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A New Urban Role for China’s Evolving Shopping Malls

As the structure of China’s urban shopping malls evolves into large-scale, multi-use “lifestyle complexes”, so too does their role in the social and cultural fabric of metropolitan society.
January 24, 2013, 1pm PST | Melina Cordero
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New shopping malls in nearly all of China’s first- and second-tier cities are developing a new identity as “lifestyle complexes,” offering not only retail and leisure opportunities, but a long list of services from childcare and hotels to art and educational venues, Gan Tian reports. 

Competition from e-commerce, the author finds, has been a major factor in the diversification of these traditionally retail-focused complexes. As online shopping threatens traditional store-based retail channels across the globe, mall developers are looking for innovative ways to attract shoppers.

Already, these new urban “landmarks” are finding appeal across ages, occupations, and income groups. Alongside the allure of affordable cinema tickets and climate control, Tian finds a number of mall-goers for whom the center is an integral site – and source – of sociability. 

From 28-year-old Xie Hong who eats brunch at Beijing’s Sanlitun Village every weekend with her friends because it reminds her of “Sex and the City” to retired worker Sun Jianguo who dislikes shopping malls but frequents the center to take walks with his wife, China’s new retail-leisure complexes offer a convenient space for social interaction. For others, the author finds, the mall is a primary source of social life. Tian encounters one mother who regularly brings her daughter to the Sanlitun Village because she has few other opportunities to play and interact with other children. “Under the family planning policy,” Tian argues, “most children do not have many playmates like before when children had brothers and sisters as companions.” In addition, he explains, the constricted spaces of high-rise apartment living offers little space to play at home.

Tian concludes that the new face of China’s shopping malls is engendering an important lifestyle shift among urban dwellers. “They are no longer just a place for shopping,” Tian writes. “They are turning into lifestyle complexes, where different people can meet their every need, almost.”

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Published on Thursday, January 10, 2013 in China Daily
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