China decks the malls for Christmas shopping

Stores in China have embraced Christmas with music and decorations to celebrate what has become a major shopping holiday.

Alexander F. Yuan/AP
Two shop workers dressed up as Chinese Qing Dynasty princesses prepare themselves near a statue of Santa Claus at the entrance of a shopping mall in downtown Beijing, China, Thursday.

At Beijing's most luxurious mall – “New Light Heaven and Earth” – the religion this season is shopping.

The bright maze of cosmetics counters is festooned with green bunting. White-coated counter women wear mistletoe corsages. Downstairs a florist sells poinsettias, gold tinsel Christmas trees, and strings of flashing fairy lights.

"Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus lane," the PA system chimes.

In one-party China, where Communist doctrine has cramped religion for 60 years, Christmas is not closely linked with spirituality.

"I can't talk about Christmas and religion. I'm a party member and I'm just here to shop," laughs Cherry, a real estate agent carrying a bag of new Bobbi Brown cosmetics, declining to give her surname. "Christmas is just a festival very important for foreigners. It is the same as Spring Festival for the Chinese people."

These are China's upper classes, shopping to their hearts' content – and helping bolster Asia's resistance to the financial downturn.

China needs a broad-based surge in consumer spending to steady its speedy growth. Household spending here accounts for just over a third of the nation's economy, compared to two-thirds in the US and well above 50 percent in most advanced economies.

Even though Chinese retail sales are up more than 15 percent this year over last year, it could take years to reach a level where China's economy is fueled mostly by domestic consumption.

But many Chinese – whose super-savings habit was borne of a lack of a social safety net – are still looking for a deal wherever they can get it.

Often that means looking online. Asia's biggest e-commerce website, Taobao, said Thursday that Dec. 8–14 sales reached $700 million, three times higher than sales in the same period last year.

Qiao Yajuan, manager of competitor, said Christmas sales would double from a year ago despite a rise in gift prices of about 20 percent.

"We have had to hire more delivery people to meet the increasing Christmas demand," Qiao told the Xinhua news agency.

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