China Social media

A Guide to China’s Social Media Landscape

Design Mind, citing an April 2012 McKinsey report, has pointed out that China is the world’s most active social media population: 91 percent of people with an internet connection have used a social media site within the last six months, compared with 30 percent in Japan, 67 percent in the United States, and 70 percent in South Korea. Social media has been a presence in China for almost 14 years – since the launch of the Tencent online chat forums. In that span of time, social media consumers, their favorite platforms, and their needs have all changed, and the landscape has shifted accordingly.


The young professionals and working class people rising through China’s social ranks, earning more money and status, are becoming more conscious of their online presence. Researchers are finding that rural areas are adapting to new technology. China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) reported in July 2012 that more than half of that year’s new Internet users lived in the countryside.

As the population grows more tech savvy, it has become a teenage right of passage of sorts in China to establish both a QQ and a Qzone account. QQ is an instant messenger with 784 million active users as of September 2012. Qzone allows users to write blog posts, find music, and post pictures. According to a Credit Suisse Bank report of April 2011, Qzone has the highest penetration rate across all user segments compared to its competitors. Both platforms were created by Tencent.

Once young users pack off to college, however, Qzone starts to look babyish, and many seek a trendier option. The next stop on the route to social media maturity is Renren, supposedly China’s answer to Facebook. In 2011, Renren reported 170 million registered users, of which 95 million of them – most of them college-aged – were active. While young adults tend to keep their QQ and Qzone accounts, the academic components of Renren –including class discussion boards, supplementary materials, and curriculum updates – are attractive. Plus, Qzone and QQ are platforms where many parents are also active, another reason their children want to find a different network. But Renren has been losing popularity as it has been slower moving to mobile.

Right now, the microblogging site Sina Weibo is experiencing an explosion of popularity, with young people logging in for celebrity gossip, brand information, and the promise of expanding their network of personal contacts. It is also being used to address political grievances and leak information to the press that might otherwise be censored. Weixin (also known as WeChat), a messaging application, has been a major presence in China since its debut in 2011.

The Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced in May 2012 that the number of mobile phone users in China exceeded 1 billion. Sales are driven at least in part by a desire for easy access to the Internet and its many opportunities for socializing. McKinsey found that 95 percent of Chinese living in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities are registered on a social media site. The greater openness and connectedness that online communities provide have done much to ensure their popularity.


Cute Courts Cool

Amongst Chinese Girls, Cute Gives Way to Cool
By Genvieve Flaven


SHENZHEN, China — Fairy Fair is a mid-range womenswear brand that targets China’s 110 million female consumers between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. In their showroom in Shenzhen, Ms Chen the head of merchandising briskly leads an inspection tour and comments on past sales performance. First, she holds up a big panda-eyes T-shirt and announces: “This was our bestseller last spring.” Then she points to the bunnies that swarm all over the brand’s summer miniskirts, another bestseller. Finally, she presents a whole menagerie of cats, swans, lions and mice that proudly parade on a successful series of tops. In the winter, she said, faux-fur hoodies with small ears have been doing well, helping this writer to understand why chilly Chinese girls sometimes look like bear cubs.

Until recently, these kinds of “childish” products have driven strong results. Launched in 2001, Fairy Fair grew quickly and deployed a network of over 800 stores in China. It makes a profit of about €10 million ($13.3 million) per year. But Ms Chen admitted the magic has faded in 2013 and, recently, Fairy Fair’s IPO filing was denied by China’s Securities Regulatory Commission because the brand’s growth predictions were deemed to be over confident.

Ageing little rich girls

At Fairy Fair, there is growing awareness that the “cute” style on which the brand is built is losing its appeal in the eyes of consumers born after 1990. But the penchant for “sweet” fashion remains strong among women over 25 years old (often called the Post-80s generation) and many Chinese, Korean and Japanese brands such as Olive des Olive, Only, One Page Bright and A02 continue to flatter the innocence of their not-so-young clients.

The fact is that marketing to women between 25 and 35 years old is attractive. Three decades of steady economic growth, public spending on education and the one-child policy radically improved the lot of Chinese girls born in the 1980s, a groundbreaking shift after centuries of discrimination. Financially independent and educated, these girls are more materialistic and egocentric than previous generations — some have pictures of themselves on their desks — and are, unsurprisingly, more avid fashion shoppers. A typical young urban woman lives with her parents and earns about €700 ($936) per month. She typically gives half to her mother and spends the rest of it on clothes (30 percent), followed by consumer electronic (11 percent) and travel (10 percent). According to a recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group, urban working women aged 26 to 35 are the biggest spenders on clothing in China. The survey also indicates that urban female consumers aged 14 to 45 account for 54 percent of total consumption of clothing in China.

But what pushes a 25-year-old Chinese woman to buy a teddy bear sweatshirt? From a Western point of view, cuteness is the reserve of children. At an age when their Western counterparts have mastered with ease the codes of négligé étudié, why are Chinese adults still playing with dolls?

A short history of Chinese looks

The historical and sociological background of modern China provides some explanation. On the one hand, until China opened up to capitalism in the early 1990s, the standard uniform for both men and women was a strict Mao suit in blue, gray or black. A scarf, of course red, would sometimes cheer women’s outfits. But overall, an austere Communist simplicity reigned supreme. In the summer, “Blazy” dresses, simple cotton shirt-dresses inspired by the Soviets, brought a bit of lightness. (They were introduced in the late 1950s after the visit of a Russian politician who claimed that the severity of the Chinese clothes did not quite reflect the cheerful prosperity of Socialist countries.) To some extent, the tastes of young women born after the 1980s were forged in response to the colourless, gender-neutral fashion heritage of their mothers. This probably goes some distance towards explaining their fascination for colourful, bright and childish clothes.

On the other hand, though more women are becoming career-oriented and prefer to marry later than before, Chinese mentalities remain traditional. Single women in China are driven by intense societal pressure to find a mate. In a survey of 32,000 people in 2010 by the All China Women’s Federation, 90 percent of men said that a woman should get married before the age of 27. Those that don’t risk being called sheng nu, or “leftover ladies.” To increase their chances, women are generally taught to be quiet and sweet and look young. Thus, for the post-1980s generation of women, adopting a “cute” and “sweet” style is often perceived as a way to defer the marriage deadline.

A fresh generation

But things change. Young women born after 1990 are breaking with the “cute” style that pleased previous generations. While the women born in the 1980s lived in an environment of fast economic growth, combined with rigorous education standards, post-90s women are no longer guinea pigs in a new socioeconomic experiment. They still suffer from the pressures of schoolwork and market competition, but they have adopted more liberal and individualistic values, which can translate into more selective and anti-mainstream shopping habits.

An important youth movement reflects this evolution of tastes. It’s called the Xiao Qing Xin (XQX) style, which literally means “small and fresh.” Coming originally from indie-pop music, the XQX wave has now engulfed other cultural domains, such as cinema, art and, now, fashion, presenting major challenges for Chinese brands like Fairy Fair, most of whom are ill-equipped to respond and paralysed by a backwards-looking mentality.

Source: Business of Fashion
Cute Courts Cool
by Genvieve Flaven
Mon 19, August, 2013
Photo: Author, Chengdu, August, 2013