Graphics shows that China's consumer price index (CPI) rose 1.5 percent year on year in January. (Xinhua/Qu Zhendong)
Decades ago, China was basically a self-sufficient country, and the products on its marketplace were largely dull and limited. But the reform and opening up initiated in 1978 has dramatically changed the country's economic landscape, bringing in a wealth of overseas goods and services, not to mention creating one of the largest drivers of global economic growth -- Chinese consumers.
As one of the top markets for automobiles, clothes and video games, China keeps marching forward in a dash to purchase consumer products, services and culture.
BUYING FROM GLOBE
As a tradition, Chinese people usually make special purchases to celebrate Chinese New Year, which falls this Friday, with shopping lists containing anything from beef and nuts to firecrackers and poetic couplets.
Wang Yang's shopping is not so traditional this year. German beer, French steaks and seafood from Northern Europe were a small fraction of his 500 U.S. dollars of purchases in a mall for imported goods only, at a land port in Zhengzhou, central China's Henan Province.
"I don't even have to leave the city to buy all this food. It is fast and convenient. Our family dinner will be made of ingredients from all over the world this year," Wang said.
More and more exotic foreign delicacies are finding their way to Chinese tables like Wang's, with fresh farm produce and any number of specialties arriving from thousands of miles away.
From 2011 until now, about 7,000 cargo trains have traveled on 61 lines linking to 36 European cities such as Hamburg and Madrid with 38 Chinese cities, including Xi'an and Yiwu. The number of trains back to China tripled annually over the past four years due to the growing appetite of Chinese consumers who are increasingly "going global."
The busy China-Europe freight trains mirror the power of China's many deep-pocketed consumers, who exert their influence through purchases, catering and travelling. As a steady economy has boosted personal incomes, people are willing to spend more on foreign products in pursuit of better quality and experience.
"As the market keeps growing, Chinese consumers need more options, which has created opportunities for many European countries," said Slawomir Majman, chairman of the World Union of Agricultural Association, citing a 40 percent increase in Greece's exports to China over the years. Greece, of course, is just one of many countries that has seen such a boost.
Booming e-commerce has fanned a spending boom. Chinese consumers no longer need to take long-distance flights or go to luxury malls to shop, with many choosing to simply make their purchases with a few clicks of a mouse.
China's e-commerce imports rocketed by 116.4 percent to 56.59 billion yuan (8.76 billion U.S. dollars) last year, outpacing the around 40-percent growth in exports.
"China will make more efforts to cut tariffs on products including cars," senior Chinese official Liu He said at the World Economic Forum in January. Import taxes on 187 products were slashed last year, with the average rate down from 17.3 percent to 7.7 percent.