Frugalists, anti-consumers, and prosumers: Chinese philosophical perspectives on consumerism

Geir Sigurdsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter is a survey of classical Chinese philosophical views of consumption. It mainly focusses on Confucianism, but includes brief treatments of Mohism and Daoism as well. It begins by reviewing earlier discussions of Confucianism and capitalism, which were initiated by Max Weber in his well-known comparative analysis of the Protestant Ethic and the religions of Asia. While Weber concluded that Confucianism was unlikely to stimulate the formation of the kind of industrial capitalism that came to the fore in Europe, some later thinkers sought to contradict his thesis by arguing that Confucianism was a seminal factor in the speedy modernization process of East Asian economies in the twentieth century. As this chapter will show, however, these views have been motivated by suspect intentions and are therefore questionable. The discussion will then move to the classical Confucian and some neo-Confucian texts in order to extract the general Confucian views on consumption, revealing an unmistakable and consistent tendency to consider material wealth and all that it entails as subordinate to virtue and morality. An even stronger aversion to consumption is expressed by Mohist and Daoist thinkers. The conclusion is that Chinese philosophy is overall more likely to discourage than to stimulate consumption, which may possibly be a factor in the low domestic consumption in contemporary China.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Changing Landscape of China's Consumerism
EditorsAlison Hulme
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781780634425
ISBN (Print)9781843347613
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The editor and contributors, 2014. All rights reserved.

Other keywords

  • Capitalism
  • Chinese philosophy
  • Confucianism
  • Consumption
  • Daoism
  • Mohism
  • Propriety


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