BEIJING -- Many Chinese are tightening their belts during the country's economic downturn despite government efforts to boost domestic consumption and replace evaporating export orders.
Wang Hao, 24, a Beijing office worker, made a public resolution in June last year to limit his weekly living expenses to 100 yuan ($14.6 dollars). That's the cost of eight Big Macs in China.
"The financial crisis has taught a spending lesson to young people in China, including me," said Wang, who posted his resolution on his blog at http://blog.soufun.com/whblog. So far the site has had 230,000 hits.
As the financial crisis squeezes the real economy, urban white-collar workers speak of shrinking bonuses and frozen wages.
Some are unemployed but just how many is unknown as China has not released that information. Students are facing the worst job prospects since China's economic reform began 30 years ago.
In addition to Wang's campaign to save money, the number of people sharing dinners, houses, taxis and other activities with strangers they meet online continues increasing. Web users post their activities on sites, such as www.Pinkewang.com, and can be contacted by others interested in joining in their activities.
Lin Xiongbo, the founder of the Pikewang, said that only one month after the financial crisis broke out, or last November, his website saw a 100 percent increase of visitors. People also began to share other things to do such as training programs, sports, karaoke and other entertainments.
"Sharing activities with others can save a lot of money without lowering the quality of life. Furthermore, I can make new friends," said 27-year-old Xu Li, a manger in a public relations firm and a long-time site user.
Xu recently found other people to take part in a commercial English training program with her. By doing this together, they all enjoyed a 10 percent discount for the course, saving more than 1,000 yuan.
Chinese people are traditionally frugal. However, thanks to decades of fast development in China, the urban young generations, born in the seventies and eighties are more accustomed to a lavish and material way of living. Designer clothes and the latest electronic products are chased by young citizens.
Without family burdens, as most of their parents work in traditional state-owned institutions which cover health-care costs, many young people spend almost all of their monthly salaries. Some even spend money they don't have yet with ever-popular credit cards. Members of the "Yueguang group", who spend all their monthly earnings before the end of the month, and the unemployed or part-time workers and freelancers, kept increasing in the society.
When the economy slumps, however, these lifestyles have lost some of their luster. Instead, more and more Chinese white-collar workers began to view saving money as fashionable. In addition to 100-yuan-a-week and partabkers moves, websites and blogs popular among young Chinese professionals are extolling the virtues of frugality as well as ways to cut expenses in daily life.
A website user with an online alias Popov published his daily expenses: four yuan for public transportation, five yuan for breakfast and six yuan for lunch and supper at the restaurant owned by his company. It totals 15 yuan per day or 75 for weekdays. He adds in another 20 yuan for fruit, which means he spends 95 yuan in one week not including weekends.
China's web users view all the measures to cut expenses as a philosophy of neo-frugality. People are richer than in the past but are making more reasonable choices based on their finances.
"I hope it is a chance to rethink the consumption culture," said professor Yu Hai with Shanghai-based Fudan University. "The consumption pattern of an individual does not only reflect one's lifestyle, but also one's social responsibility for sustainable development."
However, when citizens are trying their best to save money, the government is trying to stimulate domestic demand to replace shrinking global needs for Chinese products.
China planned to keep the economic growth rate at about 8 percent this year amid the grim outlook for the world economy. In order to achieve this target, the government announced a package of infrastructure projects worth 4 trillion yuan.
It still has work to do when it comes to stimulating household spending. In some provinces local governments provided citizens with billions of coupons to encourage them to buy things and services. In addition, when farmers buy designated home appliances, they will be subsidized with 13 percent of the cost.
In order to curb slumping demand, some experts favor consumption rather than frugality. In an article published earlier last month in an authoritative magazine named Outlook Weekly, Han Baojiang, a professor from the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, argued that positive consumption is an attitude of patriotism.
Li Zhe, a member of the Beijing people's political consultative conference, suggested at a meeting that a "patriotic consumption campaign should be launched in a bid to save China's economy."
After netizen Wang Hao's 100-yuan-a-week campaign, he launched another program named "domestic demand funds" in February. Wang advocated for visitors to his blog to deposit 1 to 10 yuan in his bank account voluntarily. Wang said he would use this money to create 100,000 yuan of demand meaning he would buy a car or another apartment for himself.
He said his plan was to "support the government's policy of stimulating domestic demand."
At the beginning of this campaign, Wang was accused by his blog visitors of online begging and received little money. But Wang has gained more and more support. As of February 28, he had received more than 4,000 yuan. He said his bank account is now increasing by about 500 yuan every day.
"Who doesn't like spending money? But I don't have enough," said Xu, who objects to Wang's patriotic consumption speech. "People should be more cautious and frugal during the financial crisis. When I boost consumption with my own money, what should I do if I lose my job?"
The frugal lifestyle seems to be endorsed by authorities. In a commentary published last week in the People's Daily, the writer said frugality did not conflict with the government's demand-stimulating policies, as it called for reasonable rather than reckless spending. Frugality could also help people spend their limited money on the most needed things.
"The neo-frugal way of living should become a fashion, especially in the financial crisis," said the writer Wang Jinyou.