Golden Arches East
McDonald’s restaurants are found in over 100 countries, serving tens of millions of people each day. What are the cultural implications of this phenomenal success? The widely read-and widely acclaimed-Golden Arches East argues that McDonald’s has largely become divorced from its American roots and become a "local" institution for an entire generation of affluent consumers in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. In the second edition, James L. Watson also covers recent attacks on the fast-food chain as a symbol of American imperialism, and the company’s role in the obesity controversy currently raging in the U.S. food industry, bringing the story of East Asian franchises into the twenty-first century.
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Stanford University Press
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A must read book
The corporation has not just introduced American’s culture to the Chinese people (such as birthday celebration, self-serving, good consumer behaviors, treating everyone equally with great smiles, work efficiently, etc.), but also made a remarkable achievement in being involved in the local communities.
I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in learning Chinese development in the past 20 years. This book will provide the readers many wonderful case studies and provoking findings.
Excellent Research Findings
The research findings from this book resonate extremely well in me. I felt that the book has spoken with my inner voice. It accurately depicted how I felt overall on American fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC in China when I left China for America over ten years ago. I have told many people that it was a culture shock for me to realize the image discrepancy in these two countries --- that McDonald’s and KFC in USA were not upper scaled restaurants as they were perceived widely in China; rather, they serve the working class or people driving on the road at relatively cheap prices in USA; whereas in China I always thought McDonald’s and KFCs are upper scaled fast food restaurants because of their modern decorations, standardized kitchen procedures and higher prices even though their food is far less delicious compared to the authentic Chinese food. I normally hang out with friends in tea houses and KTVs, when we did in McDonald’s or KFC, we would chat for hours, not really for the fast foods, but for the foreign atmosphere, or as the researcher pointed out in her research on Beijing, for a pride or a desire to show off our sophistication that we appreciated or were no strangers to the western culture.
I can’t agree more with these researchers that the secrets for McDonald’s succeeded in East Asia attribute largely to the company’s “selling the ‘American culture’ rather than ‘just the food’,” and the approaches for localization and standardization. McDonald’s may not be able to control the taste responses of individual consumers, but it can make the experience of eating relatively predictable. The familiarity factor is central to McDonald’s success. (P. 22). Although James Cantalupo, President of McDonald’s International, claims that the goal of McDonald’s is to “become as much a part of the local culture as possible.” (P. 12) McDonald’s appeared to many Chinese people at first is that it was foreign and exotic yet very friendly to kids and families. McDonald’s could not have succeeded in East Asia without appealing to younger generations of consumers, children and teenagers. (P. 19) When McDonald’s started businesses in China, they felt the pulses from different customers (such as children born under “Only One Child Policy,” the growing new riches who are hungry for redeeming their American dreams by eating at McDonald’s), and the concerns on the food safety, clean bathrooms and efficient management, etc.
It is not exaggerated to say McDonald’s has launched a “cultural revolution” in China. Prior to McDonald’s entry into the local scene, festivities to mark the specific birthdates of youngsters were unknown in most parts of East Asia. (P. 19) McDonald’s and its rivals in the fast food industry have promoted the birthday party - complete with cake and candles. The consumer’s self-disciplines have been improved over the time. Many people credit McDonald’s with being the first public institution in Hong Kong to enforce queuing, and thereby helping to create a more “civilized” social order (P. 94). In the past, I often felt ashamed whenever I saw Chinese people pack themselves into disorderly scrums everywhere. The older I grow, the less critical I become toward Chinese people’s such “non-civilized” behavior. For generations who have gone through the wartime and long period of poverty, the memory of being refugees and fighting for the resources has been deeply imprinted in everyone’s genes regardless how much their living conditions have improved. The “civilization” even goes beyond the queuing. In the reality, Chinese people were quickly adapt to the non-service that they have paid for - self-seating and self-cleaning the tray and table after the eating. The other phenomena that gave me lots of laughters is the Napkin Wars - In Hong Kong napkins are dispensed, one at a time, by McDonald’s crew member who work behind the counter; customers who do not ask for napkins do not receive any… The reason is simple: napkins placed in public dispensers disappear faster than they can be replaced(P. 95) … due to majority people’s abuse of the public facility. This is exactly how I explained to my students why they had to bring their own toilet paper when going to the public bathrooms.
I grew up in an era that China’s implementation of “Open and Reform Policy.” Like many others, I used to look up the western society as more civilized and advanced until I moved here and lived for years to realize that people are people, we all are similar. Although Chinese people do whatever American people in McDonald’s, the same people will most likely behave exactly in the old way - the typical Chinese way for being “chaotic, loud or even rude.” See, this is what I really miss after I left the country for so long. Dining customs reveal our own identities, our appreciations for the history and the foods. It is pretty scary if we produce everything in a fashion of production assembly lines. Although the outcome is highly predictable, there won’t be greatest chefs left in the world if everyone is taught to cook by the book - It just feels like everything is made by machine, lacks of human touch. Cooking is an art, to allow the freedom of personal expression and the flexibility on whatever is available, one shall never measure or standardize the dose of ingredients and its procedures. This is what I learned from life. While the westerners insist using measuring cup for cooking rice, many Chinese people like me have never used a cup to measure how much rice and/or water go into the pot. We cook by the feeling and experience. That's all. Any that's why makes the life full of fun.
The researches were done over ten years ago. I wish that a follow-up research could be carried out in 20 or 30 years. Looking back, the Chinese society was calling for the changes, McDonald’s responded very well. Everything comes with two sides, the good things also accompany the bad things. One thing that I deeply disagree with the researcher’s findings is on McDonald’s efforts in providing nutritious foods. I am a old school - have never liked to eat in McDonald’s because of its lacking of green vegetables and snack like feeling. when kids grow up eating fast food, they become used to it, thus eat less healthier. For this reason, I continue discourage my family to eat at fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC.