The explosive growth of China’s economy has led to the rise of a thriving consumer culture. With Chinese consumers now able to choose from more products and brands than ever before – they are also able to reinvent themselves and identify with a vast array of different consumer-led movements and groups. This dynamic consumer culture is reflected in the creation of popular buzzwords which capture the characteristics and quirks of different niche consumer groups. So if you are seeking to understand Chinese consumers, these buzzwords are a great place to start!
Referring to social and moral problems associated with contemporary Chinese society, Fuerdai can be translated as “the second generation of the rich”. Fuerdai are typically portrayed as arrogant and rebellious by the media, a spoilt generation lacking social responsibility and basic values. Being born “with a silver spoon in their mouths” Fuerdai are said to be “impulsive” buyers, especially receptive to luxury brands, imports and exclusive products.
Similar are ‘Tuhao’ 土豪 – Chinese who “have the cash, but lack the class to go with it”. The term originally referred to “local lords”, and is now used to mock China’s “new money”. Apple’s 5s gold coloured iPhone subsequently became popularly known as a symbol of the Tuhao’s ostentatious spending habits; nicknamed ‘Tuhao jin’土豪金(Tuhao gold). Popularity of the term has spread across China sparked by a Weibo craze – “make friends with Tuhao” – whereby Weibo users created poems and cartoons satirising Tuhao culture.
Slightly pejorative slang, Xiangjiaoren refers to a “Westernised Asian” – yellow outside, white inside. The term is usually used to refer to assimilated Asian Americans, and in 2011 was added to China’s market-leading Xinhua Dictionary (新华字典).
The term Xiangjiaoren can be seen as reflective of China’s complex perception of the West. Whilst the West is an aspired destination of study and work for many Chinese, assimilation into Western culture also poses multiple questions of identity.
Western popular culture remains fashionable in China. Studying abroad has never been more attractive, with an estimated 459,800 Chinese students studying in destinations such as the US, Australia and Western Europe in 2014 – an increase of 11.1% from the previous year. After spending time abroad many young Chinese will return home influenced by Western culture and ideas.
The tide also flows the opposite way. With the after-effects of the Global Financial Crisis still being felt in the West, increasing numbers of ABC’s (American Born Chinese) are returning to China in pursuit of economic opportunities. These migrants with their mix of foreign and Chinese characteristics are often labeled, or identify as, Xiangjiaoren.
A popular term online in 2014, “renxing” translates as willful or unrestrained – often negatively referring to China’s “new rich” who use their money to do whatever they want. With his statement, “It goes without saying, having power doesn’t mean you can renxing”, Prime Minister Li Keqiang signaled the government’s increasingly tough line on corruption.
Official use of this popular and accessible Internet buzzword indicates the Party’s increasing recognition of the power and influence of China’s internet and social media platforms, and a desire to harness these channels.
Due to China’s One Child policy, many Chinese parents pin their hopes, dreams and expectations for a comfortable retirement on their only child. This “Little Emperor” or “Little Empress” enjoys the undivided attention and indulgence from his or her family, but also experiences intense pressure to conform to expectations, and achieve their parents’ idea of success.
Many businesses have sprung up to cater to the needs and wants of Little Emperors and Empresses, and their demanding parents – from education, to play, fashion, extra-curricular activities, and nutrition – creating some of the least price sensitive and fastest growing marketing categories in China.
For example, Lego has successfully tapped into the “Little Emperor” market with sales surging 50% in the past 2 years. Lego’s toys with their potential for “creative play” are attractive to middle class parents eager to secure the best development opportunities for their children.
A 2015 analysis of consumer trends also confirms the importance of children in Chinese parents’ purchasing decisions, with concern over food safety and a growing willingness to spend on children making organic or fresh food produce, and baby-related products top spending priorities for 2015.
Whilst China’s soaring prosperity and economic growth hogs the headlines, one of its less reported consequences has been a decline in social mobility. This has led to a rise in Diaosi or “losers”.
Diaosi are typically men who have risen from humble backgrounds to join China’s burgeoning middle class. Once they reach the middle class, a lack of cash or connections means they struggle to progress any further. Those who identify as Diaosi predominately work in the IT, media and service industries.
Diaosi literally translates as male pubic hair, and is a popular topic for ridicule in China; for example online sketch show – “Diaosi Man” – which ridicules the “socially inept” Diaosi, has hit 1.5 billion views since its 2012 launch.
However, despite the term’s negative connotations, an increasing number of people are self-identifying as Diaosi. According to a 2013 survey 529 million young Chinese considered themselves Diaosi, with 76 percent of Shanghainese respondents identifying with the term. The label originally only applied to men, but increasingly Chinese women are joining the Diaosi tribe, known as Nu Diaosi (女屌丝).
Some commentators have observed that those who identify as Diaosi “losers” are far from it. With an average monthly income of 6000-8000 RMB for men, and 3000-6000 RMB for women it is clear many middle class Chinese are scrambling to appropriate the term. In the context of popular frustration over corruption, social stratification and an ever-widening wealth gap, identifying as Diaosi has become a way for many Chinese to express their frustration with society, and their disappointment in the persistence of stubborn class barriers. For others, identifying as Diaosi is a self-depreciating rejection of increasingly status-driven society and popular aspiration to be gaofushuai 高富帅 (“Mr Perfect”) or baifumei白富美 (“Ms. Perfect”).
Diaosi are an interesting consumer demographic for marketers interested in China. Typically single, with higher than average salaries, and a lack of financial obligations and commitments freeing up their disposable income, Diaosi have strong purchasing power. Brands such as Nike, Puma, Lenovo and Nescafe have been quick to tap into the Diaosi trend by collaborating with famous Diaosi comedian Mike Sui or “Diaosi Mike” to add a touch of “Diaosi appeal” to their products. Diaosi are “rational” consumers – seeking longevity and value for money over flashy, “quick-fix” purchases.
In 2014 China was recorded as having 649 million Internet users, with Chinese netizens spending an average of 25.9 hours online per week – a significant rise from the average of 20.5 hours per week recorded two years earlier in 2012. With so many Chinese becoming increasingly reliant on the internet, the phenomenon of – zhai nan/nu (宅男/女) – has become a prevalent buzzword across China. The term describes a man or a woman who prefers to stay at home, rather than go out, to service their Internet addiction.
China was one of the first countries in the world to label “Internet addiction” as a clinical disorder, with the National People’s Congress previously estimating that 10% of China’s Internet users under 18 are addicted. The Chinese government has built as many as 250 boot camps to treat the problem. It is argued that young Chinese are increasingly looking to the Internet as a source of escape from the educational and societal demands placed upon them, as well as a source of friendship.
China is tipped to overtake the US to become the world leader in the consumption of computer games, with Chinese consumers predicted to contribute $22.2 billion to the global gaming industry in 2015. In particular, the Chinese mobile games market, with a 2014 turnover of $4.4 billion is forecast to record high growth – with an estimated turnover of $9.3 billion in 2017.