Fast food in China

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A Pizza Hut restaurant in Shenyang
A McDonald's sign in Taiwan

Western-style fast food in (mainland area) is a recent phenomenon. McDonald's opened its first outlet in Republic of China in January 1984 before opening franchises in the mainland People's Republic of China in 1990. In October 1987, Kentucky Fried Chicken, still the most popular fast food chain in China, established its first restaurant in the People's Republic of China (mainland area), located in Beijing. KFC was later followed by McDonald's, which remains China's number two foreign fast food option.[1] In addition to American style fast food, China has many local options, including a slew of restaurants that attempt to imitate fast food, particularly KFC.[1]


Fast food has become widely popular in the 33 years since it was introduced to China. Pizza Hut and McDonald's[2] both entered the country in September and October 1984 respectively, only three years after KFC entered in 1987. The first McDonald's in Shenzhen was supplied from Hong Kong from 1990 to 1992 but by the time the first McDonald's in Beijing opened in 1992 Mainland China had proper infrastructure to supply the restaurants.

There are now 4,200 KFCs in 850 Chinese cities (as of 2013).[3] Pizza Hut has over 1,300 stores in China.[4][5] Many Chinese fast food restaurants in the style of Western chains have popped up as well.


Kentucky Fried Chicken[edit]

A Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in China

Establishments in Beijing[edit]

KFC experienced extreme success in China, breaking several world records for restaurants in its early years. KFC's first establishment in Beijing opened doors in November 1987 as the world's largest fast-food restaurant with five-hundred seats. In 1988 it fried 2,200 chickens daily and earned more than any other KFC location with a turnover of 14 million yuan. KFC opened 28 restaurants across China in 1994, with 7 of them being located in Beijing.

Children as a Target Audience[edit]

KFC quickly found that it appealed strongly to children. Chinese parents reported that they had no preference for any particular fast food restaurant and simply let their children choose. As a result, KFC worked harder to figure out how to appeal to the kids even further. One of the first things KFC found was that children were not at all interested in its logo. In 1995, the bearded, elderly white man that Chinese children found so off-putting was exchanged for a playful cartoon character dubbed 'Chicky.' Other efforts to entice children included play areas, child-height sinks, smaller furniture, and settings for birthday parties, which are a very recent phenomenon in China.

Competition with local Chinese fried-chicken restaurants[edit]

The KFC in Dongsi sits across the street from a Chinese fried-chicken restaurant called "Glorious China Chicken." Despite Glorious China Chicken's cheaper prices, larger portions, choices of rice, soup, and vegetables, and draft beer, the KFC consistently had more customers because of one factor: its cleanliness. Regardless of the number of people being served, the Chinese KFC employees were constantly cleaning the restaurant and its bathrooms and surpassed the vast majority of China's local restaurants in terms of cleanliness. As a result, Chinese people highly favored KFC and began to complain of other restaurant's lack of bathrooms and general untidiness.

– Source: [6]


A McDonald's restaurant in Xi'an

First McDonald's in China[edit]

In January 1984, the first Chinese McDonald's ever opened in Taipei, Taiwan located in the Republic of China.

Establishments in Beijing[edit]

The first McDonald's opened in mainland China in 1990 in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. More prominently, the largest McDonald's in the world opened on April 23, 1992 in Beijing. It had 700 seats, 29 cash registers, and served over 40,000 on its opening day. By 1996, 29 restaurants had opened in Beijing alone. Initially, mainly affluent families ate there to distinguish themselves and as a result McDonald's became a symbol of a new lifestyle of seeking out foreign cultural influences. One of the biggest reasons McDonald's has experienced more success than other fast food restaurants in China is its high standards of hygiene. Beijing media consistently praises McDonald's cleanliness and frames it against the poor cleanliness of its competitors.

– Source: [7]

Chinese fast-food restaurants vs American fast food[edit]

One reason that Chinese fast-food companies have not been successful in China is that Chinese food in general is already fast and convenient by nature. Chinese people are already used to fast, cheap food, but the exotic nature of American food makes it somewhat more desirable. The second major reason is that China has almost no food regulations and as a result many Chinese restaurants are fairly unsanitary, especially when compared to American fast food restaurants. McDonald's and KFC establishments in China have placed a massive emphasis on cleanliness to the point that they would choose them in a heartbeat over any Chinese fast-food counterpart.

– Source: [8]

Use of coupons has also played a major role in American fast-food success over Chinese chains. While McDonald's and Kentucky's prices are not any cheaper than those of Chinese chains, coupons made their food much more affordable for poor people and increasing brand recognition. By spreading coupons around and advertising cheaper deals to Chinese locals, McDonald's and KFC made themselves immediately noticeable to almost every person in urban Chinese settings.

– Source: [9]

KFC employed an extended menu that contained Chinese food in addition to the food that its American counterparts sell. By doing this it was able to nearly match the items Chinese fast-food restaurants sell while putting an Americanized spin on it that readily drew in Chinese locals. The sheer speed at which KFC expanded also played a major role in its success over Chinese fast food chains. By opening restaurants extremely quickly and strategically placing them in major cities, it overshadowed beginning Chinese chains before they had the chance to develop.

– Source: [10]

The spread of fast food in China[edit]

First Phase: Establishing anchor points (1994-2000)[edit]

In the beginning of their businesses in China, McDonald's and KFC represented the elites of western culture to the Chinese locals. This was because McDonald's and KFC established their first restaurants in high-end shopping centers, office areas, and near universities.

Second Phase: Commercial centers and transport hubs (2001-2005)[edit]

As McDonald's and KFC extended their reach to commercial centers and transportation hubs and began to appeal more to pop culture, they extended their reach to young, white-collar and trendy demographics and the fast food enterprises began to appear less foreign to Chinese locals.

Third Phase: Daily zones (2006-2012)[edit]

The final phase of the spread of fast food in China occurred when McDonald's and KFC stopped targeting universities and urban hot-spots and began expanding outward and focusing on residential areas. McDonald's and KFC also incorporated more Chinese flavors into their food and reduced American symbolism in their restaurants, making their restaurants seem even less foreign to Chinese locals. With this, eating at American fast food restaurants ceased being something Chinese families did on special occasions and became routine for them.

– Source: [11]

Health impacts[edit]

Correlation between fast food and rising obesity before 2006[edit]

A 2005 study by the Obesity Society has found that country-wide, fast-food had not yet spread far enough across China to have resulted in significant rises in obesity. Chinese children generally ate very few meals away from home. While children in urban areas did eat more fast food than those in rural areas, the difference was considerably small. It is important to note that this study was performed in 2005, before the Third Phase of fast food's spread in China occurred in which McDonald's and KFC began marketing heavily toward children and extending their outreach.

– Source: [12]

A study conducted by the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity between April and October 2004 compared BMI to fast-food consumption in Chinese children between the ages of 2 and 18 and found that the highest correlation between the two occurred between the ages of 10 and 12. Despite this, they were unable to find very much correlation between fast food and obesity and concluded that increased obesity was largely a result of environment and lifestyle.

– Source: [13]

Correlation between fast food and rising obesity after 2012[edit]

Due to a lack of study on the subject, a 2016 journal by Elsevier uses a theory-based approach to assess the effects of fast food on Chinese obesity among youth. While Chinese children statically consume less fast food than American children, Chinese children are becoming increasingly obese and it is likely that the influx of fast food in China is a contributing factor even though it might not be the principle culprit.[14] Of those who frequent Chinese fast food institutions the most, the vast majority do so in groups as a social activity. Fast food restaurants are also a hot-spot for birthday parties or hosting social events, furthering this idea of a fast food being primarily a social activity.[15] From this, it is reasonable to suppose that the Chinese do not necessarily consume fast food because of the convenience and cheap prices that entice Americans. This idea of fast-food restaurants as an exotic social destination draws youth away from Chinese restaurants, coupled with the increased number of fast-food restaurants near transport hubs, could very well be negatively impacting their health.

– Source: [14]


McDonald's in China is generally fairly similar in menu and taste to how it is in the US, but Pizza Hut is considered upscale in China [16] and KFC offers many locally popular dishes such as fishball soup.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "West Meets East: KFC and Its Success in China". Archived from the original on 2014-04-23.
  2. ^ "McDonald's has a big appetite for China".
  3. ^ Liza Lin, Leslie Patton. "KFC Loses Its Touch in China, Its Biggest Overseas Market".
  4. ^ Chan, S.; Zakkour, M. (2014). China's Super Consumers: What 1 Billion Customers Want and How to Sell it to Them. Wiley. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-1-118-90590-6. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  5. ^ Yu, F.L.T. (2012). Entrepreneurship and Taiwan's Economic Dynamics. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-3-642-28264-5. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  6. ^ Lozada, Eriberto P. Jr (2000). Feeding China's Little Emperors: Food, Children, and Social Change. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 114–134. ISBN 0804731349.
  7. ^ Waston, James L. (2006). Golden Arches East: McDonald's in East Asia. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 39–40.
  8. ^ French, P. (2013). In search of Mickey Li's: why doesn't China have its own fast-food mega-chain? Foreign Policy, (201), 31+. Retrieved from
  9. ^ Laroche, Michel; Kalamas, Maria; Huang, Qinchao (2005). "Effects of coupons on brand categorization and choice of fast foods in China". Journal of Business Research. 58 (5): 674–86. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2003.09.007.
  10. ^ Bell, David E.; Shelman, Mary L. (November 2011). "KFC's Radical Approach to China". Harvard Business Review. 89 (11).
  11. ^ Zhang, Min; Wu, Weiping; Yao, Lei; Bai, Ye; Xiong, Guo (2014). "Transnational practices in urban China: Spatiality and localization of western fast food chains". Habitat International. 43: 22–31. doi:10.1016/j.habitatint.2014.01.003.
  12. ^ Adair, L. S. (2005). Obesity research: Are child eating patterns being transformed globally? North American Association for the Study of Obesity.
  13. ^ Shan, Xiao-Yi; Xi, Bo; Cheng, Hong; Hou, Dong-Qing; Wang, Youfa; Mi, Jie (2010). "Prevalence and behavioral risk factors of overweight and obesity among children aged 2–18 in Beijing, China". International Journal of Pediatric Obesity. 5 (5): 383–9. doi:10.3109/17477160903572001. PMID 20233154.
  14. ^ a b Ma, R.; Castellanos, D.C.; Bachman, J. (2016). "Identifying factors associated with fast food consumption among adolescents in Beijing China using a theory-based approach". Public Health. 136: 87–93. doi:10.1016/j.puhe.2016.03.019. PMID 27291500.
  15. ^ Yan, Yunxiang 2000. Of Hamburger and Social Space: Consuming McDonald's in Beijing. In The Consumer Revolution in Urban China, ed. Deborah S. Davis, pp. 201-25. Berkeley: University of California Press. Copyright 1999 The Regents of the University of California. Reprinted with permission of the Regents of the University of California and the University of California Press.
  16. ^[full citation needed]

Further reading[edit]