I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai for work in early September in the midst of one of the most volatile economic times for China. I was fortunate enough to speak with several local Chinese, both millennials and some “wiser” folks, as well, about their take in the recent economic trends across the country. Additionally, I spent quite a bit of time with some Fortune 500 companies during my time. Lastly, I realize that traveling through Shanghai is somewhat of a microcosm of China’s overall economy, nevertheless, here are some of my observations.
Shanghai is the largest city both in China and the world, playing host to north of 22 million people. Several cities follow closely on its tail including Beijing (19 million), Tianjin (11 million), Guangzhou (11 million), Shenzhen (10 million) and many more to follow. These five cities along represent north of 5% of China’s total population or more than 75 million people. 50% of China’s residents live in an urban setting, one that sees high rises constructed in a matter of a few months.
China is also home to a growing discrepancy of male: female ratio. For every male birth over the past 14 years, there has been an average of .86 females born. Coupled with a slowing population growth (<.5%) tens of millions of Chinese will be moving into a 55+ age cohort in the coming years, continually increasing the median age, which is beginning to creep near 37 years old.
Several of these trends aren’t noticeable when traveling the streets of Shanghai but the underlying trend is evident. Shanghai buzzed all hours of the day and late into the night, not only around the Bund but all throughout the city. The famous Nanjing Road highlights the prominence of the world’s most famous brands. But the two most popular brand stores? Apple and Disney.
The new Disney store located in Pudong had a line reaching well over 100 people, waiting to get a glimpse of Walt Disney’s commercial legacy. The Apple store didn’t quite have that long of a line, but the store was buzzing with locals getting their electronic fix with the newest iWatches, Mac Books and more.
While there are plenty of signs highlighting China’s slowing economy, it is by no means dead in the water. Outside of the Luxury brands, Teslas and even Lamborghinis in the streets of Shanghai, there is a quiet but steady growth.