Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Economic Growth In China Brings Middle-Class Fitness Concerns

“Their lives transformed by strong economic growth, many Chinese are embracing creature comforts and lifestyle changes that once would have been denounced by the Communist Party as bourgeois indulgences. Fitness is largely an urban, middle-class concern. Most Chinese still rely on farming for a living, and hard, physical exercise is not their idea of recreation, nor was it for the urban Chinese who escaped Mao-era poverty 20 years ago. But with mentalities changing, fitness clubs are moving in to respond to demand from the urban Chinese who wish to shape and pamper their bodies. The national fanfare over the Beijing Olympics has added to the momentum. ‘Once the people have more time and more money, they will think of fitness,’ said Gu Haoning, who monitors the health and fitness industry for the General Administration of Sports, a Chinese government agency. ‘It would be impossible if they are still trying to eke out a living and don't have extra money for fitness.’ A generation ago, most people exercised in parks and side streets. Now, in a country long shadowed by famine, food has become plentiful and there are even signs of an obesity problem. With the Chinese economy growing at double-digit rates in recent years, many urban Chinese now have some disposable income. Investment in sports and other recreational equipment were 8.5 percent higher in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period last year, at 10.3 billion yuan, government figures say. Those who feel stressed also can visit spas for full-body rubs, foot massages and aromatherapy, in venues ranging from hotel chains to family-run businesses. One sensation is the megaspa. Though descended from bathhouses that operated before homes had water heaters, many spas now have more in common with Las Vegas than Beijing. The one-stop pampering centers offer foot rubs, massages, table tennis, food, easy chairs and overnight stays. Chinese families go there to spend time together; businessmen go to woo clients and young people come to idle away an evening. Demand is so high that the Beijing Adult Massage Occupational Technical Training School, which opened in 1998 to train the blind as masseurs, has since had to admit sighted students. The school has trained more than 20,000 massage therapists, Zhang Haiyan, the school president, said. ‘Chinese people want to live forever, while Americans want to enjoy themselves. But it's all about being healthy,’ said Gu, the health official.”


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