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Understanding consumer ethics in China’s demographic shift and social reforms

Wei-Fen Chen (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong)
Xue Wang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong)
Haiyan Gao (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong)
Ying-Yi Hong (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong)

Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics

ISSN: 1355-5855

Article publication date: 28 February 2019

Issue publication date: 24 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to explore some specific, current social phenomena in China that may influence consumers’ ethical beliefs and practices, focusing on how some top-down, social and political changes could shape consumer behavior that needs to be understood in the Chinese context.


Extensive literature was critically reviewed to explore recent macro-societal reforms in China and their impact on consumers’ (un)ethical practices.


The authors lay out how China, a government-led society, underwent a series of political reforms resulting in demographic shifts that differentiate it from its western, industrialized counterparts. The authors connect these societal changes with Chinese characteristics to consumers’ ethical evaluations, forming a new angle to understand consumer ethics in China. The authors also draw on two empirical examples to illustrate the argument.


While consumer ethics are often explained by either cultural factors or individual variations, the authors discuss how one’s ethical practice is shaped by one’s social position, which is a product of national-level public policy. The discussions have ramifications for the study of consumers’ social class and ethical practices because they take into account the elusive social positions and ambiguous social class consciousness of the Chinese population that have resulted from social mobility. The discussions may give practitioners a better understanding of the ethical rationale behind consumers’ changing lifestyles especially in the Chinese context.



This research was partially supported by a research grant from the Institute for Emerging Market Studies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology awarded to the first author. In addition, preparation of this paper was partially supported by funding from the Global China Research Programme of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a General Research Fund (Ref. No. 14655416) of the Research Grant Council of the Hong Kong SAR Government awarded to the last author.


Chen, W.-F., Wang, X., Gao, H. and Hong, Y.-Y. (2019), "Understanding consumer ethics in China’s demographic shift and social reforms", Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, Vol. 31 No. 3, pp. 627-646.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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