As China gears up for the Lunar New Year, you might expect the country’s shoppers to be scrambling for the last few chickens, ducks, or cuts of pork — foods deemed essential to a traditional, homemade New Year’s Eve dinner. But tonight’s celebrations are just as likely to feature ready-made meals and exotic foreign cuisines, according to state news agency Xinhua.
New Year’s Eve is customarily seen as a time for Chinese families to reunite, share a meal, and enjoy each other’s company — especially for migrant workers who might only return home once a year. Traditionally, many families spend several days preparing for the meal; rural dwellers may butcher pigs and other livestock, while urbanites stuff and wrap countless dumplings.
But online shopping is increasingly disrupting time-consuming culinary traditions in favor of greater convenience. On e-commerce platform Tmall, more than 800,000 partly-cooked food products were sold during its weeklong New Year promotion last month — 16 times more than last year, according to data provided by Alibaba Group.
Twenty-four-year-old Shanghai native Zang Ting told Sixth Tone on Monday that while she used to spend an entire day preparing New Year’s dinner with her parents — including making sweet dumplings and rice pudding from scratch — this year she simply ordered a dozen partly-cooked meals online. “I ordered some traditional dishes, but also wanted to surprise my parents with Argentinean shrimp, Australian steak, and Spanish ham,” she said.
Although millennials are predominantly driving the change in online consumer trends, elderly Chinese people are also increasingly ordering food on e-commerce platforms — despite their popular image of computer illiteracy. On Taoxianda — the Taobao mobile app’s fresh-food delivery service — the number of users aged over 50 has increased by 172 percent compared with last year, according to company data. The figures also also show that older Chinese tend to eschew foreign food in favor of homegrown ingredients like pork ribs, farm eggs, and fresh green vegetables.
Lunar New Year is also a time to shower your loved ones with gifts — but change is afoot here, too. While such presents once took the form of fine liquor or upmarket cigarettes, nowadays people are increasingly gifting tech products, the Alibaba data shows. Thirty-three-year-old sales manager Gao Hexin told Sixth Tone on Monday that his elderly mother, who hails from a rural village in the central Chinese province of Henan, requested a floor-cleaning robot and a Tmall Genie — a smart speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo series — for Lunar New Year. Prior to this year’s festival, sales of the Tmall Genie were 400 times higher in rural regions than last year, according to online media outlet ywcb.com. “I was surprised when my parents asked for one,” Gao said, “but I’m glad they’re embracing new technology.”
In the days to come, many younger Chinese people will meet up with old school friends or go on blind dates arranged by their parents. And it seems that lots of people have pre-emptively splashed out to ensure they look their best while they’re back home. Alibaba’s latest data on Spring Festival consumption habits shows that people born after 1990 purchased 57 percent of all hair-transplant services prior to Lunar New Year. Users aged over 50 years old, meanwhile, were more inclined to purchase skin-smoothing injectable dermal filler.
There was a time when Zang would buy her mother boxes of fruit and health supplements, but this year she forked out 10,000 yuan ($1,483) on a gift card at a beauty salon. “Many people are worried that Spring Festival is losing its traditional flavor,” she told Sixth Tone, “but in my mind, we’re just creating new traditions as time goes by.”
Editor: Matthew Walsh.
(Header image: A night market in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Feb. 3, 2019. Yuan Kejia/VCG)