Globalized Childhood?: Fast Food in the People’s Republic
Eriberto P. Lozada Jr.
Department of Anthropology, Harvard University
(paper given in 1996; it was published by Stanford University Press in a volume edited by Prof. Jun Jing entitled Feeding China’s Little Emperors, 2000)
Kids at play in a Beijing KFC, August 1995
With local communities more fully integrated into a global system, understanding everyday social life today means understanding the connections between local communities and the larger-scale global world. Transnational processes increasingly challenge the boundaries of traditional social structures such as the family and cultural notions of childhood. In this paper, I will examine how the introduction of American fast food restaurants such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into China illustrates how global political economic processes provide a new medium through which local contestations and self-definitions of Chinese childhood in the 1990s are performed. If the conception of childhood as a separate life stage marks Western modernity, do changing ideas of Chinese childhood reflect social restructuring resulting from Chinese modernity? What are the roles of transnational organizations such as KFC in shaping the cultural form of Chinese childhood, in the spread of a “globalized childhood?” This paper will present ethnographic evidence from one particular section of Beijing (Dongsi) and its local KFC restaurant that depicts how Chinese ideas of childhood and other aspects of urban Chinese popular culture are shaped by transnational organizations. Analysis of KFC’s role in shaping the experiences of Chinese children also highlights how the increasing globalization of social structures and cultural forms is also linked to the proliferation and intensity of “politics of differentiation.”