During the women’s team sprint at the Rio Olympics on August 12, Chinese female cyclists Gong Jinjie (宫金杰) and Zhong Tianshi (钟天使) of China’ track cycling team did not just display their sporting talent by winning gold, they also showed off some original style by wearing the sprint’s most eye-catching helmets, which portrayed Chinese female masks. Male colleague Xu Chao (徐超) rocked a similar helmet depicting a male mask. The helmets soon became a much talked about topic on Chinese social media.
Besides serving as safety gear, the helmets promoted China by portraying typically Chinese Peking Opera masks that, according to state media, conveyed China’s “national essence” and, in this way, could “show the world” this image of China – as China Daily wrote.
The female cycling helmets portrayed the Peking Opera facial masks of Hua Mulan (花木兰) and Mu Guiying (穆桂英), two legendary Chinese war heroines. Male cyclist Xu Chao wore a helmet depicting the comic Peking Opera mask of Zhang Fei (张飞). All masks were as bright as the flag of China. Red is also considered the most prosperous color in China.
Peking Opera is ingrained in Chinese culture, its stories draw from Chinese history and legends. China has a long tradition of woman warrior literature, of which the saga of Hua Mulan and Mu Guiying are amongst the most famous. Hua Mulan is a legendary woman warrior that has become famous in the West through Disney’s ‘Mulan’ animation, that tells the story of a courageous girl who takes her aged father’s place in the army. Mu Guiying is perhaps less well-known outside of China, but she is an equally famous woman general of the Song dynasty.
Zhang Fei is a famous Peking Opera character, a warrior general who lived during the late second and early third century whose legend is described in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.
Besides promoting China’s “national essence”, the masks also show the creative side of ‘made-in-China’ design. The helmets were created by a Guangzhou-based studio named ‘Incolor’. Designers and studio founder Zhang Dongliang (张栋良) reportedly is a cycling lover who studied industrial design, and who has been painting and rebuilding bicycles for a long time. The helmet design was supposed to “fully embody Chinese elements”, as it was meant for the Chinese team, created by a Chinese studio.
Design studio Incolor also features their three Olympic masks on their Weibo account.
Weibo netizens applauded the design, saying it “shows off the distinctive character of China’s heroes” and praising its originality.
There were also netizens who pointed out that the helmets were already being imitated and sold online (also on Taobao), showing screenshots of someone selling a copy for 288 RMB (±43 US$). “They have no respect for original design,” one angry netizen says.
The female warrior helmets seem to have worked as a lucky charm the female team, as they won China’s first ever Olympic track cycling gold. Xu Chao’s helmet brought him less luck – he ranked 13th for the qualifications of the men’s sprint.
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Chinese Consumers Indifferent to Diplomatic Spat Between China and Canada as “Canada Goose Boycott” Backlashes
Despite Canada-China tensions, the Canada Goose store in Beijing is faring well.
On December 28, Canada Goose opened its very first store in mainland China at a renowned Beijing shopping district, Sanlitun (三里屯), two weeks later than originally scheduled due to “ongoing construction.” The announcement of the delay came amidst growing tensions between China and Canada following the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on December 1.
The Canadian brand, known for its luxury winter jackets and parkas, has been facing great difficulties since the arrest, with its shares dropping 37 percent in value according to Reuters.
The company’s struggles have also received extensive coverage on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the hashtags “Canada Goose Value Crashing” (加拿大鹅暴跌) and “Canada Goose Mainland store opening canceled”(加拿大鹅内地开业取消) registered over 230 million and 170 million views, respectively, with some netizens calling for a boycott of the Canadian brand. The nationalist tabloid Global Times quoted ‘experts’ and ‘consumers’ in suggesting that “if Canada keeps detaining a senior Huawei executive in a complicit move to woo the US, the repudiation of Canadian goods will expand.”
However, no boycott materialized as the brand’s first Mainland store was packed with Chinese consumers on its opening day, to the point where store employees had to restrict entry, forcing many to wait over thirty minutes in -12oC temperatures.
The same Reuters article also revealed the store’s popularity was no one-day fad; three days after the opening, consumers were still having to queue for an hour.
“Why would I boycott an enterprise that didn’t do anything wrong?”
Such “unpatriotic” consumerism has not been ignored by Chinese netizens, prompting many to ask about the much-trumpeted boycott. This time, however, calls for a boycott were by and large dismissed, with some defending the unassailable right of consumption (“why would I boycott Canada Goose? If Meng Wanzhou can buy houses and a Canadian residence permit, why can’t I buy some Canadian clothes?”) while others questioned the validity of making a Canadian company responsible for the Canadian government’s action. (“Why would I boycott an enterprise that didn’t do anything wrong?”).
Unintended side-effects of patriotic shrilling for a boycott, namely increasing Canada Goose’s brand awareness among Chinese consumers, were also mocked by netizens. As one Weibo user wrote: “Before the boycott, my colleague had never heard of the brand. Now my colleague is rushing to the new store to buy something. The irony.”
More comic relief was provided by the self-mockery of some netizens who observed, tongue planted firmly in cheek, that they didn’t boycott the brand but neither did they go to the store – long queues hide the fact that luxury products remain unaffordable to the vast majority of the Chinese people.
“Young people driven by fashion tastes, not politics.”
All this accords with the prediction made by some pundits that the boycott would quickly blow over as the biggest buyers of the products in China are young people “driven by fashion tastes, not politics”.
The numbers also show the slump in share value preceding the store opening was not fatal: On Monday 31, Canada Goose’s stocks registered a 6 percent increase from the previous week.
Are Chinese consumers less patriotic than in the past? After all, Canada Goose’s success is a marked contrast to the concerted effort Chinese consumers made to boycott South Korean products during the THAAD dispute between China and South Korea that began in September 2017 and lasted a whole year before a truce was called.
Perhaps luxury is patriotism’s kryptonite; perhaps Canadian ambassadors of Chinese culture like entertainer Mark Rowswell, the first foreigner to ever perform comedy for a Chinese audience in Mandarin, have made netizens subconsciously more tolerant of the Canadian government. Whatever the reason, this whole episode shows that Chinese public opinion is not always boringly predictable and subservient to the Chinese state.
Contributions by Miranda Barnes
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Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags
The D&G China marketing crisis in hashtags.
November of 2018 will go down in Dolce & Gabbana history for the China marketing nightmare that has been unfolding over the recent days.
The Italian fashion house, that has been founded in 1985 by designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, is now facing consumer outrage and backlash on Chinese social media. Chinese e-commerce sites have removed Dolce & Gabbana products and Chinese netizens are posting photos of empty D&G stores.
An overview of what has happened over the past week through Weibo hashtags:
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18
“DG LOVES CHINA” #DG爱中国#
15,7 MILLION VIEWS – On Sunday, November 18, Dolce & Gabbana posted three videos to social media in a series titled “Eating With Chopsticks” in light of its “DG Loves China” campaign, promoting its upcoming big fashion show in Shanghai that would take place on Wednesday, November 21st.
The brand had been doing quite well in China in the month before. The Digital Crew website wrote in October that D&G had “hit the nail on the right spot” with their recent move to cast Chinese celebrity Dilraba Dilmurat and Chinese stylist Han Huohuo at their Milan fashion show catwalk, receiving praise from Chinese netizens.
Its new video campaign, however, was not received with praise. The videos feature a Chinese-looking model dressed in D&G clothes using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes such as pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti. Unsuccessful at clumsily trying to eat these dishes, a male Chinese voice-over in the video then suggests things such as that the cannoli might be “too big” for the lady, and that she could try by digging in and eating smaller pieces with her chopsticks.
(Watch all clips here on Youtube and judge for yourself.)
The clips were not much appreciated for various reasons. Some Chinese netizens thought the campaign was making fun of Chinese chopsticks, others thought the comment of the Italian bread being “too big” for the Chinese model had a sexist undertone.
“A disgusting campaign,” some called it.
Meanwhile, English-language media wrote that Dolce & Gabbana’s latest campaign was called “racism” by Chinese. Although the ad was indeed called racist by some Chinese on Weibo, the majority of commenters were mainly upset about the portrayal of chopsticks in the series. The hashtag “D&G Ad” (#DG广告#) received 170 million views.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23
“D&G SUSPECTED OF INSULTING CHINA” #DG涉嫌辱华#
410 MILLION VIEWS – The social media storm snowballed out of control after screenshots of comments attributed to fashion designer Stefano Gabbana went viral on Wednesday, also being reposted by major Chinese state media accounts such as Global Times.
Various Instagram screenshots showed how, from the account of Stefano Gabbana, statements were made about China being a “shit country” and other derogatory remarks.
The screenshots were posted by Instagram user Michaela Phuong Thanh Tranova (@michaelatranova), a fashion business student, although it is still unclear why this Instagram user would have a private Instagram conversation with Stefano Gabbana and whether or not they are acquainted.
The statements went viral on Chinese social media, where they led to waves of criticism and anger, with people defending China and calling for a boycott of D&G.
Amid the allegations, the designer on Wednesday said that his Instagram account had been hacked and posted an image with the words “NOT ME” written across one of Tranova’s screenshots. The company similarly claimed to have been hacked in a statement posted on its official Instagram page. “We have nothing but respect for China and the people of China,” the statement read.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21
“DG BIG SHOW CANCELED” #DG大秀取消#
820 MILLION VIEWS – Later on Wednesday, the D&G issue hit the topic trending lists on Weibo, when it was announced that the big Shanghai fashion show was called off.
According to Jing Daily, it was China’s Cultural and Tourism Department that ordered Dolce & Gabbana to cancel the event, just a few hours before it was scheduled to take place and amid reports that Chinese celebrities were canceling their attendance at the show for the fact that the brand was “insulting to China” (辱华).
The official D&G account did not mention the reason for the cancelation, nor who ordered it, but just wrote on Weibo: “The fashion show that was planned on November 21st at 20.00 has been rescheduled due to circumstances, we deeply regret any inconvenience caused.”
By now, the online anger about D&G insulting China through its ad and Gabbana’s statements had grown so big, that most people simply wished for the Italian fashion house to “get lost.”
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23
“DG USES CHINESE TO APOLOGIZE” #DG用中文道歉#
360 MILLION VIEWS – On Friday afternoon, China time, Dolce and Gabbana released an apology video on its official Weibo account. The video shows Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana sitting at a table with grave expressions on their face (see embedded Tweet below).
The founder of @dolcegabbana said sorry in Chinese to all Chinese people around the world, saying that they will respect Chinese culture more. The apology video was posted on its official Weibo account in China. pic.twitter.com/ADflYhMIhC
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) 23 november 2018
The two speak in Italian as they say that they “feel very grieved” over what their “statements and actions” have brought about “for Chinese people and their country” over the past few days, and that they hope they can be forgiven for their “misunderstanding of [Chinese] culture.”
They end the video by apologizing in Chinese, saying “duibuqi“.
Before midnight, the video had received more than 166,000 comments and more than half a million shares. Over 100,000 people ‘liked’ the post.
Among the most popular comments, there were those inquiring if Gabbana’s Instagram had been hacked or not, since the video does not mention it. “Were you hacked or not, because if you weren’t, then I won’t accept your apology,” one of the most popular comments said.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23
“Requesting D&G Money Back” #DG柜姐回应退预存金#
160 MILLION VIEWS – Meanwhile, a screenshot of a WeChat conversation between a customer seeking a refund and a representative from Dolce & Gabbana Hangzhou also has gone viral on Chinese social media, ending up in the top ten charts of the day.
The screenshots show that the woman demands back a deposit she paid D&G of 2400 yuan ($346), saying she no longer wants to wear the brand for fear people would “throw sh*t at her.”
D&G Hangzhou then responded to the issue, saying that they would not refund money because of this “temporary crisis.”
“A temporary storm can also turn into a permanent one,” some commenters said.
Whether or not this “temporary” storm will indeed turn into a serious long-term China marketing crisis for D&G is yet to be seen. In the past, Daimler China also found itself at the center of a social media storm in China after using a Dalai Lama quote in its advertisement in March of this year (listen to this BBC news fragment here), which seemingly had little consequences for the brand, as it is still expanding in China.
The Lotte group also faced serious backlash in China in light of the THAAD crisis. The Lotte boycott of 2017 in the end turned out to be critical for the brand’s presence in China, with the group losing $46 million every quarter due to the China situation.
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