Consumption of young xin yimin: The role of identity and tacit motives


In this article, we present an analysis of young migrant consumer culture based on an empirical study of xin yimin living in Australia. We treat xin yimin’s desire for appropriating culture to fit a Western ide-ology of identity. Based on six different types of projective data we develop a meaning of mimic consumption and motivating forces behind this behaviour. Young xin yimin has an embodied passion for Otherness or Western identity. The findings also reveal insights into what is driving the pursuit of desired self, as-serted through benign envy and missing self. We further address theoretical implications of these processes behind identity creation for consumer culture theory research.

1.  Introduction

There is a growing Chinese diaspora, with Chinese entrepre-neurs, professionals migrating to Australia (Collins, 2002), as well as Chinese students pursuing higher education at Australian uni-versities. The characteristics of this “sophisticated” group of people and consumer culture have presented intriguing concepts for re-searchers to explore, thereby encouraging many interesting debates and discussions (Frank, 2012; Watkins and Biggs, 2001). Alonso and Oiarzabal (2010) found that most of the xin yimin, meaning “new migrants”, being raised in Communist China, carry with them “a col-lective memory of mainland China prior to their migration” (Sun, 2002, 143–44) and continue to maintain regular engagements and attachment to their “motherland.” Since the mid-1990s, the Chinese government and scholars have used the term xin yimin, to refer to all Chinese citizens who are “born and brought up under the Red Flag” (Feng, 2011; Huang et al., 1998; Zhu, 2006), not only those of a particular era. The term xin yimin is used for all who have mi-grated to different first world countries without making particular distinctions based on their citizenship or the era in which they grew up (Akaha and Vassilieva, 2014; Feng, 2011; Nyiri, 2001). We adopt the broader definition of xin yimin in this paper. Chinese life phi-losophies are based on a combination of factors like communism and Confucianism, both of which contribute to the concepts of col-lectivism, respect for authority, and desire for harmony and equality as national ideologies. However, these xin yimin face a different cul-tural phenomenon in Australia while as consumers they are exposed to the expensive trappings of the affluent society. Western films, glossy magazines, images of glamorous people leading fabulous, in-dependent, ‘hipster-ish’ cultural lives open the door of tension for avoiding collectivism. They try to fit in and also stand out (Ahmed et al., 2014) with their mimic consumption. They copy or imitate clothing styles, choice of foods, music tastes, and media habits, and this appropriation by xin yimin of consumer culture through mimic consumption hence constitutes a distinct illustrative framework in social reality. Outside of China, they try to legitimize the desire for mimicing advanced Western consumer culture

understanding, in part, is that desire is generally associated with mimic consumption for xin yimin. Mimic consumption works as the inspiring vehicle for much of consumption in the contemporary world (Belk et al., 2003). We are considering these research ques-tions as questions of the mimetic nature of desire. Responding to seminal research on mimetic desire (Girard, 1977, 1987), our aim is to answer these questions. We study xin yimin’s mimetic con-sumption and relate it to consumer desire (Belk et al., 2003; Girard, 1987). French literary critic and anthropologist René Girard (b. 1923) helps us to understand the importance of imitation or representa-tion as central in social change. To him, learning is always dependent upon imitation, and one’s desires are not spontaneously one’s own, it is what they learn from others. Girard claims that people imitate a desire that is feigned by a celebrity, a media model or the Other. These Others may be their friends, family members, neighbours or unknown models or sometimes imaginary individuals. The admi-ration of these celebrities or models, Others and those possessing the Western luxury items or status symbols that one lacks oneself leads to self-condemnation in the name of these idols. This helps us to understand the importance of imitation or representation of otherness at the centre of xin yimin’s cultural change.

In developing a critical insight of xin yimin’s desire for ‘Other-ness’ the ‘Mianzi’ or ‘Face’ is particularly useful (Chadha and Husband, 2006; Griffiths, 2012). The underlying idea of face equates to the sense of identity and self-worth, and in Chinese culture it is mani-fested by comparing oneself to Others and being highly aware of what they think of you (Zhou and Belk, 2004). This sense of self and motivation stands in contrast to that of the West where one’s iden-tity is derived from within (Bond, 1991). In the Chinese context, one obtains face by being like others and conforming to their notion of what is right and good. The proliferation of mimic consumption in Australia is embedded in this desire to be seen as similar to, or as good as, everyone else. Our objectives are to advance this line of enquiry by showing how these appropriations of desire are shaped by consumer cultural commonalities and dissimilarities to extend prior theories (Girard, 1977, 1987), concerning the process through which xin yimin appropriates the symbolic consumption provided by Western consumer culture. We seek after these objectives by means of an empirical investigation of the variety of tacit motives and practices of young xin yimin living in Australia. Our analysis il-lustrates how these tacit motives and practices acquire distinctive cultural meanings of consumption (McCracken, 1986) within the context of young xin yimin desiring identity.

2.  Theoretical background and context

2.1.  Desired identity

Consumer research is filled with numerous approaches to the self-concept: we do not only consume products to satisfy our needs, we also consume products in order to carry out self-creation proj-ects (Belk, 1988; Dittmar and Pepper, 1992; Wattanasuwan, 2005). Researchers also extend self-reference to various other important concepts: actual self, social self, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect, among many more. Understanding its importance, Bagozzi (2013) wisely asserts, ‘consumption begins and ends with self’. Self and identity have significant influences on consumers’ de-cisions to buy and in the use of brands, because individuals generally use consumer goods to define themselves and communicate their self-concept to others (Belk, 1988; Wallendorf and Arnould, 1988). This process can be linked with Sirgy’s (1982) propositions. In a crit-ical review of the self-concept, Sirgy divides the notion of self into two parts: actual self (how a person perceives himself or herself) and ideal self (how a person wants to perceive herself/himself). Since the self cannot be thought of without reference to interaction with others, Sirgy adds the terms ‘social self’ and ‘desired social self’ to

2.2.   Mimetic desire and consumer culture

The evidence of Girard’s mimetic desire is obvious in consump-tion (Belk et al., 2003). The mechanism of mimetic desire works in this way: a model desires an article and, in doing so, signals to others the attractive quality or desirability of that article. The imitator imi-tates this desire, believing his own desire to be spontaneous and automatic rather than mediated. Shakespeare likewise calls this mimetic desire ‘love that stood upon the choice of friends’, ‘love by another’s eye’, and ‘love by hearsay’.’ The expression, ‘Do you love him because I do!’ from As You Like It also expresses mimetic desire (Fulmer, 2006: 6; Girard, 1977). While explaining consumer desire for particular products in their seminal paper, Belk et al. (2003), shed light on the fundamental link between consumer nature and the social world. Consumer needs are finite, and their desires are infi-nite, so when consumers’ needs are dealt with the chase continues for more. They do not consider what they have; rather they are more concerned about what others’ have. This is because advertising is always inducing the sense of infinite desire in the consumer’s mind. It mediates between consumers’ desires and a model’s desire. Ev-eryday advertising presents celebrities as ascribing, through mimesis, value to common, daily objects that have little value on their own. So does advertising with luxury items, like cars, prove that pres-tige is not an object that is sought for itself, but has a reality only through mimetic desire. Schor (1999) explains:

If what people want is determined largely by what an affluent group with rising incomes has, large numbers of people will be left with the belief that they have not achieved enough. This yearning, along with the sometimes destructive behaviours as-sociated with it, creates an ongoing tragedy of modern consumer society. (p. 50) Drawing on wide-ranging and seminal theoretical sources, we have proposed that xin yimin’s desire for mimetic consumption may be thought of as a process that brings together dimensions that include: (1) xin yimin care deeply about how others see them and what others think of them in Australia, especially those whom they admire or want to impress; (2) they buy and use objects that enable them to present themselves in the persona they most desire to be, their ‘desired self’; (3) through emulating mimetic desire, the xin yimin sees themselves on the verge of accomplishing this same au-tonomy. After a discussion of our method we turn to our findings where we unfold how mimic consumption of young xin yimin operates.

3.  Method

Given the nascent state of the literature considering the tacit frameworks and emotions informing mimetic consumption, a qual-itative research strategy focusing on projective techniques (Belk et al., 1997, 2003; Levy, 1999; McGrath et al., 1993; Sherry Jr et al., 1992; Zaltman and Coulter, 1995) presents the methodology of best fit. In order to achieve volume, richness, and accuracy in the informa-tion we focused on the nature of consumer desire using projective techniques as these techniques have only a limited reliance on verbal expression and verbal communication. The traditional quantita-tive methods in consumer desire are limited through the application of the need satisfaction model (Belk et al., 1997). Projective tech-niques go beyond this confine and help us to unfilter access to xin yimin’s beliefs, their attitudes and values, and motivations towardaccepting new consumer culture.

Informants within the study were xin yimin (young Chinese) con-sumers (Table 1) (born in China and now living in Australia). The respondents are a mixed cohort from major cities in China like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Tianjin. None of our respon-dents were born in Australia and about half were students at the time of the study; the rest had taken up early career professional work in mostly service occupations. We selected middle class xin yimin informants aged 19 to 35 years. Informants ranged from theless affluent to somewhat more well off. All respondents were in-terviewed individually by the lead researcher. We used snowball sampling to identify participants (Biernacki and Waldorf, 1981) and continued until the redundancy was established (Bryman, 2006). For this study, we collected the data for over a six months period in Melbourne, Australia, where all the participants were resident. Melbourne, Australia was chosen as it is a sophisticated Austra-lian city, historically affluent and termed “Marvellous Melboune” (Dovey et al., 2009) for its grand building and affluent citizens. Re-cently, it has been identified as a centre of ‘urban cool’ and ‘hipster life’ (Henke, 2013) and achieved the status of “the most liveable city in the world.” (Lucas, 2015).

We used the projective methods (Rook, 2006) by beginning with word association to build confidence, and then proceeded to more elaborate techniques (e.g. sentence completion and storytelling) to

reveal xin yimins’ tacit attitudes and motivations for consumption. In part of our research, we asked about their feelings or experi-ences when they see or use, “Western brands”, “see other/s using Western brands.” If the participant’s “feelings during use of brands” elicited a response like “I feel good to use a Western brand”, such limited responses were further probed by asking the informants to match their feelings to various projective images. We also used sen-tence completion, cartoon test, picture drawing, storytelling and forming collages. To elicit mainly feelings and attitudes and then go deep into participants’ episodic memory we used the sentence completion techniques: I like Western brands as…; Display of Western brands is…; Western brands can… This provides us stron-ger stimulus than a single word and allowed our participants great freedom to express their emotions, feelings and thoughts about Western brand consumption without feeling constrained by what those emotions, feelings and thoughts may imply about their own personalities and activities.

In cartoon test (Fig. 1), we invariably introduced the cartoons to every participant by saying, “Here are two pictures; something has been said about consumption; what will the other person say?” The participants had to fill in the empty speech balloon expressing their reactions towards consumption. This controlled projective tech-nique helped our participants to articulate their tacit motivations in words.

To retrieve participants’ feelings and to understand their intu-itive aspects of the desire experience we then used picture drawings. Every participant in this study was given paper and pencil to draw a picture of what they think of as their desired identity. During this session, most of the participants enjoyed drawing and usually did so spontaneously.

The collage construction began by requesting our participants to create two collages on A3 paper, composing their ideas on what the terms ‘desired identity’ meant to them. Participants were given various Chinese and English fashion and luxury magazines: CLEO, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Women’s Day, Car and Driver, Ray Li, Beijinger, Cawaii!, Shanghai-China, Vogu, Duzhe Today, Phoenix and Women’s Day. The magazines ranged across diverse themes – fashionto food, engineering to home furnishing, celebrities to ordinary people – and to accommodate the male participants, we made available

the magazine Phoenix, which is a ‘consumption guide’ for men. This was because we wanted to maximize the facilitation of different con-cepts on the participants’ collages, to learn more about what they thought about the phenomenon of Western identity. Having com-pleted the collages, the participants were asked to narrate why they had used the particular pictures/texts on the paper (that is, what it meant to them). More meaning was elicited by probing on our part: We asked the participants to compare the pictures in terms of their convergences and divergences, and encouraged them to feel free to describe any thoughts/feelings, emotions and experiences.

Our thematic stories technique helps the participants to project their thoughts onto a fictitious situation or story based on a pho-tograph. For this research, we presented one photograph which elicit Western consumption. The participants were asked to tell a story describing the scene. They were given twenty minutes and re-quested to express their feelings in writing, which includes the following stimulus questions: What is happening? Who is the person in the photograph? What is suggested in this scenario? What has happened in the past? How is the character in the photograph feeling? How will the story end?

A total of 25 word association tables, 25 cartoon test feedback, 25 drawn pictures, 25 projective collages and 25 stories were col-lected and recorded in the form of slides with these documents. The data analysis was an ongoing process. We used purposive sam-pling, depth in information, and triangulation of data collection media. The data were analysed using a hermeneutic and iterative ap-proach (Thompson et al., 1994). The interpretation of data proceeded through a series of part-to-whole iterations that helped us to define concepts and draw out their theoretical implications (Arnold and Fischer, 1994). The main goal of hermeneutics in this study was to discover xin yimins’ desire toward mimic consumption. In the study, participants’ contributions were transcribed, interpreted and rein-terpreted in relation to developing a sense of the “whole” (whole text). Through an interpretive process, a comprehensive and inte-grated understanding of the specific elements of participants’ meanings and responses gradually became a whole. Through the reading, initial understandings of the texts were modified by re-peated readings over time, as later readings provided a more sophisticated sense of the meanings as a whole. As a result of the hermeneutic interpretation process, we constructed a shared reality by presenting consumers’ interpretations of and responses to mimic consumption. The lead researcher discussed the analysis and in-terpretation iteratively with the other researchers. This process of studying data helps to protect against the danger of superficiality, de-contextualization, missing items that come before or after an account, and losing the larger picture (Miles and Huberman, 1994).

4.  Analysis and interpretation

We are presenting our findings from our site of data collection Melbourne, Australia. We describe the elements and features of desire as felt by our informants considering the cultural context.

4.1.  Passion for Western appeal

Using Western and luxury items is associated with prestige and honour among young xin yimin. It identifies one as a member of the elite class. The informants feel confident that consumption of Western luxury items is synonymous with enjoying a prestigious position in society. Sky’s (F: 23) projective drawing (Drawing 1) shows a happy young woman with LV shopping bags.

Sky’s drawing shows a confident and happy shopper. The manner in which she configures her whole body to the balance of differ-ent parts relates to the sense of inner harmony and pleasure. The shopper’s stride evokes the idea that she is moving purposively towards gratification. The girl, who seems to be Caucasian with freck-led skin and long bubbly blonde hair, is carrying a number of bags from high-end Western stores. ‘It is exciting to have Western luxury brands’, Sky said, ‘it makes anyone feel better. After a successful luxury purchase, people feel satisfied, as they possess something important.’ Sky’s feeling towards this success is ego-expressive. Like many other Chinese consumers, her drawing shows she feels proud, smart, and competent after finding a particular Western item, where a sense of accomplishment and a thrill was also present.

From word association tests, it can be argued that both young xin yimin men and women are receptive to Western luxury items.

They passionately want to be regarded as the personification of strength, boldness, straightforwardness, and other masculine char-acteristics, and they like the Western brands, which, they think, will endow them with these perceived values. Every man desires to impress upon others a persona that exhibits these masculine traits. Male informants cited various Western luxury brands: fashion brands like Boucheron, Cartier, Ermenegildo Zegna, G-star apparel, Giorgio Armani, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace; vehicle brands like Aston Martin, Bugatti, Bentley, Ferrari, Rolex, Rolls-Royce, Harley Davidson; and other luxury item brands like Chateau Petrus Wine, Lauren, Tag Hauer, Vertu, Montblanc, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe. The name ‘Hugo Boss’, for example, is imbued with world-class quality, style and boldness, and the brand is well ac-cepted for its masculine qualities in China – men who use Hugo Boss are thought to have the identity expressed by the brand. Women, on the other hand, look for brands that are well known for their feminine connotations, brands that suggest softness, tenderness, brightness and sparkle, and beauty. The female informants cited ex-pensive perfumes and jewellery as well as fashion brands; Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Fendi, Givenchy, Gucci, Lancôme, Louis Vuitton, Mac, Prada, Tiffany and Swarovski were the Western brands that they would most like to buy if they had the money. Interestingly, with regard to beauty, xin yimin men and women both seem to be gen-erally more beauty conscious and wanted to look like the celebrity spokespersons of these brands. Both sexes pay great attention to their looks. Wang (2000) discovered that young Chinese found Western commercials more entertaining than local ones in China, and Zhou and Belk (2004) noted that Chinese consumers pre-ferred Western advertisements due to their value ‘as signs or surrogates for status, cosmopolitanism, excitement, modernity, quality, technology and beauty’ (p. 71). This shift has profound im-plications for Chinese consumer behaviour regarding luxury goods: their preference for Western products, believing them to have higher status, quality, and modernity than local brands, may in part account for the motivation to purchase luxury branded goods, almost all of which are Western.

4.2.  Blind love for ‘Ku’ (Cool)

For xin yimin informants, a strong wish for a different, ‘Ku’ or cool identity lies in their mind. This wish is well depicted in projective results, which reveal xin yimin’s deep consciousness related desire for better social and financial positions and particularly for luxury possessions, which they think is cool (Belk et al., 2010). A number of written descriptions of the projective collages show the infor-mants are keen to become cool, famous and want to achieve identities like popular model or singer. The informants are dissat-isfied with their existing selves; they would rather be like their desired personalities: ‘successful’, ‘famous’ and ‘blessed’. They believe that luxury possessions can provide them their desired identities. Popular culture has influenced Sky’s collage (Collage 1), where she used an image of PSY (Park Jae-sang), a popular songwriter and rapper, who, although Korean, is the latest in Western ‘cool’. Sky also shows ‘face’ of an Asian actress to depict the importance of ‘cool face’. Her interpretation is that: it is not a traditional identity; it is a modern, independent, self-reliant, more edgy and complex but successful self.

Young xin yimin’s desire being ‘Ku’ or cool and saving face are influenced not only by modern Chinese consumer culture but also perhaps by the importance of cool or ‘hipster’ culture in Malbourne. Globalization, modernity, youth, and financial success allow xin yimin to grant greater importance to the luxury brands and to develop a preference for foreign brands, since these brands are seen to help them constitute a symbolic universe of status and cool face. They view Western brands as a symbol, a demonstration of social dis-tinction and class hierarchy, as a number of economists and

sociologists (especially Veblen, Bourdieu, and Schor) have argued is the case in Western countries. The informants often equated cool self, social status, power and luxury. Anthropologist Mary Douglas’s (1967)research supports these findings as she has used the term ‘valuables’ not only for expensive material objects but also for the power and status they symbolize. Young xin yimin have moved far away from their ancestors’ ideology that a frugal lifestyle is a sign of moral excellence, and the belief that genuinely rich people do not show off their wealth (Lu, 2008). Rather, they want to show others that they are rich and successful, eat at gourmet restau-rants and buy expensive briefcases and watches.

4.3.  Covering ‘Missing self’

In general, young xin yimin are keen for their desired selves, but some informants expressed their concern when they realize that others or Westerners have ‘better’ identities and social positions than they do. They think others are replete with gourmet food and sur-rounded by Western luxury products, and have better social identities. They consider themselves lacking an important part of their daily life, which we will term the ‘missing self’. Fang (M: 23) in his story telling considered people are both ‘incomplete’ and ‘un-successful’ without Western luxury while others who possess the items were more complete and successful. He showed his craving for Western luxury brands and only possessing it could fill his sense of emptiness. This feeling and the emotional significance such con-sumers attach to possessions has been recognized (Belk, 1988). Consumers’ obsession for luxury possessions in Chinese culture is transparent and occurs constantly in research and media. The state of not having Western luxury possessions is challenging for some informants, such as Jodi (F: 20), who asserted her obsession in terms of self and Western luxury possessions in sentence completion: “I love it, I would feel uncomfortable without it.” To Kai (F: 19), “I go everywhere with it, like to keep it with me.” These participants ex-pressed their personal relationship with their Western luxury items, and their feelings towards the items go to the extent of love. The brands they purchased are very important in their life as they spent so much time looking for, choosing, and buying them. Western luxury

brand represents a personal relationship for them, and the rela-tionship is close enough to be considered as an extension of their actual self. This is close to Ahuvia’s (2005) research, where he es-tablished the fact that consumers use the objects they love to construct a sense of self. To Ahuvia, love objects are items and ac-tivities that demand a sizeable investment of time and energy. The informants spent a handsome amount of money to fill the missing self through Western luxury possessions or the items they love.

The urge to fill the empty self through luxury possessions is also reflected in the projective drawings by Xu (M: 23, Drawing 2), a uni-versity student in Melbourne. His drawing shows himself as a solitary man trapped on a tiny island. He is standing under a tree, waiting for help; rescue is the only way out. An outline is drawn for the treetop, and he has insufficient space to move around, which evoke feelings of avidity and expectation. It also conveys feelings of emp-tiness in his heart and hope for success and status. However, rather than look for alternatives, he thinks his only hope is the sun, which rises with a Mercedes Benz logo. This shows his extreme desire for Western luxury items to fill his empty, lost and isolated self. These narratives of luxury possession tell similar stories of ‘haves and have nots’. All these statements show the young xin yimin’s attach-ments to special possessions and their relation to their sense of self, and it is important to point out that not having such possessions can create a sense of a missing self, which impels them to acquire similar or alternative items. This also shows the young consumers demanding nature when it comes to material possessions. Accord-ing to Shao and Herbig (1994), this is the outcome of the ‘Chinese One-child Policy’ that gives the nation millions of ‘Little Emper-ors’, children who get everything they want from parents and grandparents. They believe that this policy has created a genera-tion of young consumers who are materialistic with skewed values. Additionally evidencing to this, late Communist Party’s leader and reformer Deng Xiaoping’s socialistic statement: ‘To get rich is glo-rious’, described how the generation is stressing on earnings and for material possessions.

more luxurious life. When they were requested write a story by de-picting a scene of Western luxury consumption, the most pervasive element was the desire to have what another person has. The desire to have what another person has is the core of benign envy (Belk, 2011; Van de Ven et al., 2009). One of the informants, Lal (F: 26), described the feelings in storytelling ‘highly cherishes’, and having ‘a mix of feelings about wanting things’. Similar feelings were re-ported in the projective stories, for example in Eve’s story:

…Lu’s financial situation was poor. She had to work from morning to late at night, which made her miserable. She could not spend time with her friends and enjoy parties. Her old school friends were having a better life than she was, and she wanted to be like them. She had a great desire for a better life. Especially she wanted to be like Nina, who had been her classmate, and the most beautiful girl in the school. Boys admired Nina for her great looks. Moreover, Nina’s family was prosperous, so she could have whatever she wanted. Lu held a deep wish to have a nice house, lots of jewellery, and expensive dresses to cherish. She wanted to be happy, yet she suffered endlessly and felt insulted by her poverty. But she was highly motivated; she never gave up easily… (Eve F: 25)

The story describes how the life Lu desires is only possible with financial flexibility, the primary means to obtain Western luxury items. When Lu finds Nina had a better economic and social status than her, the mental discomfort gets stronger. This negative emotion sometimes can be motivating. When someone else has what we want, this increases our determination to get it. Financial difficul-ty is a challenge, but that does not deter her from harbouring the desire to obtain luxury brands and the happiness she believes they would bring.

Some informants showed mixed feelings towards the possess-ors of luxury items, while having positive feelings towards such possessions. Gia’s (F: 21) aspiration for Western luxury objects, status and identity is extreme as she stated, “A bad feeling takes place when they see the items and compare the situation (affordability)…I start thinking what has she got that I have not, why does she deserve to have this nice thing and not me?” and she believes owning an LV bag would make her happier; Lu (main female character), in Eve’s story, wants to be happy, but lacking the money to buy luxury goods, she suffers ‘endlessly’; and Gia feels bad, disappointed, ‘misery’, or malicious envy (Belk, 2011; Van de Ven et al., 2009), when she com-pares her own possessions with those of her colleagues and friends. For less affluent consumers, financial incapacity and affordability (keˇzhı¯fùxìng) are the primary constraints in obtaining Western luxuryproducts; when they compare themselves to others, the less afflu-ent feel envious of those who can afford such products and suffer negative feelings about themselves. Some informants in the study wanted to improve their situations and wanted more comfort in their life. Fay (F: 35) articulated these deep feelings in his story:

Rim often wishes to get (buy) a Gucci bag, but as you know, the price for that bag is so high. So a person of her income can barely afford it. … She has to save money with a definite objective if she wants to have any of these things. Some of her friends are ex-tremely rich and can buy anything they want. All the accessories they use are famous brands, they seem to enjoy their life more than Rim. They have so many Gucci, Bvlgari, LV products but Rim only has a few, which she usually do not use unless an occa-sion calls for it. Rim desires to have the same flexibility in life as them.

5.  Contribution and conclusion

We have investigated Western luxury consumption views of young xin yimin to uncover how effectively the desire for mimetic

consumption is created and the salient motives of the mimic con-sumption phenomenon and discover the relationships among the constituent elements. In doing so, we have explored the interac-tional, practical, and emotional components of consumption. In our findings, we disaggregated these tacit motives and showed how mimetic desire, as a seemingly natural human action, initi-ates an individual to imitate the Other. However, there is always some tension between affiliation and uniqueness motivations for these consumers. The consumers study shape and reshape their desires for Western luxury brands in order to fill up their missing selves.

We have also demonstrated the usefulness of projective tech-niques for studying how the desire for Western luxury items, especially when coupled with other tacit motives of those who can afford them, leads many xin yimin to consider other ways of imi-tating the Other.

This research contributes to knowledge both theoretically and methodologically. Most existing studies investigating mimetic con-sumption lack a coherent theoretical underpinning, provided here by mimetic desire. Our research combined relevant concepts from anthropology, marketing, sociology, psychology, and philosophy to provide a more complete view of mimic consumption from the young xin yimin perspective. The first theoretical contribution of this re-search is that it combines the cultural perspective to understand mimic consumption. Previous theories of consumption were limited to only specific cultural settings which lack an adequate under-standing of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group (Coombe, 1996). With the aim of addressing the lim-itation of previous research, and to better understand both cultural appreciation and the influence of Western value system for young xin yimin consumers, we undertook this research. By focusing closelyon the details underlying their consumption experiences, we were able to develop a schema that features cultural appreciation as having more or less influence on consumer behaviour in Western markets. Our proposed schema not only represents a systematic analysis of how the variation in consumer desire is formed, but also encom-passes an ongoing exploration of xin yimins’ luxury experiences. Our analysis of these cases demonstrated that young xin yimin consum-ers are more attracted to Western culture and inclined to lifestyle consumption than utilitarian consumption. The postmodern atti-tude of ‘imitating the West culturally’ is driven by the search for consumer identity and social comparisons. Presently, the desired identity formation predominately induces consumers to procure Western luxury brands, which allow them to feel cool, unique, suc-cessful, and a sense of achievement.

The second theoretical contribution is the development of a the-oretical understanding of ‘the desired self’ concept which emulates the Other. Mimetic desire and envy link the individual’s self to the desired self. Past studies have placed emphases on the ways indi-viduals use possessions to constitute their identities (Belk, 1988). Our position is that young xin yimin consumers derive their luxury consumption experience in two-way interactions between the desired self and the missing self. On the one hand, consumers desire to emulate the Other who possesses Western luxury items, on the other hand, they try to fulfil their missing self by trying to buy luxury items. Our informants liked to ‘imitate’ Westerners, successful per-sonalities and celebrities, and it was not unusual for them to copy their styles. One informant interpreted in projective collage, ‘People often try to imitate what they like’. The desire to copy others, what Girard (1977), called ‘mimetic desire,’ is the core of mimetic con-sumption. This is close to Bagozzi’s (2000) research on consumer desire, where he acknowledges that some consumption behaviours are based on desires, and these desires arise from mimetic re-sponses to others around one. Based on the empirical findings we can argue that the relationship of young xin yimin consumers imi-tating Western culture includes several other influences, like media

influence, social background and cultural admiration. As young xin yimin consumers are becoming more interested in Western cul-tures, companies are also adjusting their marketing strategies to the preferences of the categories of Chinese clientele.

This article tries to critically examine what dimensions constitute the desire xin yimin to copy others’ consumption behaviour and to fulfil our goal to elicit cultural and psychological we have employed projec-tive techniques. Though our techniques do not replace any ethnographic findings these will enhance and supplement field work (Fetterman, 2010). As a methodological contribution, we can also argue that the projective techniques exercises helped us to overcome the foreign lan-guage barrier too and bypass social desirability bias, which might be present as the lead researcher interacting with the informants is not from China. Moreover, our findings were not limited by the cognitive ability of xin yimin, potentially a barrier in exploring complex issues, and it enabled us to better understand the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour toward mimic consumption.

This study has some limitations we cannot exclude. This re-search focused on young xin yimin, including Chinese students living in Australia. While the research was conducted these students did not receive their permanent residency, and neither had they been living in Australia for any considerable period of time. The inter-section between desired self and missing self could not be fully explored in this study and could be examined in more depth in the future, particularly regarding where and under which situations the desired self-motivations appear to be strongest. Assessing further cultural appropriation for young xin yimin consumers could be ex-tended further into mimetic desire. This may involve partnership between researchers from Asian and Western backgrounds based on parallel qualitative research.


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