China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
What did Chinese people want in the Mao era, and what do the efforts of the Chinese state to control these desires explain about this era? After 1949, specific products, especially imported consumer goods, became harder to obtain. There were many things one might want but would not be able to acquire legally. The state tried to quash the desire for some products by defining them as ‘bourgeois’ or ‘feudal’, and to redirect desires—both new and pre-existing—towards products manufactured in China. This talk addresses the PRC efforts to shape consumer desire though a history of the ‘three big-ticket items’ (san da jian, or ‘three bigs’). A wristwatch, a sewing machine, and a bicycle were major consumer goods sought by urban and rural households across China during the Mao era, and were eventually manufactured in China. A history of the expanding production, circulation, and social lives of these products helps explain the spread of the ‘bourgeois’ consumerism that the Mao-era state attempted to replace.