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McDonald’s: An Iconic Chinese Restaurant

McDonald’s is an iconic figure in America, almost every household has eaten there at least once, but what about other countries around the world? In Golden Arches East: McDonald’s in East Asia, James Watson uses the logos rhetorical appeal to make his points about the iconic McDonald’s status in China throughout McDonald’s in Hong Kong. He does this most effectively via his many uses of evidence he gathered from talking to the Chinese people in Hong Kong that patronize the restaurant, evidence gathered from speaking with the management of the McDonald’s in Hong Kong and his own observations.

James Watson’s McDonald’s in Hong Kong begins by showing the reader the importance of food to the Cantonese customer.

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Cantonese people are proud of their food and most of the older generations are able to describe a single meal in detail many years after eating it. The author goes on to describe how McDonald’s has incorporated themselves into the local culture by accepting and embracing local beliefs instead of trying to change them and by being adaptable in the running of the business.

Watson also describes the emergence of a new culture springing out of the American based business by bringing former non-practices like celebrating birthdays into practice and providing areas safe for younger generations to form their own identities through group activities. Food is an integral part of human life all over the world, but in China food is also an integral part of human society. Older generations of Chinese people are frequently able to describe in exact detail a single meal from start to finish including where the food came from and what dishes were used in the serving of the meal.

As evidenced within the text Mr. Man “recounted–in exacting detail–the flavor and texture of each dish, the sequence of spices, and the order of presentation” (77). This is worthy to note only because the meal, according to the author, took place fifty years prior (78). Clearly, Mr. Man is an older gentleman at the time this interview takes place, but other generations of Chinese people also place importance on food. Children did not celebrate birthdays in China until recently and the parties that are held are ranked by the type of fruit on the cake.

Watson states, “the birthday cake is an infallible status marker among younger consumers; specifically, the type and quality of fruit used to decorate the cake is what matters most” (104). This is used as evidence to back up the previous statement that “Around the age of four, Hong Kong children begin to develop a fine-tuned sense of social distinction that is reflected in consumption patterns” (104). These observations and interviews clearly show the evidence to back up the claims and arguments made by the author.

McDonald’s restaurants are not the first fast food restaurants to be introduced to Hong Kong although the franchise entered the country in 1975. “By the time McDonald’s opened its first Hong Kong restaurant in 1975, the idea of fast food was already well established among local consumers” (80). There were fast-food places, operating since the 1950’s, that sold quick Chinese delicacies for the lunch crowds already in place and accepted by the culture.

The author uses this information to begin effectively establishing how well McDonald’s restaurants are faring in Hong Kong. The reason for the success of the integration and subsequent popularity, according to the author, comes from many different areas. The manager took deliberate steps to make sure that the people knew that the restaurant was foreign, going so far as to keep the name of the restaurant in English for the first few years (82-83).

Afterwards, when the manager had decided it was time, he decided to translate the name phonetically instead of literally. “Mr. Ng decided to capture the sound of “McDonald’s,” in three homophonic characters, rather than create a name that would convey meaning–thus making the company appear to be a Chinese enterprise” (83). McDonald’s is not seen as a foreign institution, but is an accepted Chinese restaurant (107). The McDonald’s chain has succeeded in becoming an icon in China’s new popular culture (86).

Children often are seen entering these restaurants after school to study or get together with their friends. They have birthday parties as young children and, according to the author, it is “the students, with their book bags and computers, who have claimed McDonald’s as their own” (106). The author uses the argument that study space is limited in Hong Kong to help the reader visualize the reasons for the children and teens to go to McDonald’s in order to study for exams and meet with friends.

Watson states, “Interviews with teenagers revealed that McDonald’s is perceived as a place that offers more space, in the literal sense of distance between tables, than any other public eatery in Hong Kong (save for the more expensive restaurants)” (106). Clearly, McDonald’s is seen as a safe place for children and teens to gather and spend time without fear of violence and the author even states that McDonald’s staff keep a sharp watch for possible fights or disruptions, but trouble of this nature rarely breaks out in fast food restaurants.

Managers know by sight most of the gang members in their neighborhood and sometimes delegate a (large) male employee to shadow potential troublemakers-standing uncomfortably close to them, watching every move (105). It is for these reasons, among many others, that McDonald’s has the iconic status in China that it does. By setting themselves as the standard, based upon the evidence given by the author through observations, interviews with clientele and interviews with the management, McDonald’s restaurants have become an integral part of Chinese society.

The arguments put forth by the author, as evidenced in this paper, make for an effective argument about the importance of McDonald’s on Chinese society. By using quotes from clientele and management alike, Watson backs up his statements and beliefs enough to make them wholly reliable. The inclusion of facts gleaned from the McDonald’s corporation also serves to support his conclusions he has reached that McDonald’s is part of a new cultural era in Hong Kong.