Who is in fact the best person to know the answer? Here are a few hypotheses:
1. For purposes of prestige, the inside of the mall is supposed to mimic an open courtyard. That implies a minimum of seating, and a clean, uncluttered look.
2. Fear of outside derelicts camping out in those seats. That is the explanation that comes most naturally to the mind of an American, but I don’t see its relevance in the Chinese context. For one thing, the mall would not hesitate to drive the derelicts out as “efficiently” as might be required.
2b. A weaker version of this hypothesis is simply that the shadow value (ha-ha) of mall air conditioning is especially high in China. The mall does not wish to encourage too many non-derelict non-customers, who nonetheless will lower the prestige value of the mall.
3. The belief that sitting is a substitute for shopping. Maybe, but there is plenty of seating in American shopping malls, though I think less as the years pass.
4. The malls and the shops and brands in them don’t yet make money in China. So the incentive to attract additional mall customers with various unpriced amenities is not yet so strong.
5. Chinese shopping malls are very much the province of the young, and there are fewer elderly customers desiring seating. Furthermore parents are likely to have one child and no more, also lowering the value of a seating break.
Any other ideas? Does anyone have evidence or comparisons of relevance?