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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

How Made-in-China ‘Magical’ Winter Essentials Are Keeping Europeans Warm Amid Energy Crisis

Chinese manufacturers of heating equipment are the “invisible champions” of Europe’s energy crisis.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese companies are profiting from Europe’s energy crisis. Made-in-China electric blankets, electric kettles, sleeping bags, and hot water bottles are flying off the shelves and Chinese factories are working around the clock to meet the demand of European consumers.

“Chinese Electric Blankets Are the Magic Weapon Keeping Europeans Warm This Winter” (#中国电热毯成欧洲人今冬御寒神器#) and “Explosive Sales of Chinese Electric Blankets to Europeans” (#欧洲人买爆中国电热毯#) are among the popular hashtags discussed on Chinese social media this week in light of Europe’s ongoing energy crisis.

Chinese companies are seeing booming sales of winter essentials recently. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is dealing with an energy crisis. Households and businesses across Europe are feeling the pinch: the shortage of natural gas has led to sky-high prices for heating and electricity. The explosions and subsequent gas leaks that occurred on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines on September 26 have only made prospects bleaker.

Looking for creative ways to stay warm and reduce energy bills, made-in-China products are in high demand among European consumers, and Chinese factories are scaling up their production to meet the growing demand.

According to Toutiao News, some manufacturers in Dongguan are seeing the highest sales numbers in half a decade; sales volumes have tripled compared to the same period last year. This requires the factory workers to work in shifts of three so the production can continue around the clock.

Electric blankets are especially popular as they are relatively affordable and more cost-effective as they require less electricity to run compared to electric heaters. Chinese electric blankets are generally cheaper than local options.

Chinese media describe Chinese electric blankets as the ‘magical weapons to defend against the cold’ (“御寒神器”).

The word shénqì (神器), meaning ‘magical tool’ or ‘magical weapon’, is often used to refer to products or objects that provide a simple or smart solution to a pressing problem, such as these paint buckets that became a viral hit during Spring festival travel season; this ‘magical’ device to prevent grannies from dancing underneath your window; or this gadget to take revenge on a noisy neighbor.

 

“Now there’s even a joke saying the Yiwu electric blanket sellers are the ones who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.”

 

Besides electric blankets, other made-in-China ‘magical weapons’ that have become popular amongst European consumers include electric kettles, wearable sleeping bags, thermal underwear, and hot water bottles.

Electronic knee warmer.

As this topic of Chinese winter products “taking over Europe” recently became a hot topic on Chinese social media, some people commented on how the prices for these products were much higher in Europe than in China.

In Europe, a simple rubber hot water bottle is usually sold for around ten euros ($10) while the exact same products are sold for around five to ten yuan ($0.70-$1.5) in China.

In this way, the European energy crisis turns out to be a lucrative one for Chinese businesses. Some bigger companies also manufacturing electric blankets saw their stock prices rise.

One joke circulating on Chinese social media suggests that Chinese electric blanket sellers from manufacturing cities such as Yiwu are the ones who sabotaged the North Stream pipes.

“I never expected China to get part of the profits,” one popular comment said, with the following comment saying: “Thanks to the silly Europeans for making a contribution to our economy!”

“I heard they’re even looking [to buy] our Chinese birthday candles, they’ve gone mad,” one Weibo user wrote, while others jokingly wrote: “We’re the real winners.”

In light of the run on electric blankets, Chinese netizens also came up with some alternative suggestions to stay warm.

“It would be better if they’d wear long underwear pants,” one commenter suggests, while others say that people could just “make love to generate electricity.”

“Use a hot-water bottle and drink lots of hot water,” some write, while others recommend European consumers to buy more hand warmers.

Hand warmer sold on Taobao for 128 yuan ($18).

“I suggest them to buy our Xinjiang cotton quilts, they are sustainable and you can save on energy,” one Weibo user wrote in reference to last year’s Xinjiang cotton boycott.

One Weibo user drew their own conclusion in light of the current developments: “I think we could safely say that the world can do without Russians, but we’ll always need China.”

By Manya Koetse with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse

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It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

 
Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun
 

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse

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A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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

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