Developing countries tend to be more materialistic than developed countries. This is because in a poorer society with a lot of population, there are very few ways to stand out and prove your worth.
One of the easiest ways to ‘prove’ that you are higher social status is to buy expensive clothes or electronics or a car/house – because those are hard to afford for most of the population. So being able to purchase those things is an indicator of wealth and status. And higher status means more benefits, access to better networks and connections to more powerful people etc.
In a developed society, the middle class is already wealthy enough to afford most of the things that a developing society would consider ‘status symbols’. Therefore even if you buy a fancy Lexus or Mercedes or expensive Chanel bag or iPhone it doesn’t really have as much as impact on your status as it would in a developing society. In a rich neighborhood, who cares if you own a Tesla or Lexus? So what? does it make you a better person?
In developed societies, increase in your social status comes almost purely from merit – you have to be really earn your higher status either through being an entrepeneur or getting a promotion or being able to network well with people. Just buying expensive stuff isn’t really going to get you anywhere in society.
This is also why in poorer communities in the US, especially black communities (because more blacks are impoverished on average), they tend to show off or brag more about the things they own. Whereas if you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffet for example they don’t really care what they wear or what they own anymore. They wear $30 sweaters from Ross and Marshalls. At that level of wealth it doesn’t matter what you own anymore. This is also how you know that Donald Trump probably isn’t really all that rich – or he is really insecure – if he feels the need to show off or brag all the time.
So being materialistic is not really exclusive to China. Chinese people just seem the most prominent conspicuous consumers out there because there are so many of them. But I think its a sign their middle class isn’t fully developed yet to a point where most people would be able to afford these luxuries. Thus creating the demand for status symbols. India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Africa, Middle East etc in these places I would also presume buying expensive items to be an indicator of your social status.