Chinese Consumerism – Where Gold is Money

Chinese Consumerism

Where Gold is Money


Mr. & Mrs. Casey Stengel


In 2012 Mrs. Stengel and I retired from our jobs and, being debt free, began looking for an adventure. We pondered about where in the world we would like to go, and after no small measure of deliberation settled on China. We jumped through many hurdles to secure a teaching position at a university and soon began our adventure. Each day reveals something new to us about this culture and its people. China is such a fascinating place that is changing at breakneck speed; so fast in fact it is hard to keep up with the changes. In his book “China Road” Rob Gifford writes “if you’re not confused about China you’re not paying attention.” Amen to that.

Recently I was on a domestic flight within China. The flip down seat back TV screens were showing short documentaries with cultural and educational themes. Imagine my surprise when I saw pictures of Ulysses S. Grant, some gold coins, and the picture of another man who I learned soon enough was Jay Gould. The folks on this flight were being educated about gold coins, gold as money, agricultural commodities, and farmers being paid in paper notes instead of gold coins. By the end of the clip, passengers were made aware that there are powerful people in the world who will exert influence over government leaders so the rich and powerful can profit from manipulation.

Any farmer on the flight learned to never trust a banker who wants to ‘help’ them and they were all made aware of the fact that Gould bought a bank through which he could run this scam. The video ended with Grant realizing that Gould had played him like a fiddle and the only thing missing was a picture of Gould rotting in prison. Oh wait…rather than go to jail he went on to own a railroad after the Gold swindle. I wonder why the powers that be over here want their citizens to know the history of gold manipulation.

In the land of the free and the home of the brave, Bernanke says that Gold and Gold Coins are not money. In the most populated communist country on earth, the masses are being educated about how Gold is good money and how rich and powerful people will manipulate it. Truth is stranger than fiction. You cannot make this stuff up.

One of the best parts about teaching in China is the friendships I have with colleagues at the university. They want to talk about the United States, but surprisingly are not very interested in hearing what I think is wrong about the direction the US is headed. Such talk would shatter their dream that there is a place where people are free. Many of them would jump at the chance to visit America, and some of them would want to stay there. Others would enjoy the visit and then head back home. They are solidly middle class and they like it.

I have been talking to an economics professor about fiat currency, gold, real estate, and economic trends in China. (I surmised that he’s well connected because some of the things he said I read about on Zero Hedge six months later). He told me that China will slowly transition to a consumer based economy. As I try to wrap my mind around this economy and the middle class I’ve observed three things.

First, the economy here is solidly capitalist, and by comparison the US is socialist. I’m not kidding about this. People are free to start businesses and make all the money they can. I am sure there is order to it all in the typical Chinese kind of way, but it can look like a capitalist free-for-all sometimes. Regulations are minimal, though from a safety standpoint they could use a few regulations. In fact I have been encouraged to open an English language school here in China. There are expat teachers here making three times their regular salary operating a school on the side. No problem either because it is encouraged.

Second, there is a growing and happy middle class who are not far removed from the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution, so they appreciate their new found wealth. I have been asking the same question to many different people I meet here. “What is considered middle class and are you middle class?” Responses include owning a car, buying a home, and making the equivalent of $1000 to 3000 per month (in our 2nd tier city). For me who grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s America, it is like watching a rerun on television.

As The Powers That Be steer this country toward a consumer based economy, this middle class will drive the economy. Hundreds of millions of people are middle class, happy, and have no idea they are pawns. The malls here are over the top as far as technology is concerned. There is a 200 foot by 50 foot giant screen on the ceiling of the mall entrance. Shopping is entertainment. (Does this sound familiar? You know where this is headed.) And right on cue, I saw this billboard in Beijing.

Beijing.billboard - Clean2

Third, the negative effects of the global economy have begun to show up here. I was talking to an Ag student about his family and home, and after telling me the usual family information he said that the government was against his father’s farm. Oh? How so?  His father runs a small pig farm with a total of fifty sows while employing three workers. His farm needs to receive 8 yuan per unit of pig weight to show a profit. About 2 months after the acquisition of Smithfield, the price of pork went to 7 yuan. The government, he said, would not subsidize their domestic pork and was therefore against them. The family was pondering any and all possible options to save their business.

When I saw the student two weeks later I asked what his father had decided to do. The student told me that his father had laid off all three employees and was doing all the work himself. ‘Ironic’ does not begin to define this scenario. Coming from a small business agricultural background I could understand his dilemma and the financial stress it brings. I thought about asking him how it felt to have a business threatened with closure because of cheaper imported products, but I did not. Even if I asked the question in my most sincere voice, it could be misunderstood as gloating and I did not come here for that. I really didn’t need to ask, I could see the answer in his eyes.

I also didn’t tell the student that we had a lot in common. Back in the late 90’s I was developing a growing honeybee pollination business and was picking up more pollination contracts each year from the apple growers in our area. Those contracts provided a nice supplement to my income. In 1999 I saw my business shrink as growers went out of business. When I questioned a big grower about the future of the orchard industry, he talked about China dumping massive amounts of apples on the juice market and effectively shutting off a needed source of revenue for American producers. I shook my head as I drove home that evening. I could not believe that people in China could really have an effect on such a small time beekeeper in the U.S.  Welcome to the global economy.

I appreciate the work that Cog and Mrs. Cog are doing to provide a venue for those of us who are just figuring out how to articulate what’s going on, and how we navigate this brave new world.


Mr. & Mrs. Casey Stengel

chinese consumer - Clean

9 thoughts on “Chinese Consumerism – Where Gold is Money”

  1. Thanks for the info Mr & Mrs Stengel. Nice article.

    Are ‘western’ bankers and banking practices noticeable there, or are they working more behind the scenes? I’d think their mouth’s are watering at the prospect of a large population such as China changing into a consumer based economy. Imagine the profits on the accompanying debt. I’m reasonably certain the Rothschilds and Goldman Sachs of the world already have a presence there.

    For what it’s worth I was at the store yesterday looking to pick up some pork spare ribs and Smithfield product’s prices were handily undercutting other pork producers such as Tyson.

    1. Disenchanted, I haven’t seen any of the western banks here. Given the history of European powers in China I doubt that would happen. They have their own banks and they have branches EVERYWHERE.

      It is fun being here. I hope to write something soon about shopping for gold coins. I also began talking with a real estate sales agent at a local high rise housing development. I walked through an unfinished apt taking pics and then went to the sales office. I want to visit a second development before I post anything.

      I really felt bad for the Agricultural student. I saw him yesterday and he told me his mother also got a job away from the farm so the farm is going to survive for the time being. That same story was and is played out thousands of times in the US.
      I have become a big supporter of local economy.

  2. Excellent article! Thanks so much for posting it and I certainly look forward to future posts.

    I am eager to hear more about the building industry in China. I understand that there is huge vacancy rate in new construction. Over at zerohedge I have been reading about bankruptcies of major construction companies in China. I am from a part of California that has become an extremely popular wine growing region. The Chinese have been flocking here and buying up some of the most valuable land, homes and wineries. Whenever anything with tillable land comes on the market, the bidding starts immediately and the property sells well above the ask price within days on an all cash deal. There is a very good chance that the new owner will be Chinese!

  3. Hi Mr and Mrs Stengal:

    What fun that you are living in China and what adventurous Americans you are that you decided to retire there to teaching positions. I just love the place. Always have a great time in China and every trip has an adventure in it.

    It seems you are living in Beijing. How do you like it there? Was it difficult for you to make the transition to life there? What do you do for fun or entertainment?

    I have to admit that every time I am in Beijing I have to take some time to go to Tiananmen Square. That is the most awesome public space I know of on earth. I just wander around like a typical tourist, people watching for hours. Then I make my way over to the duck restaurants at the west end of the square and stuff myself. Is that hutong still standing at the west end of the Square? Love to get lost in that warren of cart paths and alleyways, meeting people and taking pictures.

    Please post some more. It’s great fun to hear of your adventure.

    1. @ Beach, I’ve been to Beijing a few times but we live in 2nd tier city a few hundred miles away from Beijing. I like to go to Tiananmen Square to just stand and look and replay the scene in my mind. I love their subway system. It is so easy to navigate. The transition was relatively easy and once you immerse yourself in the work its just normal work. The normalcy of it helps get me through all the stuff thats really different. Students are GREAT to work with. We have lunch with them and have them over at our apt. all the time for supper. Sometimes they cook and sometimes it’s Mrs. Stengel. We are making friends in the professional community as well. This is a real adventure.

      @ Nadine, I was a part of the construction industry for 20 years, both in residential and commercial. After I got over here I had to stop looking for the errors because I was becoming too negative. How many times can you say, It’s pretty bad, before everybody around you gets sick of hearing it. Exiting the real estate market before the 2008 collapse was the key to our retirement so I am trying every day to see the total picture of this construction bubble. I survey everyone I can about the details of purchase and ownership in the housing market. I’m getting close to understanding enough to write something for the TIF’s community.

      1. Oh you are having fun and an adventure!

        My wife and I always have such great fun when we are in China. One time in Shenzhen she got bored when we were living in a hotel and asked some of the hostesses on the executive floor if they would recommend a disco we could go to. They came back and told her they could but they would feel better if they went with us to make sure we were safe. So one Saturday night my wife and I and 4 of these young professionals went out to a wonderful dance club. We did not come back to the hotel until 6 AM and had the most fun we have had in years. China and the Chinese are just fun and love to socialize and have a great time.

        As an old builder myself, I get lost in the Forbidden City, just thinking what it much have been like to plan and build and then manage that huge project. Have you noticed that all the marble newel posts are unique? There are thousands of them and everyone is different. They finished most of the public area of that the year Columbus found the Americas. How on earth did they cut, design and carve all those posts 700 years ago?

        What an amazing place, and it sounds like you are finding ways to make the experience a great adventure.

        1. “How on earth did they cut, design and carve all those posts 700 years ago?”
          Beach, I stood there for the longest time imagining how they carved all that. Quite impressive. The labor involved in that place boggles the mind considering it was not mechanized.

  4. Hello Mr. and Mrs. Stengel, thank you for your insightful and informative article. Is there any way you can you get me a job over there? I’m not really serious. Lately, though, I have been having romanticized ex-pat thoughts. Or, maybe it’s just plain old survival instinct kicking in. I’m not really sure which. China, Canada – anywhere that the middle class is prospering. Where the engine of economy still has fuel. Realistically though, I have decided that I need to learn Mandarin. The Chinese have just overtaken the Russians in real estate purchases where I live. Tracts of foreclosed property, golf courses homes, you name it. The global economy is here and I don’t speak the language. Best of luck to you both and way to go for having the courage to make such a difference in your lives. I’m inspired!

  5. Anne, I hear exactly what you’re saying. This is not the place. We are here for the experience of getting to know individual people and learning their culture. The internal machine is incredibly developed over here and I’m afraid that our govt. has been learning from them.

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