The overconsumption of ostentatious luxury goods fuels graft by forcing Chinese officials to keep up with the Zhangs. A cornerstone of combating official corruption is to make sure that civil servants receive adequate salaries that provide a secure, if plebeian, middle-class lifestyle.
To the Chinese, materialism is not superficial. It is meaningful, tantamount to advancement within society and faith in the future. Run amok, however, it corrupts ambition and threatens the country's social fabric.
International companies have long believed that they must have a presence in China because they consider its 1.3 billion people to be potential consumers. But research raises question about who the country's middle class really are and the true meaning of their disposable income.