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    Anti-Consumerism Advocate Encourages Rethinking Life’s Pleasures in China

    Through talks, workshops, and a magazine, a group of like-minded friends in Shanghai are encouraging people to reject consumerist culture and make better use of their cities’ public spaces. Their message is falling on receptive ears.
    Oct 23, 2023#consumption

    In one of the world’s most expensive cities, is it possible to have a good time without spending any money? Yes, says Chen Lingyi, an anti-consumerism advocate in Shanghai who is encouraging children and adults to embrace life’s pleasures — without dipping into the wallet.

    “The city already provides far more than what we need in life,” Chen, 26, told Sixth Tone. “We don’t have to buy more. We just need to explore and use (what we have).”

    Chen and her team of 26 other like-minded people are responsible for producing a magazine, launched in November 2022, about ways to enjoy China’s biggest cities without spending any money. These include 100 tips on enjoying a free weekend in Shanghai and several other big cities in China, such as seeking out free coffee from baristas wanting feedback and attending free government-funded night schools.

    The idea for the magazine came to Chen during last year’s pandemic, when she struggled to buy bananas for under 150 yuan ($20.50). The necessity of bartering during this period, when people traded what they had in surplus for what they lacked, left a deep impression on Chen and changed the way she saw her usual consumption habits.

    “Money became meaningless as you were no longer able to buy things you needed with it,” she said.

    The magazine is produced by the team in their spare time and is led by Chen, a full-time employee at a sustainable fashion company. It is currently distributed in over 200 cafés and open spaces nationwide that all allow customers to sit in without spending any money, according to Chen.

    Shanghai is China’s most expensive city and the 12th most expensive in the world, according to consulting firm Mercer. The city was the only one on the Chinese mainland to maintain its ranking this year on Mercer’s annual cost of living table, while other cities such as Beijing and Chengdu saw their rankings fall. 

    Social media trends promoting money-saving have become increasingly popular post-pandemic. Cash-strapped young Chinese are rejecting expensive holidays abroad in favor of “special forces tourism” — bustling between tourist hotspots at breakneck speed — and free “citywalks” instead.

    The magazine aside, Chen’s team has also held workshops for employees of big tech giants like Alibaba as well as students, encouraging them to explore what brings them fulfillment in their lives.

    “It’s the feelings created by yourselves and built upon your experiences (that matter),” said Chen.

    Wang Duyi, head of the cultural center at Shanghai Kongjiang High School, was inspired after picking up the magazine by chance. She invited Chen to give a presentation at her school in spring about enjoying a weekend without spending any money, which was attended by dozens of students.

    “It’s a really important lesson for the students to seek and prioritize an inner spiritual balance rather than endlessly pursue money to obtain happiness, especially at a time when the young can easily become misguided by social media and spend more and more money,” said Wang.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Pedestrians on Wukang Road in Shanghai, Oct. 13, 2023. VCG)