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Overview of the Dolce&Gabbana China Marketing Disaster Through Weibo Hashtags

The D&G China marketing crisis in hashtags.

Manya Koetse

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The controversies surrounding Italian fashion brand D&G in China have been dominating Weibo’s top trending lists this week. Because it’s a somewhat messy affair, we’ll explain the story hashtag by hashtag.

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.

Subtitles: “This is perhaps too big for you?” Netizen’s comment: “Seriously?!”

“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).

Photos of an empty D&G fashion show scene were posted on Weibo.

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 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.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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China Fashion & Beauty

The ‘Fake Rich’ of Shanghai: Peeking Inside a Wannabe Socialite WeChat Group

A Shanghai fake ‘rich girl WeChat group’ has become the talk of the day after a Chinese blogger went undercover in their bizarre social media circle.

Manya Koetse

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A Shanghai Lady Socialite WeChat Group has become top trending on Chinese social media after a blogger exposed its workings. From splitting the costs for an afternoon high tea at The Ritz to sharing a Gucci pantyhose, these girls are taking the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it’ a bit too literally.

 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
 

How to become part of Shanghai’s super-rich social circles? Some people think joining a WeChat group is the way to go.

A Shanghai ‘Female Socialite WeChat Group’ has gone mega trending on Chinese social media today after a blogger went undercover in the group for two weeks, giving netizens a peek inside a world that’s all about faking it. The topic reached over 1.2 billion views on Weibo on Monday.

The Chinese blogger Lizhonger (李中二) invested 500 yuan ($75) and pretended to be a girl in order to become a member of the WeChat group after one of his readers tipped him off about its existence.

The group profiles itself as the ‘Shanghai Female Socialite’ group that is all about “Young / Fashion / Money”. The profile poster states that the WeChat group is a place to share information about (Hermes, Dior, etc) luxury products, to have afternoon tea together, to get to know social media influencers and to share updates on wealthy and eligible bachelors.

Besides a 500 yuan membership fee, new members are required to provide proof of having at least 100,000 yuan ($15,000) in their savings account.

Faking such proof is probably not too difficult; most of the active members of the ‘Shanghai Ladies’ WeChat group appear to be anything but nouveau riche – nor old rich, for that matter.

Lizhonger discovered that instead of being an actual WeChat group for rich girls to talk about their latest Louis Vuitton bags, the group is in fact all about finding ways to appear rich. Part of it is sharing resources and splitting the costs of experiences where these luxury-loving girls can post photos of themselves.

“It turned out to be a high-end version of Pinduoduo,” Lizhonger writes. Pinduoduo, sometimes referred to as ‘the Groupon of China,’ is an interactive group-buying shopping platform that offers quality goods at extremely low prices.

As exposed by Lizhonger, the members of the WeChat group would do things such as sharing the cost for an afternoon high tea at the Ritz-Carlton. The high tea, which is meant for two people, was split among six people, with each person paying 85 yuan ($12.5). The girls then took turns to attend the high tea, with the first girls promising not to touch any of the food so the other girls could still take pictures of it once it was their turn to show up at the Ritz.

Screenshots of the WeChat group, where members agree to share a 2-person high tea at the Ritz with 6 people.

Likewise, the booking costs for a 3000 yuan hotel room at the Ritz was shared among 15 members of the WeChat group, with each person paying 200 yuan ($30).

The price for a room at the glamorous and expensive Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai was shared with no less than 40 people, each person paying 125 yuan ($18) just to go up, take a pic, and share their location on social media.

The madness does not stop there. Lizhonger also exposed how the group members would rent one designer bag with four persons, passing them on to each other to wear on a date with a prospective boyfriend.

Or how about renting a white Ferrari for one day with 60 people? For 100 yuan ($15) per person, each lady got to take a picture to post on social media.

The girls even went as far as sharing the costs for a second-hand Gucci pantyhose, while also discussing how guys driving a BMW or Benz are just not good enough.

One WeChat group can hold a maximum of 500 people. Groups that are popular, such as the one described here, are sometimes split up in multiple groups (A, B, and C) so that more than 500 people can participate.

Since Lizhonger posted his article on WeChat on Sunday, it’s become all the talk on Chinese social media. One post about the topic on Weibo reached over 1,4 million likes.

Although many people laugh about the matter, there are also many who criticize these Shanghai women for pretending to be rich and chasing after money in order to increase their social status in order to find a wealthy husband.

“They are faking their appearances, but actually they are just faking themselves,” some commented.

Others are not surprised that these kinds of groups are popular. “Did you think this was rare? There are so many of these groups!”

Although this group goes to extremes, the fake socialite life is not just a Shanghai thing. Since some years ago, it was reported that influencers in Russia were booking grounded jets for photoshoots. More recently, some influencers in the US were exposed for renting a photo studio made to look like a private plane for their Instagram photos.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

Featured image by Yuan Zhe Ma

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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