Chinese mainland on Tuesday pic.twitter.com/wNCkKGhSz3
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) August 27, 2019
Here’s the scene at the checkout line:
Today, Costco wholesale opened its first store in China. Shoppers in Shanghai had to wait 3 hours for a parking spot… pic.twitter.com/Z4uKpDXb54
— Xi Chen (@xcyale) August 27, 2019
Inside the store, people were pushing to get laundry detergent and raw meat:
After closing the store in the afternoon because of the unruly crowds, Costco apologized and announced that, from now on, a maximum of 2,000 people will be allowed within the store at a time. More than 100,000 people have signed up for memberships.
So how does all this obvious enthusiasm for a US retailer fit with the ongoing trade war? A reporter who covers China for the Toronto Star said that for many Chinese, a good deal trumps politics:
In China, like in many places, the appeal of a good deal often overrides patriotic allegiances.
For years, while working as a correspondent in Beijing, I resisted the urge to shop with zeal like many of the urbanites around me. But on my last day in China, I had several months’ salary to pare down in a hurry since my bank wouldn’t let me make a wire transfer to Canada without official documents I had no time to acquire.
So I morphed into the stereotype, a walking embodiment of “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics,” flashing my red bills bearing the portrait of Chairman Mao, embracing my consumerist passion in an authoritarian Communist state. Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all banned in the country, but materialistic culture thrives on domestic apps and e-commerce sites…
“The market is just so massive that even with calls for nationalistic boycotts of certain brands, if the product is good, then to be honest the majority of the Chinese people just wouldn’t care,” said Ni, host of the “On China” podcast and China researcher at Australia’s Macquarie University.
I suspect that some of our homegrown Democratic Socialists find it a bit dispiriting to see the Chinese flashing those Chairman Mao bills with Black Friday zeal at an American store. But I find it very reassuring to see so many Chinese people who appear far more enthusiastic about discount goods than communist tropes.