Chinese Consumers Indifferent to Diplomatic Spat Between China and Canada as “Canada Goose Boycott” Backlashes
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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