James L. Watson – McDonald’s in Hong Kong: Consumerism, Dietary Change, and the Rise of a Children’s Culture

Considering the incredible pride the Cantonese hold in their food, Watson is curious why McDonald’s is such a popular restaurant in the region.  In considering this problem, Watson poses a couple of central questions for discussions of McWorld or homogenizing Western culture:  Is local culture under siege?  Are food changes creating homogenous “global” culture the result of a capitalist world order?  The assumptions underlying these questions – for Watson – are also problematic; in fact, his research eventually concludes that the McWorld theory is somewhat flawed because the natives of Hong Kong and Canton are actually “transnational-as-local” : they disrupt the binary.

Tracing the rise in popularity of McDonald’s in Hong Kong, Watson highlights how language, social norms, and class affinities were central to the restaurants success in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Watson also demonstrates how McDonald’s – and the wider Western culture industry – have changed the social landscape of urban China in the late 20th century.  The piece is a wonderful example of how TNCs work to engender trust, respect, and loyalty from consumers in cultures far different from their putative “home base.”

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