Consumer socialization of Chinese children in schools: Analysis of consumption values in textbooks

Kara Chan, Department of Communication Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine what types of consumption values are taught at elementary schools in Mainland China, how these values are presented, and how these values relate to traditional Chinese cultural values. Design/methodology/approach - A content analysis of 72 lessons in textbooks on moral education for elementary schoolchildren in national China was conducted. The themes of consumption values, desirable and undesirable consumer behaviors, and the reasons provided in the textbooks for adopting these consumption values were analyzed. Findings - The paper finds that eight out of 72 lessons (i.e. 11 percent) were about consumption. The media contents put strong emphasis on thrift and frugality. Children were taught that there were private goods and public goods. All material goods were the results of human labor. Goods should be used properly. Wasting goods was portrayed as sin. The consumption values conveyed in textbooks reflect a mix of communistic values as well as traditional Chinese value of long-term orientation and inner experience of meaning. The consumption values taught at school were in sharp contrast with the consumption values of uniqueness, fun and enjoyment portrayed in children's television programs and commercials. Research limitations/implications - The study did not measure how children respond to the consumption values taught in schools. In other words, it did not have information about whether Chinese children understand or believe in these values. Practical implications - This paper offers advice for marketers and advertisers to frame the benefits of their products in line with desirable Chinese cultural values. For example, in view of the strong emphasis on meaning in consumption, there is a big market for products and services related to saving. Also, companies should consider sponsoring charity activities of non-profit-making organizations in order to establish positive and responsible corporate images. Originality/value - This paper offers insight to understanding the inherent hindrance to children's pursuit of hedonism in consumption. It also provides suggestions for product design, planning of promotional activities as well as brand positioning to appeal to parents and children in China. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.