Coffee, Fast Food, and the Desire for Romantic Love in Contemporary China: Branding and Marketing Trends in Popular Chinese-Language Literature

  • Lena Henningsen (Author)
    Heidelberg University, Institute of Chinese Studies

Identifiers (Article)


A popular, 1999 Taiwanese novel published for the Chinese book market set off a twofold transcultural trend: one in real life and one in literature. To explore this phenomenon, this paper considers the rising popularity of coffee culture and of “Western” food culture, as well as the increasingly important role that consumption and brand names play in popular literature on the Chinese mainland. I argue that desire, the power of imagination, and the transcultural qualities of the products in question constitute the crucial links between the two trends. Like other cultural products, such as lifestyle magazines, guidebooks, and movies, literary texts (especially successful ones) not only explain to consumers how to integrate new objects of consumption into their daily lives. They also provide ways of bestowing meaning on new forms of consumption and experience. Cultural products call upon consumers to fulfil their desires through imagination. The products concerned all have a global dimension, but are also firmly rooted in the Chinese reality. This gives them a certain vagueness and, at the same time, distinct meanings that render them particularly convenient for meeting the desires of a well-off, fashionable, cosmopolitan, and lifestyle-oriented part of the urban Chinese population: the xiaozi (petty bourgeois).


Academic discipline and sub-disciplines
Chinese Studies, Cultural Studies
Contributor or sponsoring agency
German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Heidelberg University, Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context"
Type, method or approach
Literary analysis; interviews; field study
Cai Zhiheng, The First Intimate Touch, Fast Food, Coffee, Experience, Imagination, Desire, Zhuang Yu, xiaozi, Petty Bourgeois