In the wake of “Linsanity” (or Lin fengkuang) and Li Na’s continued ascent to the top of women’s tennis, China’s attention to sports has increased sharply. The international prominence of these athletes is changing the often self-imposed stereotype that China’s athletic success is limited to individual, Olympic-style athletic competition and has raised questions about the merits of China’s institutionalized, drill-oriented sports training system.
(In fact, had Jeremy Lin grown up in mainland China, he would most likely not have been selected to attend one of China’s basketball development facilities given that his height of 6’3’’ falls well short of the preferred height of 6’6’’.)
More and more young Chinese, inspired by the success of these ethnically Chinese sports superstars, are picking up basketballs, tennis racquets, and a host of other sports equipment as foreign leagues continue to compete to win the attention of 1.3 billion potential athletes and fans. This increased demand, coupled with the shift in perception of China’s ability to compete in sports outside the Olympics, badminton, and ping-pong has raised the hopes of foreign athletic apparel companies.
Looking to take advantage of this change in consumer preferences, Nike – which has been in the country for over 30 years – has released a series of web videos targeting female consumers. The brief advertisements feature female college athletes talking about their dreams to become professional athletes, dancers, and yoga instructors.
Nike hopes that this appeal to female athletes will continue to encourage women to participate in sports at all levels, and of course, buy the top-of-the-line Nike apparel associated with these activities. Companies like Nike are in a challenging position. In order to sell their products, they first need to create demand. That means selling the activity associated with their products. With the help of successful Chinese athletes, this task is a little less daunting than it once was.
Even companies in non-sports related industries are utilizing the success of ethnically Chinese athletes. L’Oreal, the second largest cosmetics company in China behind Procter & Gamble, became the official sponsor of the Shanghai Rolex Masters Tennis Tournament in 2011. The tournament was watched by over 10 million people in China, giving L’Oreal an incredibly popular advertising platform
As sports continue to gain ground in China, at the urging of companies like Nike and thanks to star athletes, expect more attention to Chinese sports leagues and greater participation among athletes at all levels. This creates opportunities for companies of all sizes, sports related and non-sports related alike, looking to tap into the rapidly growing Chinese market.
Since the Cultural Revolution, China has had a strained relationship with the United States. Cold War pressures jeopardized political discourse between the two international giants. But President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972 marked an economic awakening in China.
In recent decades, China has proven to be one the most influential actors in international political-economy. Trade between the United States and China has sky-rocketed, tying the two nations together economically despite their political differences. Consumerism in China has developed alongside the market-led economy, further elevated by the explosion of e-commerce in the country. While socio-political discourse is heavily influenced by the Chinese government, economic agency has become increasingly available to the Chinese people. E-commerce allows for a diversity in product selection previously denied to the Chinese consumer before B2C platforms like Taobao and TMall.
Increasing wages, a rapidly growing GDP and desire for economic globalization are a few examples of how China’s economy is flourishing at an unprecedented rate. As is the trend in many countries transitioning from a developing to a developed economy, these staggering growth rates will eventually level off. But will consumerist behavior level off as well? Probably not.
There has been a reorientation of social and cultural values in China. As more and more Chinese become comfortable with satisfying their consumer desires through e-commerce, the consumer identity will be fused with and ingrained in their cultural and social consciousness. Furthermore, a central factor in the relative decline of growth in the Chinese economy will prove to be employment and wage increases. Though the GDP may not grow so ravenously in coming decades, the Chinese consumer will have a deeper pocket and thus more consumer power.
Does this mean that China will westernize? That’s a difficult question to answer, but if China has proved anything, it is that economic development does not necessarily equate with social or cultural conformity to Western standards. Consumerism may globalize regional identities to a certain extent, but China is marked by a national pride that is not easily undermined. One thing is for sure: businesses of the world should take heed, because the Chinese consumer has arrived and is looking for products. The line between domestic and international commerce has been blurred by B2C platforms like TMall. Opportunity is knocking and exporting to e-commerce consumers in China provides an efficient and profitable way of answering this call.
After the passing of Steve Jobs, China’s micro-blogs and social networks exploded. The outpouring of support and sympathy is making clear the profound effect Apple’s brand- and by extension its leader – had on Chinese consumers.
In the recent years, Apple has opened flagship stores in China’s wealthiest cities in order to combat the abundance of knock-offs affecting the company’s sales in China. Due to the store’s sleek design and Apple’s strong international brand, iPhones, iPads and Macbooks have achieved cult status among many wealthier, tech-savvy consumers.
But it wasn’t just the consumers of Apple’s products that were moved by the death of the company’s visionary. Youku, China’s YouTube, set up a page for users to post videos to pay tribute to Jobs. The micro-blogging service, Sina Weibo, set up a public page in his honor. Many Chinese netizens have gone online to express their sympathy for a man they never knew and whose products some of them could never afford.
A user going by the handle Buting Zheteng wrote, “Jobs is gone, this is the first time a foreigner’s death has been hard for me to take.”
Others conveyed their sympathy by laying bouquets of flowers out front of Apple stores; many did so with tears in their eyes.
Steve Jobs’ vision and the importance he placed on imagination and innovation resonated with the Chinese, as it did with many peoples around the world. His death’s effect on China is a example of the strong bond between consumer and company that many companies strive to form. To those laying flowers below the neon Apple sign in Beijing’s Sanlituan market, Apple – and its founder – mean more than sleek gadgets. Steve Jobs was a symbol of originality, inovation and progress.