Consumerism in China Reflected in Fake Apple Gifts for the Dead

In a sign of both Apple's increasing clout in China and growing consumerism in that country, representations of Apple products have become a top offering to the dead. NBC reported that cardboard representations of iPhones, iPads, and iMacs have joined more traditional offerings of fake money, food, and bags of clothes as offerings to the dead at the annual Qingming Festival, or "Tomb Sweeping Day."

Apple in China

The idea behind the gifts is that one honors one's ancestors by bringing them things to ensure a peaceful afterlife. Suppressed under Chairman Mao, the practice has been revived, and as a stand-in for the increase in materialism and consumerism in the ostensibly communist country, Apple products have replaced the staples of the past for many, especially the young.

Of course, there's money to be made from this practice. It turns out that the fake products have to come from somewhere, and there are businesses that make paper representations of money, cars, mansions, pets, and Apple products.

For US$7, for instance, Jia Bo will sell you a full suite of Apple devices, and for an extra $0.50, you can upgrade your iPhone to an iPhone 5. That's pretty sweet if you're Jia Bo, but what's even sweeter is the $10-$150 he gets for a paper representation of a luxury car.

Wow. Ostensibly communist country indeed.

“In the past, people only focused on basic needs," Mr. Jia told NBC. "But now, particularly young people, care more about the quality of life.”

What's interesting is that this is taking place amidst a Chinese government campaign of criticism against Apple over the company's warranty practices. That criticism included an initial blowback as Chinese consumers reacted negatively to celebrities who had been ordered to join in the criticism.

In the end, however, Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized for his company's poor communication and the warranty policies under attack were modified. As an aside, check out John Martellaro's analysis on whether Apple might change its approach to communicating in the U.S.

There's been no indication of the attention having a negative effect on Apple's sales in China and the perception that Apple represents luxury. The presence of Apple products at the annual Qingming Festival reinforce this.