“Battling Chickens”(dou ji): Kentucky Fried Chicken in the People’s Republic of China and Shanghai Ronghuaji
The introduction of American fast food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into China and the subsequent technological appropriation by Chinese restaurants illustrates how global political economic processes provide a new medium through which local contestations and self-definitions are performed. This paper, part of a larger collaborative project on changing consumption patterns, focuses on two competing companies that offer chicken: KFC and a Chinese chain called Shanghai Ronghuaji (“Glorious China Chicken”). In conducting ethnographic research of institutions, I focus on KFC as a transnational organization that actively brings into China not only food and management techniques, but also culture: ideas imbedded in its corporate structure, marketing strategies, and the products themselves. Fast food restaurants are largely responsible for introducing changes in public culture, such as the acceptance of queuing and a preoccupation with hygiene. Staff in fast food restaurants are engaged in a constant exhibition of cleaning, mopping, and scrubbing to demonstrate that the food is safe. Fast food restaurants highlight changing cultural patterns – changes that are visibly-contested through the consumption of certain products. A comparison with Shanghai Ronghuaji, a Chinese fast food competitor of KFC, clearly illustrates how Western cultural ideas become transformed and given new meanings.