China Explained: How American Fast Food Chains Like KFC and McDonald’s Localized to Win Over China

How American fast food came to China, and how China subsequently fell in love with the likes of KFC and McDonald's

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7:18 PM HKT, Tue March 12, 2019

China Explained is a RADII series breaking down the basics about Culture, Innovation and Life in the country today. Click through for previous posts on shared bikes, Singles’ Day, and what goes down in one minute on the Chinese internet, and check out our first China Explained video below.

Though a Big Mac might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Chinese cuisine”, fast food has become a popular staple since gaining a foothold in the Chinese diet in the late ‘80s. Brands like KFC and McDonald’s were quick to take advantage during the period when China opened its market to the outside world: when the first Colonel Sanders franchise opened its doors in Beijing’s Qianmen neighborhood in 1987, more than 2,000 buckets of fried chicken were sold in a single day.

Over the following decades, Western fast food has taken on Chinese characteristics, with McDonald’s slinging specialty items like mantou sliders, KFC introducing fried bread sticks and other traditional breakfast items, and chains such as White Castle and Taco Bell opening surprisingly upscale venues around Shanghai.

Watch our latest China Explained video to learn how your favorite drive-through takeout made its way into China’s hearts (and waistlines).

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