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Myth-busting the Chinese Youth: The Exploration and Exploitation of Chinoiserie

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

by Philix & Iris

29 November 2023

Desk ornament from the Sanxingdui Museum: Sanxingdui located in Sichuan Province, a place known for its love Mahjong.


Chinoiserie is now becoming the “darling” among the Chinese young consumers: its manifestation is widely and easily spotted on product design and packaging as well as brand communication and marketing. As discussed in the previous posts, we believe the most important underlying reason for the rise of Chinoiserie among Chinese youth is the rising confidence and pride of Chinese culture in recent years, especially since COVID (aside from the political agenda). Chinoiserie has therefore become a main stable for consumption gaining not only ample attention and conversations, but also actual transactions and conversions for the Chinese youth. Accompanied is a growing cohort of young Chinoiserie aficionados, celebrating, advocating and buying into products and services full of Chinese elements.


In this series of posts, we will continue to share our observations and analysis of Chinese youth, delving into their commercial, cultural and social world by illustrating the latest examples and cases, with a special focus on Chinoiserie.

Collab between HeyTea and Jingdezhen China Ceramics Museum


Chinoiserie in Entertainment: what new “tricks” are young people playing with?


During public holidays in the past couple of years, whether it was a long weekend or extended national holidays, the tickets for museums were almost always sold out; we have observed that young people were the main force of the visitors. Why and how has museum suddenly become the main focal point for young Chinese?


Patriotism and China Pride: The short film 'Escape from the British Museum,' directed by two Chinese bloggers, has sparked a wave of patriotism on the Internet. The enthusiasm for traditional culture under patriotism is now more common among young people.


Media Promotion on Culture: In recent years, an increasing amount of media content has focused on traditional culture. For example, programs like 'National Treasure' and 'Every Treasure Tells a Story,' launched by CCTV, garnered a substantial number of comments and audiences on TV and video portal sites.


Good Value for Money: Free tickets and superior service make it more accessible to young people. As part of the public infrastructure, the facilities and services of museums have been improved year by year. Visiting a museum is cost-effective.


Alternative Life Experience: Museums in every province continuously update exhibitions with diverse themes to attract more people. Visiting a fashionable or aesthetic exhibition can be an alternative experience, enriching social and cultural capital.

Archaeology-themed mystery box from MINISO: Each box contains replica artifacts encased in clods, along with digging tools, offering a simulated archaeological experience.

Doll from Gansu Provincial Museum: This innovation inspired by a famous bronze relic, which depicts a horse treading on a flying swallow, symbolizing great speed. The doll offers a whimsical interpretation of this relic.


On the National Day holiday, the modern ceramic art called Meditative Arhat was surrounded by a crowd of visitors. Its pictures were soon made as the meme “Speechless Bodhisattva“ and were spread on the Internet. These droll memes gradually evolved into the vent of grump from young people, and peripheral products derived from it have quickly become the self-mockery of consumers. The solemn emotion of Bodhisattva is also a facilitator of humuoristic effect: Even Bodhisattva is speechless, what a feeling!


The meme play of museum's artifacts has made traditional Chinese culture and history appealing and relevant to the youth again, forming a sub-culture and communication system comprising of memes, graphics, signs and the connotations. Young people now prefer a novel “cultural relics” similar to Speechless Bodhisattva and it would better be applied in their daily life: although the body of “cultural relics” is lifeless, its "souls" still keep up with the modern time.


Implication


Cultural and historic elements are important and powerful carriers of Chinoiserie especially in the age of growing nationalism. We are seeing a strong momentum of brands digging into Chinese culture and history to create both social buzz and commercial success targeting young people.


Strategy:


Brands have learned to extract the most relatable narratives from the history and reconstruct it with contemporary elements to shape a new narrative and value that appeals to young people.


Tactics:


Leveraging the increasing interest in Chinese heritage among the youth, brands are tapping into a diverse range of cultural and historic elements: first create hype and buzz around the cultural and historic elements with modern-day tweaks to create relevance for the youth, secondly create products and designs around the most catchy and popular themes, and lastly launch campaigns to sell products/services with the modernized Chinoiserie themes.


Chinoiserie is not simplified Orientalism, but it is becoming a sub-culture and sub-value system, riding the wave of the greater context in today's China. Chinese youth appreciate Chinoiserie and furthermore more youth begin to identify with it. It is inevitable that we will see more brands, categories and industries putting Chinoiserie in their product and marketing mix in the future.


In the next blog, we will continue to showcase more cultural and commercial influence derived from Chinoiserie among the Chinese youth. Stay tuned!

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