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Chinese are the new Big Spenders in town

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As seasonal images go, it’s up there with Santa, stables and snow. But you might have noticed something different about this year’s shot of the Selfridges sale queue. Who was that at the front, bursting through the doors? Not the usual burly Brits, but young Chinese shoppers gagging for Gucci.

Here was the sharp-elbowed proof of China’s economic revolution. It had pitched up on London’s Oxford Street. The renminbi, or “People’s money”, had come to town. And those Chinese shoppers weren’t dithering over whether they could afford that Prada bag or not.

Things have changed since the Little Red Book. Chairman Mao, whose head still adorns China’s bank notes, demanded a nation built on “diligence and frugality”. Nowhere did he mention Burberry, so what better evidence of the changing face of China than its citizens abroad on a shopping spree?

That they’re here at all is mainly down to phenomenal economic growth and a new propensity to travel abroad. Today’s population of 1.35 billion includes a middle class growing at a prodigious rate – up from 35 million households in 2006 to 100 million by 2016, on estimates from MasterCard. The number of dollar millionaires in mainland China is shooting up, too, nearly 10 per cent higher in a year, to 960,000.

Travel has also taken off. Back in 2001, only 12 million Chinese travellers took a foreign trip. In 2011, that number is expected to reach 57 million, with the United Nations’ World Tourist Organisation predicting growth from here on of about 11 per cent a year. That the millionaires are on average 39 years old – 15 years younger than in the West – makes travel all the more likely.

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