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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Chinese Fashion First: Consumer Nationalism and ‘China Chic’

Consumer sentiments on Western brands and made-in-China fashion are changing.

Manya Koetse

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At a time when Chinese media, celebrities, and consumers are condemning and boycotting Western brands, Chinese fashion and luxury brands are flourishing in a new era of “proudly made in China.”

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

“The first thing Chinese fashion magazines should do is support the Chinese fashion industry, Chinese domestic brands, and Chinese designers!” In a video that went viral on social media, Hung Huang (洪晃), the famous American-Chinese television host and publisher of fashion magazine iLook, called out for a healthy development of China’s fashion industry that does not rely on Western brands to continue growing.

Hung Huang’s remarks were made in late March of 2021, around the time when a social media storm broke out in China over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members – including H&M, Nike, and Adidas – for no longer sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region. This boycott generated a huge backlash in mainland China. The online anger was mainly directed at H&M, since the Swedish retailer is a top member of the BCI and had previously released a statement on its site in which the company said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of alleged forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang.

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott campaigns and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands. It also ignited a social media movement in support of domestic brands, ‘made in China,’ and Xinjiang as China’s largest cotton-growing area.

The hashtag “I support Xinjiang cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) received a staggering 7.9 billion views on Weibo within a few weeks time. Simultaneously, a rising confidence in national brands became increasingly visible on social media, where the calls for supporting domestic brands are growing louder.

A recent survey by state media outlet Global Times suggests that most Chinese consumers believe that Western brands could be replaced by Chinese ones. The article claims that 75 percent of its survey respondents agree that “national products could fully or partially replace Western products.”

 
Proudly Made in China
 

Recent years have not just seen a rise in Chinese fashion brands, but also the emergence of a fashion scene where traditional Chinese elements play a major role. The Hanfu movement, for example, seeks to revitalize the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. But beyond that, brands are also weaving more Chinese themes into everyday fashion items such as sneakers and t-shirts.

China themed fashion on e-commerce platform Taobao.

The rise in popularity of Chinese fashion brands and styles was dubbed the “China Chic” trend by CGTN in 2020. “China Chic” is a translation of “guócháo” (国潮), which literally means “national tide,” referring to the rise of domestic brands, with their designs often incorporating culturally Chinese elements into the latest trends. In 2021, for the first time ever, the Spring Festival Gala (Chinese state media’s biggest live televised event) also included a fashion show to show the beauty of Chinese costumes to “demonstrate cultural confidence.”

With celebrity endorsements being one of the most important strategies for social media marketing, Chinese celebrities play a crucial role in this trend as guócháo ambassadors. Chinese actor and singer Xiao Zhan (肖战) was praised on social media for becoming the new brand ambassador of the Chinese sportswear brand Lining. When celebrity Wang Yibo became the spokesperson for the domestic brand Anta Sports, one Weibo hashtag page on the topic received over one billion views (#王一博代言安踏#) in late April of 2021. The promotional poster featuring Wang Yibo shows him wearing a t-shirt with “China” on it, including the national flag – profiling Anta as a nation-loving brand.

The rising popularity of ‘made in China’ fashion is noteworthy in a consumer culture where Western brands are often viewed as being of higher quality than domestically produced fashion. The very fact that these foreign brands succeeded in gaining access to China’s market is, in the eyes of many consumers, a reason to believe they must be of higher quality.[1] Those sentiments now seem to be shifting.

A recent Chinese short documentary produced by Tmall titled “Proudly Made in China” (爆款中国) discusses how Western brands have dominated the Chinese fashion and luxury market for years, making it more difficult for Chinese brands to become big players in their own field.

“Why are Chinese brands not as highly accepted by Chinese consumers?”, asks Li Jiaqi (李佳琦), an influencer and new brand recruiter for Tmall who is featured in the short film: “Why do Chinese consumers seem to have a preconceived and biased view that Chinese products are of poor quality?”

In the short film, Li explains that Chinese consumers have since long had worries about buying Chinese brands, and that one slight problem with a product will automatically negatively reflect on the entire brand.

Existing consumer preferences for Western brands have even created the idea that Chinese brands should register abroad and pose as a foreign brand to enlarge their chances to succeed in the Chinese market.

China’s flourishing live-streaming market and domestic e-commerce platforms have provided new opportunities for Chinese brands to shine once their products gain consumer recognition. Especially younger consumers, those born after 1995 or 2000, show more confidence in Chinese brands than the generations before them.

In the “Proudly Made in China” film, this growing trust in domestic brands among Chinese younger generations is linked to a striking confidence and pride in China, its national identity, and its culture. On Weibo, some commenters replied: “This is the era of domestic brands!”

 
Western Brand Controversies
 

Although the influence of national pride on China’s young consumers might already have been strong before, there are also changing dynamics in the relation between Chinese consumers and Western brands which seem to have boosted the ‘guócháo’ and domestic brand trend; Chinese brands have been cast in a more positive light over the past few years due to the controversies involving Western brands.

In 2018, Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana (D&G) faced consumer outrage in China for publishing a culturally insensitive advertising campaign that showed a Chinese model clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes such as pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti. The campaign, which was titled “D&G Loves China,” completely backfired with many finding it racist and sexist and vowing to boycott the brand. The controversy became so big that a big D&G fashion show in Shanghai was canceled and the company saw a slump in its business on the mainland.

Still from the promotional D&G video that was deemed racist in China, causing major controversy in 2018 (whatsonweibo).

In 2019, many different international fashion brands, including Versace, Coach, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, and ASICS, were condemned by Chinese netizens for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts. Chinese celebrities cut their collaborations with many of these brands.

When in 2020 the aforementioned Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) announced that it was ceasing all operations in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region amid accusations of “forced labor” there, backlash in China further grew against the organization and the brands affiliated to it. As reported by CGTN, BCI has recently removed its statement on Xinjiang cotton from its website (allegedly this was related to a cyber attack), but the discussions on the position of Western brands in China continue, with both state media and netizens sending out the message that “foreign companies that slander China” are not welcome in the country.

 
The Future of Fashion Brands in China
 

“Boycott Nike? Support domestic brands? What are we supposed to do now?” It is a question posed by the Chinese ‘Sneakersbar’ vlogger Fang (@鞋吧Sneakersbar), a sportswear-focused self-media account with over 3,5 million followers on Weibo. The question resonates with many consumers, who are caught between politics, patriotism, and personal preferences for certain brands.

In their latest video, Sneakersbar makes up the balance on where Western brands, especially those affiliated with BCI, stand in the Chinese market today. On the one hand, Fang argues, many foreign brands, including Adidas, Nike, H&M, Uniqlo, and others, have already become part of China’s commercial fashion landscape and many consumers love these brands and their products. On the other hand, these foreign brands are also making political choices that Chinese consumers cannot ignore. But does this mean they should be boycotted forever? Does it mean that you should look down on others buying these products?

The video by popular weibo account Sneakersbar: “Boycott Nike? Support Domestic Brands? What are we supposed to do?”

The answer is that consumers should stay rational in their choices, Fang argues. This means that choosing Chinese brands out of a form of “rational patriotism” is fine, but people should not attack others merely because they wear foreign brands or work in their shops. The same goes for those consumers who only want to buy foreign brands just because they are foreign; they could also consider Chinese products to support domestic brands – especially those brands which refrain from copying foreign ones and have developed their own unique designs and styles.

Many commenters on Weibo support Fang’s message of “reasonable patriotism without blind worship” (“理性爱国,也不盲目崇拜”), supporting the idea that Western and Chinese brands can co-exist and that they can be competitors in a market where Chinese fashion labels are getting more room to grow.

“Nationalism and patriotism offer opportunities for Chinese brands,” one Weibo user writes: “China Chic and China fashion trends are putting more pressure on foreign brands. Because of the speedy rise of Chinese domestic brands, which are producing high-quality products and are applying smart marketing methods, more and more patriotic young people are buying their products.”

It is clear that many consumers in China support domestic brands and hope that Chinese fashion can flourish within its own market. But there are also those voices stressing the importance of consumers’ freedom to buy the brands that suit them, wherever they are from and regardless of politics. One person commented: “Western or Chinese brand, I just want to wear the shoes that are most comfortable for me to walk in.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 
[1] Tian, Kelly and Lily Dong. 2011. Consumer-Citizens of China: The Role of Foreign Brands in the Imagined Future of China. London & New York: Routledge. Page 7.
 

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Show-Inspired Journeys: Chinese Netizens Explore Next Travel Destination Through Favorite TV Series

The rising influence of Chinese TV dramas on tourism highlights the synergy between entertainment & social media in China, serving as a powerful tool for travel promotion.

Wendy Huang

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The Chinese TV series Meet Yourself has significantly boosted the popularity of Dali in Yunnan. The series’ success, coupled with the official funding behind it, not only underscores the impactful role of Chinese dramas in tourism but also illustrates how Chinese travel destination promotional strategies are being reshaped in a competitive post-Covid era.

On December 25th, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture’s Culture and Tourism Bureau in Yunnan Province, Southwest China, announced a proposed subsidy of 2 million yuan ($282k) for the Chinese TV series Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The news soon went trending on Weibo (#去有风的地方获200万元补助#). Many found it noteworthy, especially since the announcement clarified that this funding is part of the prefecture’s special fund for cultural and tourism industry development, and the TV series was the only project under consideration.

There are several reasons why Dali might consider this strategy.

Firstly, Dali plays a pivotal role in Meet Yourself. Launched in January 2023, the TV series quickly became an online sensation, achieving an impressive rating of 8.7 out of 10 on Douban—a platform in China similar to IMDb. Spanning 40 episodes, the series features actress Liu Yifei (刘亦菲), renowned for her role in Disney’s live-action Mulan, and Chinese actor Li Xian (李现).

Promotional image for Meet Yourself (去有风的地方).

The narrative follows a white-collar worker in her mid-30s who, following her best friend’s unexpected cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing, embarks on a quest to understand the true meaning and purpose of life.

The TV series not only captivated audiences because of its soothing narrative about life and interpersonal relationships, but the show was also a hit because most of its scenes were filmed in Dali and showed picturesque rural landscapes and portrayed a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle.

The show accumulated more than 3 billion views on the streaming platform Mango TV by the time its final episode aired on February 2, 2023. It also sparked numerous trending topics on Weibo during that time. For instance, one snapshot from the drama, “Liu Yifei Holding Flowers” (刘亦菲捧花), also went viral, with many netizens even changing their profile pictures to this image. Captivated by Liu’s beauty and charm, they believed that the image possessed some sort of magical power, like the symbolic significance of koi fish in Chinese culture and how they’re believed to bring good luck.

The ‘lucky’ Liu Yifei holding flowers image.

The lucky Liu Yifei holding flowers meme spread across social media in various ways.

Benefiting directly from the popularity generated by the TV series, Yunnan experienced a surge in visitors during the 2023 Spring Festival holiday. This influx significantly boosted its tourism revenue to an impressive 38.4 billion yuan (approximately US$5.4 billion), surpassing all other provinces and regions in the country.

The primary filming location of the drama, the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, welcomed over 4.2 million visitors, marking a significant year-on-year increase. Within the first six days of the holiday, Dali boasted the highest room occupancy rate nationwide, and became the fifth most visited tourist destination across the country.

 
TV Series Inspiring Real-Life Travel to Featured Destination
 

Dali is not the only city or travel destination that has become popular because of Chinese dramas or TV shows. The recent Chinese TV series There Will Be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙), in which Chengdu plays a major role, has also come to be seen as a promotion for the Sichuan Province capital city.

The series revolves around four women who grew up together, chose different paths in life, and then reconnect in Chengdu. The series showcases the city’s laid-back lifestyle, especially in contrast to the fast-paced metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai where the featured women return from.

Scene from There Will be Ample Time (故乡,别来无恙).

Back in 2003, the TV series Lost Time (似水年华), which was filmed in the historic scenic town of Wuzhen, also became popular. Lost Time was written, directed, and starred by the renowned Chinese actor and director Huang Lei (黄磊). The series narrates a poignant love story of a couple in their thirties who meet in Wuzhen, only to be separated by the vast distance between Wuzhen and Taipei.

The TV series successfully showcased the timeless beauty of the Wuzhen water town to a broader Chinese audience and, indirectly, promoted the town’s unique artistic and cultural atmosphere. This later led to the establishment of the Wuzhen Theatre Festival, a celebration of performing arts and a center for cultural exchange. The festival has since become one of the premier events in China and Asia. Each year, as the festival unfolds, there is a significant increase in business, with tourists flocking to the area.

On social media today, Lost Time is still seen as one of the major reasons why Wuzhen became so popular among Chinese travelers.

Wuzhen featured in Lost Time (似水年华).

But it’s not only the television series that portray a slower-paced and romantic lifestyle that motivate viewers to visit the showcased destinations. In 2020, the filming locations of the popular Chinese crime and suspense drama The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落) not only entertained its audience but also boosted tourism in the actual places where it was shot.

Much of the filming for the TV thriller took place in Chikan, an old township located in Zhanjiang in Guangdong. As a result, Zhanjiang’s popularity as a tourist destination skyrocketed by 261 percent in a single week.

Earlier in 2023, Jiangmen in Guangdong Province also gained popularity after it was featured in the popular crime TV drama The Knockout (狂飙). As a result, it became a sought-after destination during the May Day holiday, drawing numerous TV enthusiasts to the city. Jiangmen reportedly received over 765,200 visitors in the first two days of the May Day holiday alone, generating a revenue of approximately 439 million yuan (US$62.2 million).

Jiangmen’s popularity went beyond the May Day holiday. The Knockout caused a steady influx of visitors to the Guangdong city. From January to October of 2023, the city saw a total of 20,278,200 tourists, a reported year-on-year increase of 85.36%. This resulted in a tourism revenue of 19.649 billion yuan, representing an impressive increase of 133.77%.

 
Beyond the TV Screen: Social Media Creating Travel Hits
 

Over the past few years, we’ve seen how there are always unpredictable factors that help Chinese destinations suddenly become a hit among travelers. For instance, in late 2021, a song titled “Mohe Ballroom” (漠河舞厅) gained popularity across various social media platforms in China. This song narrates the story of a man who, for thirty years, danced alone in the Mohe Ballroom following the death of his beloved wife.

Prior to the song’s release, many Chinese netizens were familiar with Mohe as it is the northernmost point of China, and it is extremely cold. As the song gained traction on social media, the local government seized the opportunity to promote the city’s ice and snow tourism. Now, Mohe has emerged as a new destination for tourists seeking a unique, chilly experience.

Another example is Zibo, an ancient industrial city, which treated students well during their Covid quarantine period. So, when China lifted all Covid restrictions in the spring of 2023, these students returned to express their gratitude and celebrate the city. Their contagious enthusiasm, coupled with their social media posts about the city, sparked nationwide interest and people soon flocked to Zibo to enjoy the vibe and the local BBQ (read more here).

During the summer of 2023, the city of Tianjin became online hit due to a group of energetic seniors who transformed a local bridge into a stage for their remarkable water acrobatics. Tianjin’s so-called “diving grandpas” attracted attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥). Videos of their dives quickly went viral on China’s social media, drawing tourists, including many foreign residents in China, to witness the spectacle firsthand. Some people even joined to dive, including He Chong (何冲), the 2008 Olympic Champion in the 3m springboard.

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

In a playful twist, some visitors created their own scorecards, acting as judges and rating the divers’ performances. However, this spontaneous event eventually had to be toned down due to safety concerns. Despite this, the event kept Tianjin in the spotlight for quite a while as a tourist destination.

Social media has become a vital tool for cities and tourist destinations aiming to attract potential visitors. While some destinations organically become online sensations due to a combination of factors, other efforts are more deliberate and strategic. For instance, in spring of 2023, Chinese local government officials went all out to promote their hometowns via online channels, going viral on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond for dressing up in traditional outfits and creating original videos about their hometowns with low to zero budget.

However, when an article by Xinhua News criticized this approach, suggesting that local officials should prioritize improving service quality in their hometowns rather than striving for internet fame, the online trend appeared to wane.

Over the last year, different regions and industries in China made significant efforts to boost their local economies through tourism to recover from the impact of the pandemic. The China Tourism Academy recently published a report that forecasts that the number of China’s domestic tourists in 2023 has hit 5.407 billion, and domestic tourism revenue will amount to 5.2 trillion yuan. This figure allegedly represents a recovery to 90% compared to pre-Covid year 2019.

The upcoming Chinese New Year’s holiday is expected to kick off a promising start for the Chinese tourism industry in 2024. According to Trip.com data, bookings for the 2024 New Year’s holiday have surged by over threefold compared to the corresponding period last year. Furthermore, Tongcheng Travel highlights skiing, hot springs, Northern Lights viewing, music events, outdoor activities, island retreats, cruises, staycations, and firework displays as the top domestic travel preferences during this holiday season.

As China has significantly relaxed several travel and visa policies for both Chinese and international travelers, the number of outbound travel bookings for the New Year’s holiday on Trip.com has also seen a nearly fivefold increase compared to the same period last year while inbound tourism is on the rise.

Meanwhile, the way in which the TV drama Meet Yourself (去有风的地方) has boosted the tourism industry of Dali, which already was a popular tourist destination, is generating ongoing discussions on Chinese social media as it is a good example of how the integration of destination themes can captivate viewers’ attention, inspiring them to visit and discover the real-life locations.

In this way, TV shows serve as powerful platforms for local tourism authorities across China. First, utilizing television series provides them with a higher level of control compared to other methods of online promotion, including more fleeting trends. The show’s narratives, vibe, and filming locations can precisely showcase a destination’s unique features, attractions, and local culture.

Second, featuring destinations in TV series effectively accomplishes two goals at once, as Chinese TV dramas and online communities have become strongly intertwined. This amplifies the influence and reach of such productions, as fans engage, share, discuss, and promote the series and associated destinations across various social media platforms. And so, a featured scene or image, such as the one with Liu Yifei, can transcend the series itself and become an entire trend of its own on Chinese social media channels.

For travelers, visiting a destination featured in a beloved TV drama is not just about exploring a new location—it’s about experiencing a feeling and and immersing oneself in a fantasy. This trend won’t end with Meet Yourself, as new dramas inspire viewers to visit new locations again. As fans are binge watching the TV series Love Me, Love My Voice (很想很想你), Guangxi’s Guilin is the next hotspot attracting attention online for its portrayal in the show. “I finished watching the show,” one viewer wrote, “Now I want to start traveling.”

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Tick, Tock, Time to Pay Up? Douyin Is Testing Out Paywalled Short Videos

Is content payment a new beginning for the popular short video app Douyin (China’s TikTok) or would it be the end?

Manya Koetse

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The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical.

News that Chinese social media app Douyin is rolling out a new feature which allows creators to introduce a paywall for their short video content has triggered online discussions in China this week.

The feature, which made headlines on November 16, is presently in the testing phase. A number of influential content creators are now allowed to ‘paywall’ part of their video content.

Douyin is the hugely popular app by Chinese tech giant Bytedance. TikTok is the international version of the Chinese successful short video app, and although they’re often presented as being the same product, Douyin and Tiktok are actually two separate entities.

In addition to variations in content management and general usage, Douyin differs from TikTok in terms of features. Douyin previously experimented with functionalities such as charging users for accessing mini-dramas on the platform or the ability to tip content creators.

The pay-to-view feature on Douyin would require users to pay a certain fee in Douyin coins (抖币) in order to view paywalled content. One Douyin coin is equivalent to 0.1 yuan ($0,014). The platform itself takes 30% of the income as a service charge.

According to China Securities Times or STCN (证券时报网), Douyin insiders said that any short video content meeting Douyin’s requirements could be set as “pay-per-view.”

Creators, who can set their own paywall prices, should reportedly meet three criteria to qualify for the pay-to-view feature: their account cannot have any violation records for a period of 90 days, they should have at least 100,000 followers, and they have to have completed the real-name authentication process.

On Douyin and Weibo, Chinese netizens express various views on the feature. Many people do not think it would be a good idea to charge money for short videos. One video blogger (@小片片说大片) pointed out the existing challenge of persuading netizens to pay for longer videos, let alone expecting them to pay for shorter ones.

“The moment I’d need to pay money for it, I’ll delete the app,” some commenters write.

This statement appears to capture the prevailing sentiment among most internet users regarding a subscription-based Douyin environment. According to a survey conducted by the media platform Pear Video, more than 93% of respondents expressed they would not be willing to pay for short videos.

An online poll by Pear Video showed that the majority of respondents would not be willing to pay for short videos on Douyin.

“This could be a breaking point for Douyin,” one person predicts: “Other platforms could replace it.” There are more people who think it would be the end of Douyin and that other (free) short video platforms might take its place.

Some commenters, however, had their own reasons for supporting a pay-per-view function on the platform, suggesting it would help them solve their Douyin addiction. One commenter remarked, “Fantastic, this might finally help me break free from watching short videos!” Another individual responded, “Perhaps this could serve as a remedy for my procrastination.”

As discussions about the new feature trended, Douyin’s customer service responded, stating that it would eventually be up to content creators whether or not they want to activate the paid feature for their videos, and that it would be up to users whether or not they would be interested in such content – otherwise they can just swipe away.

Another social media user wrote: “There’s only one kind of video I’m willing to pay for, and it’s not on Douyin.”

By Manya Koetse

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